Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Imperative of the Church

The Christian Churches/churches of Christ have long been established as a vehicle fueled by the Great Commission.

“Our job is to make disciples!”

But what if that's not our job? What if we've been putting the wrong gas in the tank all these years? What if instead of getting 10 mpg, we should be getting 100 mpg, spiritually speaking?

Yes, the Lord did indeed offer a commission to the apostles at the end of each of the gospels (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21), and again at the beginning of the book of Acts (Acts 1:7-8). But if those verses were to be intended as the rallying call for the New Testament Church, then why doesn't even one of the epistles from Romans to Revelation repeat said commission? Why do we not find in even one book a reminder to the church to go “make disciples”?

In fact, the word “disciples” is never again even used beyond the book of Acts. Kind of a weird omission if that is in fact the church's primary directive. That Great Commission is at the heart and soul of almost everything we do ... our evangelistic outreach, our missionary programs, and our church planting societies. If it were ever recognized that the Great Commission was addressed to the apostles and NOT to the church as a whole, then 1) we would have to determine Christ's real purpose for the church, and 2) how to rebuild the entirety of our brotherhood once the missionary impetus has been removed.

Answering point #2 is beyond the scope of this article. For now, let's just focus on the main thing. If not evangelism, then what is the imperative of the New Testament Church? If would have to be something that – unlike the so-called Great Commission – is addressed to the entirety of the church, and not just to a select few. One would assume it would be oft-repeated. And it would be something foundational that would then affect everything else that follows after it. That foundation … that driving force … that REAL Great Commission … that which would exponentially increase the effectiveness of the Church … is holiness.

Consider the following Scriptures closely:
  • “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).
  • “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (1 Corinthians 3:17).
  • “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
  • “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him(Ephesians 1:4).
  • “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, [26] so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, [27] that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27).
  • “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, [22] yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach(Colossians 1:21-22).
  • “May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; [13] so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13).
  • “He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).
  • “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, [15] but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; [16] because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY”” (1 Peter 1:14-16).
  • “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
  • “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
  • “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness (2 Peter 3:11)?
How would the Church change if we were focused on holiness, rather than evangelism? We would no longer be concerned with attendance numbers, but with training those who are really hungry and thirsty for righteousness. Quantity would be exchanged for quality. We would no longer place before us as shepherds and leaders those who are good men, but those who are godly men. We would be less focused on the church buildings and more focused on building up the church, which is the body of Christ. Willful and continued sin in the camp would no longer be tolerated, for the good of the whole.

Haven't you ever wondered why modern statistics show that sinful behaviors are just as high – if not, at times, even higher – among those who attend church as with those who do not? It's because we're building on the wrong foundation. “If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too” (Romans 11:16).

“But what about evangelism? Are you saying we shouldn't win people to Christ?”

To answer that question, let's utilize the analogy that the Scriptures consistently offer of the Lord's people as sheep. Does a real shepherd have to tell real sheep how to procreate? Do those sheep have to form societies through which reproduction takes place? Do they need constant seminars on the most effective breeding techniques? Or are some things just basic Biology 101?

The shepherds of the flock (the elders) have two main tasks: To feed and protect the sheep. According to Titus 1:9, they are responsible for “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine (feed the flock) and to refute those who contradict (protect the flock).” If a real shepherd protects and feeds real sheep, they will reproduce all on their own.

I believe that for too long now Christians have been focusing all their attention upon that which should come naturally and take no effort, and not spending any discernible time in “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1) … which takes a supreme effort, because sin “so easily entangles us” (Hebrews 12:1). “IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER?” (1 Peter 4:18).

Yes, I know … in accepting what I'm saying as truth, you will have to set aside centuries of tradition. But don't take my word for it. Do your own research. Examine the letters written to the churches. Look for the apostolic focus upon evangelism and missions … give your head a good scratch, wondering why there's so little to find … and then start researching the abundance of Scriptures turning the churches attention to holiness, righteousness, perfection and “the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

Then, as a conclusion to your study, reread the letters to the seven churches from Revelation 2-3, which form a symbolic 'last word' to the church. Not one word is spoken concerning their evangelistic outreach, whether positive or negative. The only notes of praise or condemnation are reserved for the behavior of those who call themselves Christians.

Therefore, based on the evidence of Christ's New Covenant, I believe we must reexamine the imperative of the church and refuel the body with that which will bring about real spiritual growth and productivity, which is holiness. “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5).

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