Long, Long Shadows and A Light


Sin never stops where you think it will. 

Your repeated anger leads to latent bitterness which leads to relationship-destroying gossip.  

Your pornography-viewing leads to unmarital sex which leads to one parent raising a child in isolation which leads to crippling resentment.  

Unchecked sin always spreads, and kills where it does.  Like cancer.  

But one of the beautiful mercies of God is that He has given us a community where sin and its scars can be dealt with.  

The church.  


Churches are little cities of imperfect people, people who have been miraculously remade and who, by the grace of a very real and very compassionate God, continually confess and continually turn from the sins they still commit.  They know who they were (spiritually dead evil people), they know who they are (spiritually alive people being slowly made more and more like Jesus), and they know who God is (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who love to save sinners).  And because of these 3 things, these little collections of Gospel people are able to bring wicked and broken and scared and angry humans into their midst and minister to them.  Serve them.  Help to stop the bleeding in their lives.  

The world is home to all stripes of sinners who are in different stages of the pain or disarray or death that sin brings along as its trail.  And there is no one else who can get to the root of the chaos or who can apply supernatural salve to the wounds of all this sin like the church can.  She has been given the Good News that can heal and can save people from their evils, and from the evils that were committed against them.  She can rescue them from the worst of the violence and the trouble and the affliction of this world.  

Which is great, because this is not Mayberry.  This is a world of adultery and ulterior motives and hearts who will cast those they love aside for pleasure or power.  This is a world where sin has left some long, long shadows.  Sons deserted by their fathers, marriages in flames because of selfishness, grown men and women who don’t know how to be men or women.  And there in the heart of this world stands the church, giving the hope and the truth and the life that only she can give.  

This world needs her.  The single mothers and the heroin addicts and the workaholics and the shallowest of womanizers need her.  She is a city on a hill.  

She is where they can come for possibility.  For hope.  For adoption into a forever family.  She is where they can sojourn for all of the things that only Jesus can hand over.  

For everyone trapped in what sin has spoiled, churches are households of transforming mercy.  They are families of forgiveness.  They are little peoples of honest confession and honest love and honest Gospel.  

This is a world of long shadows.  Because sin never stops where it whispers it will.   Sin never keeps that promise.  

But the God of the Cross has given a light that can beat those shadows back.  His church holds that light in her hands, for any and all to come see.  

How to Kill a Church

  
I love the church. Christ’s bride.  The ekklesia, God’s called out people.  He died to save her and I want to live to serve her.  And in my couple of trips around the block as a church member, church planter, church elder, there are a few poisons I’d love to see get big, skull-and-crossbones warning labels so local churches don’t accidentally ingest them.  The most beautiful, God-honoring of churches can be disintegrated if you introduce the right toxin (see Revelation 2-3).*

*Note:  Some churches also just die a natural death, by God’s good will, having done nothing obviously, overtly sinful or wrong.  No single local church lasts forever.   Churches have God-ordained lifespans.  What I’m warning against is “churchicide,” or, if you prefer, church suicide.  

Some ways to kill a church:

  • Get each person in the church to have his main concern be his role or reputation.  The church will either disband within 6 months or stay together out of spite and be insufferable for 20 years.  Each of the people who leave this church or who stays in her just to grumble will be perpetually disgruntled that they didn’t get to do or be what they wanted to do or be.  And whatever you do, don’t let any of the people’s attitude be like this:  

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Philippians 2:3-7

  • Get them away from the question “Is this true?”  Make them instead always, always, always ask “Will this work?”  And then get them to think it “worked” if their unbelieving friends and neighbors liked it.  Before you know it, they’ll go from trying to bless people because they want them to know their Maker (Christlike) to trying to get people to like them because that means whatever the church did must have “worked” (retail-like).  If you can get the church to make her decisions based solely on the world’s reactions to those decisions, you’re one or two steps away from turning the church’s leaders into a roomful of TV executives trying to figure out which type of new fall show will draw in their key demographic.  
  • Get the church to look in all the time.  Make them thoroughly and completely overwhelmed with the church structure and the internal systems and programs.  Get them to think only about the people already in the body.  No church can outlive its current members if no new members are made.  It’s simple math.  So you can kill a church by attrition if you get it to stop obeying Jesus’ commands to preach to the unbelieving and make disciples.  This method takes a little patience of course, unlike introducing outright heresy or getting a leader to fall into a massive scandal, but it’ll get you to the same end.  A church who doesn’t care about making new Christians won’t outlive her current Christians.  

Let me pull my tongue back out of my cheek, now:  Don’t let any of these things begin in your church.  And if they’ve already begun, pray and work like crazy for their removal.  

The church is a blessed thing.  And the cities and countries of our world desperately need local churches to minister to Gospel-believers and send them back out into the darkness, as well as to preach Christ’s Good News from the pulpit and the pew loud enough for all to hear.    

I’m short, love and protect the church.  

Jesus died to do the same. 

A Healthy Christian

  
2 observations:

1) I almost never meet a healthy Christian who isn’t plugged in to a local church.

2) Almost every time I meet someone who claims Christ but is not involved in any local church there turns out to be some fairly noteworthy sin or lack of spiritual growth going on in the person’s life.  

The reason that both of these little anecdotal notes make sense to me is that the New Testament doesn’t have much of a category for a Christian doing the Christian life in isolation.  It describes us as citizens of a Kingdom, sheep of a flock, members of a body.  

Whether we are working to straighten the crooked path of a church like the one in Corinth or being persecuted as part of a faithful church like the one in Smyrna, the New Testament’s panorama of the Christian life shows us we should be serving and being served in local churches.  

We should be taking the Lord’s Supper.  

We should be seeing unbelievers come to faith and being baptized.  

We should be submitting to elders/pastors.  

We should be hearing the Word of God preached and taught.  

And we should want these things.  

And there’s another thing we should desire.  If we’ve been born again through faith in Christ, then we’ve been adopted into an eternal family.  We will worship with other saints from every tribe and tongue, every skin color and economic stratus and culture, forever and ever and ever.  We should want to start having that rhythm in our blood now.

So, we should want to participate in the ordinances of Jesus’ church.  We should want to submit to the shepherds within Jesus’ church.  We should want to be in meaningful, accountable relationships with the other people who make up Jesus’ church.  

We should each want to be a part of a church.  

It’s a healthy desire.  

And fulfilling that healthy desire helps to produce a healthy Christian.  

What an Idea is Less Important Than

  
Ideas and structures are important only insofar as they glorify God and (especially in the case of religious ideas and structures) save the souls of men.  If we ever love the idea more than we love God or man, then we’ve lent our hearts to a very seductive idol with a very long historical shadow:  The idol of hollowed out religiosity.  Even if it goes by a non-religious name (think “Communism”), even if it looks almost like a mirror image of Godly faithfulness, if the engine of an idea, movement, or philosophy isn’t love of God and love for mankind then it is, at its core, a flimsy God-substitute, and its faithful are indeed kneeling in its temple.  

The Israelite King Jereboam still wanted religion, but not so much (anymore) the Creator, and so he set up golden idols in cities far from Solomon’s temple.  I’m sure they were beautiful and visually striking and emotionally resonant and, of course, as dead as two bags of rocks.  And the Pharisees in Jesus’ day loved the Law (the Old Testament, or at the very least the first section of it) because they loved the praise (and jealousy, I believe) of men as they recited it and taught its phrasing and appeared to obey it better than the masses.  

It is possible, I know from experience, to have a form of religion while not tasting of the power of God.  It is possible to love a good idea, even the best of ideas, and be totally in the dark, spiritually.  And praise be to Jesus that it is also possible to be forgiven of it.

If we ever love a church structure more than we love the glory of God instead of maintaining a church structure because we love the glory of God, we’re turning a good thing into an idol.  And if we ever love our theology more than we love the saints or the lost instead of treasuring theology because we love the saints and the lost, we’re worshiping backwards and at the wrong altar.   

The old Christian confession of Westminster says that the chief end of man is to worship God and enjoy Him forever.  I concur with it, there.  

And mistaking the means for the end is always a costly proposition.  

Undoing Babel

  

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 

Ephesians 4:1-7

A long time ago humanity, or at least a lot of us, tried to build a tower.  We wanted to be big and remarkable and lofty.  We wanted to be powerful.  We wanted to be like God.  And pride, just like it always does, killed and destroyed what it touched.  God sentenced sin to death.  

Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’ And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.

Genesis 11:4-8

Earth was subjected to confusion because of the pride and sin of men.  Just like Earth was subjected to death and pain because of the pride and sin of Adam.  

But God had a way to make things right.  Through His perfect Son, God would restore what our sin had wrecked.  And one of the things He’d do in resurrecting the dead souls of sinful men is to bring family from what had been fractured.  To unwind the confusion He’d sentenced on us.  Where our pride yielded a planet of warring factions and disparate peoples moving away from the deserted ghost town of Babel, God would bring all sorts of men from all kinds of tribes together through His Good News.  

Centuries after Babel, this happened, just days removed from Jesus’ death on a Roman cross:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’ And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’ But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: And in the last days it shall be, God declares,that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence. Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool. Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’

Acts 2:1-39

This God is bringing many back to Himself.

This is not a god of chaos or confusion.  Those are Satan’s tunes.  This Jesus Christ has offered men a better destiny.  He has purchased for them a brotherhood of thicker blood than their family trees, a brotherhood who will sing in the same choir at the same wedding banquet to the same beautiful Savior with the bond of a common joy forever and ever and ever.  

Our God is making a new people.  

We are not told there should be one body.  We are told that now there is one.  

The God of Jesus Christ is doing something unsearchably wonderful.  He is bringing thousands from dissimilar tribes and tongues together through faith in Him.  God is drawing many different and despicable men to Himself.  

He is undoing Babel.  

On Why I Believe In Church Membership

  

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 

Hebrews 13:7

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body… If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’

1 Corinthians 12:14-16, 19-21

Why do I believe in church membership?  There are probably a dozen big reasons, but I’ll summarize a few of the foundational ones in a sentence:

Because I am a part of the Christian Body of Christ, and that Body is in turn made up of individual, local bodies of Christians who are accountable to and for one another.  

This is a normative thing I see in the New Testament.  Christians are spoken of and spoken to as integral parts of individual, local churches.  Churches whom they are accountable to and churches whom they are accountable for.  So at some point I should no longer merely be visiting a Christian body; I should be one of its eyes, fingers, or ears.  If I’ve been born again, then I’ve been grafted into Christ’s body.  I should live like it.  I should be grafted in to a local body.

And this all makes sense, guys.  There’s a reason why we don’t see a lot of isolated, disconnected Christians in the New Testament.  God is saving a people, and so I know that community is both to His glory and necessary for our good.  I can’t be who I’m called to be in Christ if I’m not being prayed for and discipled by and even admonished by other Christians.  And I can’t be who God would have me be if I refuse to do the same myself for others.  If I try to live the Christian life apart from a local church I’m doing something that is disobedient, dangerous, and selfish.  

I know the pains and costs that come from being covenanted to other people.  There are great risks that come with it, and sometimes great wounds.  But our Lord knew those risks, too.  He knew them in the Upper Room as Judas Iscariot dipped his bread with Him, and He knew them when Peter forsook Him the night before the Crucifuxion.  I’m confident He knows them when I sin against Him.  And yet He chose and chooses to wed Himself to a people.  To be a Savior of the church.  Our Savior counted the cost, and chose to love and ransom and cleanse a sinful people.  

And because I love Him, I want to love what He loves.  

I believe in church membership because I need to be what I have been called to be:  A working part of the Bride and Body of this Jesus Christ.  

And so I want to give myself to her as He gave Himsef for her.  

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. 

Ephesians 5:25-30

15 Seconds On Eleos

  
Mercy is what founded the church. 

The impenetrable walls of the Kingdom of Christ, the ink of His redemptive Story, is the unmerited love of God.  His inexplicable, unsearchable adoration for His formerly wretched people.  

The power that held back the deep waters of an Egyptian sea for Moses and that killed 185,000 soldiers for Hezekiah runs through the love that brings a dead sinner to faith in Christ.  It is a grace, a mercy, a benevolence that knows no equal.  

We Christians are a people created by the grace of our Father in Christ Jesus.  We are a people borne of the unspeakable compassion of the triune God.  

We are a people of mercy, for we were wrought by a God of mercy.