Church Matters

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Series: A Journey Through 1 John

Sun am 8 May – Justus Swart

1 John 1:1-4; (Ex. 3:14); (Matt. 16:18); (Eph. 4:15);
(John 1:1, 14); John 20:21; Lev. 20:26; Matt.5:10; (1 Kings 6:7)

We are going to look at the book of 1 John with one particular theme in mind that it; Church matters. Church matters not just to God, not just to Christians but Church matters to the world. This series is birthed from the questions that we ask ourselves: what exactly is the point of Church? Why is Church so important? What are we supposed to be doing? How are we supposed to be spending our time? How do we know that what we are doing is right?

Then we have an increasing amount of people who believe that their belief in God does not require them to have a belief in the Church. We see this cropping up in popular culture. People think that the two are somehow disconnected and that you can have God without the Church. People think they can circumvent the Church and have access to God via more personal introspective means. The aim of this series will be to discover the true authority of the Church while challenging some of the current notions and ideas some of us might have regarding the Church.

One of most basic things we need to challenge is that you are a Christian and you go to Church to practice your belief. It sounds right but it is wrong. I am a Christian and I live my life through my faith. What is the point of Church?

Read 1 John 1:1-4. John’s main reason for writing this letter to the Church was to set the Church straight as some false teaching had crept in. The Gnostics who denied the incarnation were one example. In this light, John wrote to the congregations reminding them that the God they served was both God and man at the same time in Jesus Christ (John 1: 1, 14). It is a wonderful personal image that we get of God becoming man. So Jesus, the very Author of life, Author of creation was sent into the world as man to redeem man. This is only something He could have done as a man, but He could also only have done it if He was God. There should be no confusion or contradiction between the Jesus who walked the earth with His disciples and the Word of life that was with God in the beginning. The very same essence is in both God who walked on earth, and the Word of life.

The first thing we should know is that it was God’s idea from the beginning to invade earth in physical form to interact and engage with humanity. Hence John described Jesus as a person, whom we felt, touched with our hands, heard with our ears and saw with our eyes. So when Jesus ascended, His intention was that He would still have a physical form in the earth in the shape of the Church, His Body (John 20:21). The commission is the same. We also have to be felt, touched, heard and seen.

This leads us to the first point in this series. Church matters because we did not make it up. Church matters because it was God’s idea from the very beginning to have a physical representative on earth. The Body of Christ is not just a philosophical ideal of how to live in a community if everything were to go perfectly. It is not just a theological theory of what we should always be striving for. It is God’s reality and our reality of God living out through a physical form in the world. Therefore the Church does not just exist metaphorically but also literally and physically through those who call themselves Christians. Church was not man’s idea and Church was and is still God’s plan for redemption for mankind. There is no salvation outside of the Church.

It boils down to one simple question: would you want to serve a god that you chose? Many fall into the trap of thinking that they have chosen God. This translates in many areas of what we call Church. Later we end up choosing certain aspects of the faith that suit us. And we think it is up to us to choose God. We do not choose God! We accept Him. We accept either all of it or none of it. For instance today we think that for us to have faith in God, the Church is not necessary. We think that if we choose God we can then choose a god that does not fully require us to sacrifice for Him. We choose a god that fits in with our political convictions. We choose a god that makes us better citizens than it makes us better members of His Body. Instead of accepting the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush as I AM (Ex. 3:14), we accept and discard things to feel more comfortable. We do not like to serve a God who challenges us to be different from people around us.

There has to be a renewed sense of authority in the spoken Word of God. It is not a matter of opinion, if you are part of the Church you are committed to the Word. The Church becomes an institution if it is run on the opinions of people. What would have happened to Samuel if he had a council? If a council has put somebody in a position, it is up to that person to please the council in order to secure their income. If it is God who has called somebody to walk in a specific place we are left with only two options: we obey or we disobey.  Freedom is the deepest pride in us with which we battle though our spiritual life. Anything that threatens to take our precious choice from us gets ignored or put aside or made quieter. When we surrender the direction or convictions of a Church over to general consensus, we end up with an institution and not with the Word of life (I John 1:1-2). That which was from the beginning is the very same Word you are speaking; you cannot cut, paste and do things to that which was from the beginning.

In many places and areas in the world Church does not matter because we have taken all the authority out of it. If a council has to validate the Word of God to you, what does it say about the office of preaching, the office of the apostle, of the prophet and all other offices? The teachings of the Pharisees were based on general consensus and rules. They had set up institutions in which they had studied the Scriptures and knew everything the book was saying, yet they rejected Jesus because He did not fit their institutional mould. Institutions will reject Jesus time and time again. Because He is spontaneous, because He is grace, because He is life, because He is love, no institution can hold all of that; only a living organism called the Church can house that. Jesus said I will build my Church (Matt. 16:18). He takes ownership of his Body because we are part of Him. Paul says we need to grow up into Him who is the head of the Church (Eph. 4:15). We do not make decisions, the Head makes the decisions; we are the Body we follow instructions from the Head. Church matters because it is God’s idea.

The most basic description of being a Christian is that we attend church. It is not attending a meeting; it is participating in the life of the Body of Christ.

What is the point of Church? How do we know what we are supposed to be doing and if we are doing it right?

Read 1 John 1:2-3. It is God’s idea and God’s desire to have a physical body though which He can redeem all of mankind. Faith is not impressive without obedience. There is no distinction that can be made between faith and obedience. Belief in God has only one response: faith and obedience. Jesus describes the Word of life as being the visible, audible and tangible expression of the love of God. The most basic definition we can give the Church is: Christ in His people. The life appeared in you the day you signed into this. This life appeared and looked for a Body to be tangible, to be seen, heard and felt. That is what it means to be part of the Church. Church matters because it is God’s chosen way of reaching out to His creation. It is His way of replicating Himself to demonstrate the extent of His love for the world. It is not really our job to show the world how much we love them in order to make them Christian. It is our job to show the world how much we love God so that they may want to become Christian. That inevitably requires us to be a people who are set apart; to be a people whose lives are vastly different from the lives of those around us. That means coming into the Church and coming into Christ’s Body and having His image fully formed in us so that others may see.

Holiness is to be set apart in order to stand out. It is not to be set apart to be cut off and removed. You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own (Lev. 20:26). Jesus came to seek and save the lost and He now does the same thing through His Church by calling them to walk, speak and act the way He did. The Church is the place where formation takes place. It is the quarry that we read of in the Old Testament (1 Kings 6:7) where we are being chiselled and changed into the likeness of God. Right here in the worship, in the preaching of the Word, life is appearing, Christ is taking shape and form in you as you hear, and you are changed.

Too many churches are focused on trying to grow the churches instead of forming Christ in the congregations. It destroys the inner desire for life because all you focus on is happiness. When we talk about formation, and Christ’s life appearing, we are talking about an adventure in faith. You cannot predict it, you can prescribe it, you just have to follow it; it is simple obedience to God’s Word. When you follow God you follow the way of righteousness, not the way of entertainment. (Matt. 5:10). Church matters when Christ takes shape in His body; no one can afford to ignore that.

Jesus who was from the beginning entered into creative reality to sacrifice Himself so that He could save the world. He came in bodily form and walked among men and now Jesus still lives in bodily form through the Church, through you and through me. The world needs to look at the Church and not see institutional or organizational success. They need to see broken people who are dedicated to holiness, not because it is a good idea but because we serve a God who chose us. We did not make it up, He chose us. We inherit faith. It is a gift to us. We accept it for its fullness. We can only accept God because He is God and not simply because we need help. Church is Christ in His people and it is God’s idea.