(ED. Note - Due to technical issues, audio is not available for this sermon. Instead, a transcript is provided below)
What the family should look like.
What does the relationship between God’s people look like? This is an important question because it is so closely tied to what our relationship with God will look like. The apostle Paul tells us that God’s purpose for every marriage was to display to the world the relationship between Christ and the church. And we all know a marriage is a family.
Theme: Membership calls for modern Christians to stop dating the church.
My hope is to prove this through 3 questions we should ask ourselves when considering Church membership:
1. Are we a covenant community like Israel?
The question implies two ideas—you understand what a covenant is, and that Israel was a covenant community. So FIRST, let me establish what a covenant is. In our society today we are used to contractual relationships. A contractual agrees to exchange goods and services. Examples of this are gym memberships, country clubs, neighborhood associations, and sadly, many marriages. With each of these you pay your monthly fees, and they let you use their services. In this relationship people could care less if you show up to the gym or neighborhood meetings. If you don’t meet the rules of the relationship then the relationship is over. This is what many people believe about marriage as well. It is a works-based relationship.
Now the Church is supposed to be a covenantal relationship. A covenant relationship is that you voluntarily give yourself to something—like a family. This type of relationship is rooted in grace. It is not dependent on what the other person does. Family is supposed to love each other no matter what.
SECOND, let me briefly prove to you that Israel is a covenant community. Genesis 15 tells us God made a covenant with Abram and his offspring. While many are willing to concede that Israel is a nation, they forget they were all relatives as well. God gave Himself to Abram and his offspring—his family. In the book of Exodus the covenant is ratified, and it says in Exodus 24.7-8:
Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
There are many more covenants God makes with various people throughout the OT, but I do not have time to list all of them. Some use the word “covenant”, but many use the characteristics of a covenant. If that is something you are interested in knowing more about, please let me know and I would be happy to walk you through that process. According to texts like Romans 11 and Ephesians 2 the multi-ethnic Church has been brought into this family that God made promises to. Let make something clear—the Church is NOT Israel. But the Church is supposed to be better than Israel, because we have something they didn’t—the incarnate Christ and the promise of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But I remind you of what Paul says in Galatians 3.15-17:
To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, NO ONE ANNULS it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.
The previous covenants God made cannot be null and void, but have been ratified by Him. It is God’s choice to do that—not ours. Therefore, we are to be what Israel was supposed to be—ministers of the covenant. But it is a new covenant—a better covenant. Turn with me to II Corinthians 3.3-6 [READ]. This is just one example of what I am talking about. You may not hear the specific word “COVENANT” in the NT, but the implication is there that the Church is supposed to be a covenant community. We never hear the word “Trinity” in the entire Bible, but throughout the history of the Church we have also affirmed that idea, because it is clearly inferred. Scholars call this a theological inference. The Church as a covenant community is a theological inference.
2. Who are the leaders we are supposed to submit to?
With this question is a sub-question as well—who are leaders responsible for? Look with me in Hebrew 13.7 [READ]. I would say the first question we need to ask ourselves is, “Who are the leaders we are supposed to obey?”
As someone who grew up in the Church, and has been a part of this family a long time, let me describe to some of you what has likely happened when you read a text like this. You read, and say, “Ok, clearly these leaders have a great deal of responsibility to care for me.” And as you spend years in the Church you became accustomed to leaders who DON’T live out this truth. Therefore, when you come across an elder or pastor who desires to truly live this out, you are caught off guard. Some of you love it, because the Scriptures are finally being lived out. But others are made uneasy by it because you have never seen it before. Trust me friends I take my role very seriously! This is one of the reasons I took 12 ½ years to prepare for it. The more I understood the depths of what I was called to do, the more I understood how serious it was. I mean listen to these words again—“AS THOSE WHO WILL HAVE TO GIVE AN ACCOUNT.” When I think about this I remember Christ went to the Cross to care for these people. He shed BLOOD for them. Your obedience and submission is closely related to my role in sacrificial living—that is the call of the pastor.
Do we think about this idea when choosing a church? I am sai to say not too many of us are. Far too many people are thinking of what Matt Chandler describes:
“When we join churches, we're not thinking, ‘I'm going to submit to the group of leaders that are over and in this church.’ We don't think that. We think, ‘I like this preaching. I like this music. This place is kind of cool. I love how they do this. Aren't these seats comfortable? I like how many options and service times we have. Their children's program is great.’ That's the kind of stuff we're thinking about, but here's what the Bible just said. There are leaders in the church you are to submit to.”
So here are a couple of things that happen as a result of this. First, when this is not done correctly, then the leaders are confused on who they are to care for and spend the majority of their time and effort on.
For instance, there are many men who have been EXTREMELY faithful members, and I have been unable to care for them and invest the time they need for several reasons. First, I have not prioritized them. Second, I meet so many people who need discipleship and care that I feel a need to step up, because so many didn’t for me. Third, we do not have enough elders/pastors or even leaders to administer the care even our tiny church requires. So imagine if our church was larger—it would be even more damaging!
This is why I say to myself, and you, friends that I need to know who I am pastoring—who I am responsible for. Membership is our way to know who those people are. Some of you have been Christians for a long time and do not take this idea seriously, so you have become like those macho jerk bag guys who go around dating multiple women, sleeping around, and when they do something you don’t like, or are getting too close, you bolt out the door. In the words of Joshua Harris—“STOP DATING THE CHURCH!” It is not fair to the members of this church or any church for you to continue this bad behavior.
3. Who are the people who hold us accountable?
This brings me to my final text today—Matthew 18.15-18 [READ]. This is known as the “CHURCH DISCIPLINE” text. When we see each other straying away from the Christian faith, God gives us a process for how we can deal with that. The final step of the process is interesting isn’t it? Who is the church we are to take them before? Are we supposed to gather every believer across the globe to have a great council about this one person? Talk about time consuming! No friends, implied here is a local context. It would be helpful if those people knew us well—they had current information about what is going on in our lives. Membership is the way we have decided to know who we are accountable to—who we are responsible for. The passage ends with Jesus giving the Church authority to practice these things—look with me again at verse 18.
I would say Church Discipline should be something that is happening REGULARLY in the life of a healthy local church. Steps 1 and 2 should be happening all the time. We built a structure here for that to happen, but far too many members do not see that or forget. We have 3 philosophies of ministry here—Gathering, Living, and Development. Our gathering is where we all come to hear from God’s word, sing praises to God, and to encourage as many saints as we can. Our living ministry is done in our Refuge Communities that began this past week. These are groups that meet during the week to pray, eat meals, study God word together, try to figure out how to live it out, build community, work on advancing the Gospel, and much more.
Lastly, development is how we disciple one another. These are groups of 3-4 that gather together weekly to deepen our values in one another. They are called DOXA groups—which means glory. They are meant to help us glory in Christ more—to treasure Christ more. The reason they are groups of 3-4 is it allows us to live out Matthew 18 as a part of our everyday regular life pattern. I will admit the way we had them set up in the beginning built on mistakes or presuppositions I made. Namely, that our members understand the Scriptures well enough that they just needed to go deeper into the biblical application. Since I have repented and changed the structure to be more regularly gathered around the Word, we have seen less people involved.
As for now, these groups are ONLY for members. We are a small church desperately in need of deeper community, love and concern for one another, and more leaders. These groups are supposed to be the mechanism for that to happen. It is harder, and slower, to raise up leaders in gatherings. While it is easier in our Refuge Communities it still is difficult to get into the types of conversations we will need to have in order to raise up better leaders.
Some of you who have had several conversations with me and I know I say this all the time, but “families will fight.” When you become close to someone you will not always agree, but if the church is a covenant community then we are committed to each other despite our differences. Membership is the decision on whether or not you want to fight with these particular people. You gotta fight with someone it is just a matter of who. Friends, membership is the way you can stop dating the Church and to commit to her.