The Local Church: Basic Principles, part 1

30 Mar

I can hardly think of anything that will have a greater impact on your life than the local church you’re a part of.

It’s that important.

The local church is an absolutely vital part of God’s great design for how the Christian life is supposed to work right now.

Which means, if you are not a part of a local church, it’s going to have an impact on you. And, if you are part of an unbiblical, unhealthy local church, it is going to have an impact on you. And if you are part of a biblical local church, it is going to have an impact on you.

Now, obviously, it’s not like being part of a biblical church means you are never going to struggle with problems.

That’s not what I am saying.

But if you are not part of a biblical local church, I don’t know how you can expect anything else.

That would be like, expecting grass to grow in a desert, without water.

Christians don’t normally grow without the church,

And yet unfortunately, there are many people who say they are Christians who haven’t thought very carefully about the local church. At all. Instead, they sort of feel like, it doesn’t really matter what local church I am part of.

But it does.

It will have an effect on you.

God planned it that way. And because God planned it that way, it’s important you think about what to look for in a local church.

I mean, can you answer the question:

What are the characteristics of a biblical local church?

That’s important to think about. .

It’s important because not everything that calls itself a church is a church and it’s important because not everyone going to places that call themselves churches know the difference.

There are some people whose idea of a church is a whole lot more like a business.

Living Hope Business.”

It exists to make the customer happy or the pastor rich.

I have heard of people who wanted to be pastors, for the offering, you know. I want to start a church so I can be in charge of the offering.

And, there are others who think of the church more like entertainment center, almost.

Church is a place where I go to be entertained.

And so if you look at what is important to them, when it comes to church, it’s, was it interesting, did it get me excited, did I like it?

In fact, I was watching a pretty famous African preacher the other day, and it was a whole bunch of nonsense, and yet there was this huge crowd there, and I was thinking, why are they there, why would they show up, when there is no Christ, when there is no Scripture being taught, when there is no real worship, and I realized, it’s just another show, they are there to laugh or be amazed, they are there to be entertained.

And others, honestly, see church more like a hospital.

And I don’t mean a hospital for spiritually sick people.

I mean literally, physically sick people.

I have met people where if you ask them what they love about Jesus will say he’s my healer, and if you look at why they are part of a church, it’s because they think that being part of a church somehow keeps them physically healthy, and if they are not, if they are sick, they think, that going to church, will somehow help them get healed.

And so there’s a lot of confusion.

And because of all this confusion, I think it’s helpful to go back and talk about some of the basics of what the Bible teaches about church. What is God looking for in the church.  And I thought I could begin by just laying down some of the most basic principles.

The first one is very simple.

Really.

The church begins with God.

Ephesians chapter 1, verses 3 through 14.

Paul’s sitting in prison for preaching the gospel.

And he’s worshiping.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And he’s motivated to worship because of what God’s done in the church.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ, with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

Which I am highlighting.

Because that’s a radical statement.

Whether you see it at first or not.

The church is a gathering of people who have been saved through faith in Christ to worship God, like Paul is here, and if we look carefully at the way Paul approaches worship, we’ll see he approaches worship in a way that is very different, from most of what we see happening all around us.

Now, obviously, the worship or blessing of God is not all that radical.

Almost every religion supposedly is a group of people coming together and claiming to worship or bless God.

But, what’s radical about the way Christians gather together to worship, is first of all who, we worship, we worship a very specific God and then, why we worship, and this is the part I want you to see, if you are going to understand the way we go about church.

We as Christians bless God because we have been blessed by God.

Blessed is past tense.

Who has blessed us.

Not because we have done.

But because of our relationship with Christ.

Who has blessed us in Christ.

With every spiritual blessing.

In other words, we are not coming together to start a church and worship God in order to somehow gain God’s favor through our religious activity.

A true church doesn’t begin with our efforts and what we do to somehow get God on our side, the church begins with what God has already done, through Christ, to rescue us.

We see this all the way throughout the rest of Paul’s praise.

It’s about what God the Father has done in verses 4-6.

He chose us.

He predestined us for adoption as sons.

And what God the Son has done in verses 7-9.

He’s the one who purchased our redemption through His blood, He’s the way God the Father revealed His great plan to us.

And what God the Spirit is doing in verses 11-14.

He’s the seal, the guarantee of our inheritance.

But God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, it’s all God, our salvation, from beginning to end, and if we are going to be a Christian church, it’s fundamental this grabs hold of us, because while it kind of seems simple, it’s the exact opposite of what motivates most religious activity.

Most religious activity begins with me.

This is what I do in order to get God to bless me.

Where what happens in the church begins with, this is what God has done, to rescue us, that is why we worship.

Most religious activity is basically people looking around and saying, this world is terrifying, and I have got to figure out some ways to get God to do what I want.

Where the church begins with man, God loves me, God is for me, He’s proven that, that’s why we are here.

A lot of religious activity is like a bargain. I’ll do this, if God, you’ll do this.

Where the church begins with God, you are so beautiful, you’ve given us a glimpse in the gospel, of how beautiful you really are, and we want to be like you, we want to put your character on display.

If you even listen to the way a lot of religious people pray, it’s me, I got to pray loud, you know scream at the wall, and seem like I really mean it, or I’ve got to use certain magic words, to force God into a corner where He has to bless me. So, the reason I pray, is just to get my world, the way I like it.

But again with the church, it begins with God, we know we have a relationship with God through Christ, so we don’t need to yell or use tricks, and we’ve seen who God is in the gospel, and so a lot of our prayer life is not just about me and what I want, as much as about enjoying a relationship with this beautiful, majestic God.

Which I guess I could go on and on, because I think this principle, the church begins with God, is just so fundamental for understanding everything we are about as a church.

You know even way back, when Living Hope started, we made up a list of basic principles, and one of the basic principles, which we still are excited about is, was that God uses this message about what He’s done through Christ, to save us and change us and grow us.

Blessed be God because He’s blessed us in Christ is not just the beginning of the Christian life, it’s the key to the whole of the Christian life, and a big part of our job as a church, is just to gather together, and remind each other of that.

It’s not so complicated really.

I was somewhere recently and the preacher wasn’t that amazing, honestly.

He was actually kind of boring.

For one thing, he was looking down at his notes most of the time. And, he was a little bit hard to follow at first. I even had a hard time with his accent. But then in the middle of his message, he just started pointing to the good news of what God had done for bad people through Jesus and it was like dynamite had gone off.

And I was thinking.

As I went home.

This is a big part of what’s it all about.

Why we gather together as a church, week after week.

We may not be fancy. We may not be fun.

But we are all about God and what He’s done.

Week after week. Sunday after Sunday. We get together to worship God for what He’s done through Jesus Christ.

To get our eyes off of ourselves and onto Him.

If we’re doing that, we may not have much, but we’re on our way to being a true, biblical church. And if we’re not, we might have everything you could ever dream of, but we are not a church.

If God’s not at the center, at best, we are just a really nice club.

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