A Personal Look at Discipleship, Pt. 5
Study Guide, October 29, 2017
Pastor Clay Olsen
At Sunday School they were learning how God created everything, including human beings. Johnny was especially intent when the teacher told him how Eve was created out of one of Adam’s ribs. Later in the week his mother noticed him lying down as though he were ill, and said, “Johnny, what is the matter?” Johnny responded, “I have pain in my side. I think I’m going to have a wife!” That makes good sense, doesn’t it. Seems like a very practical application of that Sunday School lesson…in need of better interpretation, but at least the little guy was off to a good start in getting a Biblical worldview from Church.
But how odd that we live in a time when less and less people are looking to get their worldview from Church. For a long time pollsters used to claim that on any given Sunday about 40 percent of Americans attended church. However, when they looked into the claims, they discovered that, actually, the attendance on any given Sunday was less than 20 percent of Americans. Which means that around 80 percent of Americans are choosing to do other things they believe are more important, at least more important to them. Note that statement as we’ll come back to that.
One church researcher, named Thom Rainer, stated that around 94 percent of churches are losing ground in the communities they serve. Every year nearly 3 million more previous church goers enter the ranks of the ‘religiously unaffiliated’. Furthermore, and this is really stunning, research has found that between 4,000 to 7,000 churches close their doors each year in America.
Now, a lot of these churches are churches that have drifted away from the authoritative and central teachings of the Bible, leaving people with seeing little need for the ‘church’ in their life. Interestingly, one evangelical observer said, “Actually, I’m somewhat comforted by the idea that Americans have left dead churches.” That’s one bright spot. And other reasons contributing to the decline of church affiliation is the deepening cultural shift away from ideals like personal commitment to anything outside of their own interests, and away from volunteerism, and from other service oriented activities. It’s like watching the 2 Timothy 3 trend in action: “…in the last days difficult times will come. Men will be lovers of self…without self-control…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…”
Basically this self promoting humanism that our culture has been nurturing for so many years has now permeated our culture to such a degree that many no longer see the church as necessary in their lives. Why, even ‘guilt’ has lost ground as a motivator. Now, ‘guilt’ never was supposed to be the motivator anyway, but still, it used a be a factor that people sensed in their lives. So now even guilt is gone!
But now back to that statement about why fewer and fewer people are attending church. Remember that statement: ‘Americans are choosing to do other things they believe are more important, at least more important to them’ ? That explains a lot right there. But how about this: How important is the church to God?
That brings us back to the very concept of ‘church’ itself. Whose idea was ‘church’ in the first place? Matt 16:15-18- “He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” NKJV The key word in connection with ‘church’ here is ‘build’, and we’ll come back to that.
But note that this is the first appearance of the Greek word for ‘Church’ in the New Testament. This ‘ekklesia’ referred to God’s ‘called out ones’, and was similar to the assembly of God’s people in the synagogue of Old Testament. However, just like with the progression of every other work of God from the Old Testament to the New Testament, now this new work of God’s, His Church, progressed into being central to His central mission. And of course, in building Christ’s church, it involved the salvation of the lost and then the commissioning of the found, or the saved. But the thing is, and here is where the whole concept of Christ’s church goes up to a new level…Not only is this idea of ‘Church’ God’s idea, and not only is the very existence of the church the very creation of God’s, but the point is, this ‘building Christ’s church’ was the most important thing there was and is to Jesus Christ! So any thought about how important the church is does not begin with what anyone else thinks about it; it begins with how important the church is to the Creator of the church, to the Lord of the church, to Jesus Christ. And whatever is most important to Jesus Christ is to be what is most important to everyone else.
And that brings us to what the church really is that Jesus said He was going to build, or rather, ‘who’ the church really is that Jesus is building? And the answer to that is key to a Biblical understanding of the whole concept of ‘church’. Plus, it also deepens our understanding of why our commitment to joining Christ in this mission or commission to build His church is one of the disciplines that God requires His disciples to practice and will then evaluate what we actually did about it when we stand before Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
So first, this ‘church’ that Jesus is building on earth is in one sense the universal church, or the family of God. It is made up of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation from around the world. And how wonderful that is to think that all over the world we have spiritual blood Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and that, together, we are part of God’s forever family. As we pray for them we are actually praying for fellow family members with whom we are going to spend eternity with in worship and service of our Creator and Redeemer. Christ’s church, the body and family of God, is made up of regenerated, sealed, and Holy Spirit indwelt people from every tongue, tribe, and nation of earth.
And second, the church is also then grouped into local fellowships where they are to carry out the rest of Christ’s commission to all of His disciples. This ‘rest of the Great Commission’ has facetiously been referred to as ‘the Great Omission’. Look for it as we read it: Matt 28:18-20- “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” NASU
Again, the Church of Jesus Christ is made up of born again disciples from all over the world throughout history and up to when Jesus Christ returns to gather those in His church living on earth when He comes to take them to Heaven. Now, of course, He’s also going to return with His church when He comes to set up His kingdom on earth. But that’s another study. But the point is, whenever we think of the word ‘church’ we need to include our world-wide family of God, and the fact that ‘building the church’ includes reaching out to the lost and dying from all nations so that they may turn to God in repentance and place their faith in Jesus Christ and be spiritually reborn into the forever family of God.
And another point before we get to the ‘omission’ part is this: A crucial truth that is often overlooked about this commission that Jesus gave to us disciples is the first thing that Jesus said: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Think about it: The greatest authority on Earth today is not any government or any military or any business venture or any social power center, no; the greatest authority on the earth and over the earth today is the Lord Jesus Christ. And the greatest directive that was ever given by the greatest authority on earth is this great commission; Christ’s commission to us disciples of Christ to make disciples of all nations, or to join Jesus Christ in His mission of building His church on earth. Christ’s great work was and is to build His church. And our great commission is to join Him in doing just that!
Again, we understand that, but do we understand that everything and anything that has to do with building Christ’s church are now in fact our marching orders that have been given to us by the One to whom we are under His authority? You see, everything and anything that has to do with building Christ’s church has never first had anything to do with how important any person feels church is to them or whether anyone feels they need church in their life or not, or whether they want to include church in their lifestyle or not…no, none of these personal preferences have anything to do with the importance of church in the life of a disciples of Jesus Christ. The importance of Christ’s church and of building Christ’s church is based upon the fact that every disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ has been given orders by their King who has all authority in heaven and on earth to join Him in building His church on earth until He returns for His church.
We are to seek to reach the lost, in which they become disciples of Christ’s universal Church, and then we are to teach the saved, in which they become ‘discipled’ in Christ’s local bodies of churches. And in doing so, the global church of Jesus Christ is being built, and the local churches of Jesus Christ are being ‘built up’. That is what Paul was explaining in his letter to the believers in Ephesus: Eph 4:11-16- “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” NASU
The real question about church affiliation or church attendance or even church membership is not: “Are you a active church goer?”, but “Are you an active church builder?” Again, the concept of the New Testament church revolved around the theme of ‘building’; not of attending or affiliating, but of ‘building’! Christ came to build His church. And those who become His disciples are then given their marching orders to join Him in doing the same thing: building Christ’s church. And that work of building is done by reaching the lost and teaching the saved. And this ‘teaching’ of the saved was to then be done through the saved committing themselves to a local assembly, a local church, a local body of believers whereby they could accomplish all that would be involved in the part of the Great Commission that says, “…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” And as we noted, that’s the part of the Great Commission that’s often been called the Great Omission! That part about ‘all that I have commanded you’ included everything that Jesus taught while He was on earth and everything that Jesus had His Apostle’s write out for us in the Epistles of the New Testament. It’s like what Paul said in that passage in Ephesians.
And it’s also like what Paul wrote to the local church in Rome: Rom 12:4-13- “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In His grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” NLT
Note this very carefully: These commands here are are further descriptions of the part in the Great Commission where Jesus said: “…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The commandments of Jesus are for His disciples to reach the lost and so build up His universal church and then to teach the saved in local bodies of disciples so that His disciples will be built up in their local fellowships. Christ is working to build up His church and working on those in His church to then become built up in local bodies of His church. And we are to join Him in this work.
So back to the idea of the importance of church in a Christian’s life: When we consider the importance of ‘Church’, any discussion of ‘importance’ does not begin with how important church is to us or anyone else; it begins with clarifying how important is the ‘Church’ is to the Lord Jesus Christ. And just how important is the ‘church’ to the Lord of the Church? And the answer is: Christ’s church is more important than anything else in the world, particularly concerning ‘building His church’. And since building Christ’s church is the most important thing in the world to Jesus Christ, then building Christ’s church is to be the most important thing in the world to all disciples of Jesus Christ.
The thing is that each of us disciples need to get a very clear understanding of what and who this ‘Church’ really is, and what is really involved in ‘building the Church’ as Jesus commanded us to do. And we are to realize that both of these things are completely misunderstood by most of the people of our world, and often by many in the so-called churches of our world. So we have a lot of work to do in helping our world around us come to a better understanding of both. But that will require us to commit to Jesus’ Great Commission given to us to seek to build the global church and to them serve Him in building up our local church.
And once again, I’m required to remind you that you are going to give an account to Jesus Christ concerning what you did about this Commission that He gave to you and to me.
1. Church statistics from: 7 Startling Facts: An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America, Churchleaders.com