We’ve dedicated the fall to looking at the church and asking, what is it? What is our relationship to it?
We live in an era of de-churching. Most people leave the church casually, which just means they have other priorities and their lifestyles don’t make room for the church. The number 1 reason people leave is because they moved and never found another one. It’s an issue of convenience.
There are also casualties, because the church can hurt you. There are good reasons to leave a church, such as abuse or scandals.
We’re trying to look at the Scripture and assess all of that. The main question for the vast majority of people is, Is that ok? Is it a big deal if you leave? Many of the people who de-church would say they haven’t lost their faith, they just want to disentangle from the church.
I don’t want to downplay the issues of the church. This series is not just for the people who are not here. We want to become better at being the church. Most people who de-church for reasons of belonging rather than belief. We have to get better at helping people belong.
For those who have had a painful experience, I hope this series helps get you to a place of healing.
For some of you, I know this question has arisen: Can you have faith and decide church isn’t for you? What’s the connection between the two?
I’m arguing that this distinction between your faith and what the church is to you is an artificial distinction, not a biblical one. There’s not a category in your Bible for someone who is saved and doesn’t want anything to do with the church. There’s no category for that.
So we get theologically nit-picky, because we ask if that means we’re not saved if we’re not in the church anymore. That’s an artificial question.
Can I have my own personal faith and be disconnected from the church?
You say, I don’t need the church, because I’m connected to Christ. Well, who is he connected to? The church!
Everything that’s going to happen in Ephesians happens in the church. If you’re not there it wouldn’t apply to you.
It’s a gruesome image to think you could chop off the head from the body.
We’re all members of one another. We can’t get away from each other or from one another. We can aggravate each other. But theologically there’s a connection that can’t be undone.
He’s broken down the dividing wall of hostility. Jew and Gentile was one of the greatest racial divisions in history.
Jesus didn’t just save you. He’s creating in himself one new man, one new humanity. The same cross that saves you is the cross that brings you into one new humanity.
Christ purchased the church with his blood. The cross doesn’t just save you, but creates a whole new humanity.
What is the hostility that builds up in people’s lives in the church? Jesus kills that hostility.
The Spirit lives in me. But Paul says in Ephesians 2 that we’re no longer strangers and aliens, but part of a new building with Christ as the cornerstone. We are being built together as a dwelling place for God by his Spirit. God doesn’t dwell in you alone, but in the community.
How do you kill the hostility between a Jew and a Gentile in that day? It’s a pain in the neck, just like it is in our day with any kind of diversity. This naturally leads to the next section of bringing the Jew and Gentile together. We have two groups of Jews, one speaking Greek and the other Aramaic, and they’re even having trouble coming together.
Acts shows a very raw forming of the church. It’s a much harder thing to pull off than they thought. It starts with a supernatural thing bringing people together. People get saved and immediately become part of this community. It immediately brings you into a corporate entity. It’s an act of the Spirit to bring you together. You don’t want to be out on that.
They become a new society, barriers are coming down, but it’s not a perfect place. We have hypocrisy in the church. The first issue we see come up in Acts was an issue of the heart.
We asked for tech volunteers. It doesn’t matter how nice of equipment we have, we need God to speak to people’s hearts. 12 people signed up. It was big.
What God is doing in your heart is the most important thing that happens around here.
You have the organizational issue. How does God deal with the hypocrisy issue? Discipline. We’ll talk about that later. When your hypocritical heart surfaces and you’re not repentant, it’s time to go.
The church in Acts had an increase in numbers, the church was growing, and then they had complaints.
Some of these Jews started speaking Greek and becoming culturally more Greek. They didn’t care as much about the cultural things in the Jewish world. It created tension.
You have deacons here dealing with the daily distribution.
We’re starting to see what happens when people come together. The neediest people in the community were the widows, because there was nobody to take care of them. The odds of them surviving were not good. They were being taken care of here.
But the 12 apostles couldn’t figure out these problems. The best among us are struggling to care for the church. You have people coming from out of town in this time, and they had some insecurity. You don’t seem to have discrimination going on in this time as much as neglect. If you don’t speak the language, you’re a little more on the outs and get missed by the organization, even if the 12 apostles are your pastors.
So there’s a socialization problem. How do we bring people of all different sorts together?
I’ve sat around thinking, I wonder how hurt I would be if I was a Greek-speaking Hellenist who didn’t have my widow being taken care of. There was no other church to go to. You can sling a cat where we live and hit a church. There, it was the only one.
When you start complaining as if the church doesn’t care, then your hurt starts to hurt others. What we’re going to learn here is that everyone is going to have to manage hurt. Nobody is getting out of this thing without managing hurt. And the second thing is that everyone is going to have to overcome prejudices. You don’t think the Hebrew Jews didn’t look down their nose a little bit at the Hellenistic Jews? They speak different languages and have different practices. There had to be a lot of things about each other that bugged them.
We have some ageism at Hillside. The younger folks look down on the younger and some of the older folks look down on the younger. We’re all going through different things. There are a million ways we could divide each other. One of the marks of growth in your life is that less bugs you as you grow.
You’ve got to learn to love everyone in here no matter how they dress or sound.
Every time something bugs you, you have to deal with that. In community you get to practice that.
The apostles have a lot of spiritual duties here.
The apostles were too busy preaching to deal with widows. That can be offensive. It sounds a little snooty. I bet it created other problems. But it’s a reality in the organization. So they realize they have to pick out others who can do it.
And we learn something else about the church. The unorganized church isn’t great. Everyone wants the unorganized religion. Do you know how miserable that is? People get hurt. To unorganized your organized religion is a big mistake, because a lot of things will not get done.
It’s just like the tech people. If we have tech people we can have tech. If you have people to serve tables, you can serve tables.
Look, most of these guys are Greek. If you see something that needs to be done, do it. You can’t have the same people doing other jobs doing it. They picked people within the same group. Nicolaus is an all-out proselyte. Can you imagine what the meeting would be for this group?
What night of the week are we going to meet? How are we going to sacrifice and compromise?
This team of diverse people gets to model for the church how diversity gets unified. It’s not easy. Every little committee you form has problems. “How come I’m not on the team?”
One of these guys is probably a loudmouth, can’t keep a secret, just messes anything up. “Phillip, we told you not tell that!”
Here’s another beautiful thing that happens here. With this team that’s being organized, you realize that the church cannot survive with just the people at the top. You cannot survive unless people get involved. I don’t care if you have the 12 apostles and Peter is your pastor. He cannot do everything.
Stephen who is picked here, and Paul picked later––they weren’t part of the original 12. But the church wouldn’t grow without them. Every pastor needs to realize he’s not the most important part of a church. This church has so many things going on in it, and I’m out of 98% of it. I’m happy to tell you, I don’t know all that’s going on. This church survives not by me. There are all sorts of non-trained people making it go. I could die tomorrow and this church would be just fine.
I’ve got to pitch in if I want the church to be better. The staff alone can’t do it all by a long shot.
I want to say a couple of things about hurt involved here. I think that’s why people are leaving. The church is always either over-organized or not organized enough for people.
When I think about hurt, I have so many thoughts come to mind. Sometimes the hurt is very unnecessary. Sometimes it’s just growing pains. Sometimes it’s just very unfortunate.
Sometimes the hurt has to be overlooked. Some hurt has to be radically managed. I’ve had both hurts. I’ve had hurts that make me want to leave this place. Then I’ve had hurts that I just have to absorb. My wife doesn’t even know about them, because I want to protect her from disliking anyone in here.
Protect people in this church who hurt you. I’ve had the gamut, just like you.
When you’re reading through the book of Acts, you’ll see these statements about how it’s growing or how great awe was there and the apostles were doing all these signs and wonders. Everyone longs for the signs and wonders. Eventually we’re going to get to chapter 18 where Paul goes and starts a church in Corinth. This church was the most gifted church you’ll ever read about in the New Testament. They had superstars at every level, supernatural activity, supernatural ministry. But they were the most messed up church in your New Testament.
1 Corinthians has the strongest language in your Bible about what happens when you destroy the church. I don’t want to be on that destructive side.
What does Paul tell that church? Everybody in that church was hurt. Every single person. What did Paul tell them?
Even if you have a gifted person in the church, people who talk in languages people don’t understand, have prophetic powers, can move mountains. Who doesn’t want these guys in his church? Who doesn’t want the generous, sacrificial person? If you had a church draft, this is the group you want.
But Paul says that if you don’t have love, you have become something nasty sounding. You are nothing, and you gain nothing. If you don’t have love, Paul doesn’t just invalidate your gift, he invalidates you.
Why would he say that? The most gifted church, the most hurt church in your Bible.
Love is better than miracles. In fact, it is the greatest miracle. It’s not all the great gifts in Acts that mark the church, but the way they cared for each other.
In this room, there are a lot of gifted people. None of us are as gifted as we’d like to be. If we talk about church greatness just as gift, how great can you really be?
Paul is saying, everyone who loves can be great in the church. It’s better than miracles and gifts. That’s real greatness.
Why is love personified in 1 Corinthians 13 after this? Because none of these things matter if we don’t have love. As gifted as these people are, when you get hurt, the thing you need most is love.
Love is patient. Why is that the first one? We have to put up with each other. That means more than anything else. You absorb hurt like an airbag instead of hurting back. Love will keep you from hurting back. It’s the greatest miracle in the church: hurt people loving each other.
That’s why there’s nothing like the church. I don’t care how gifted we are if we can’t handle the hurt that comes our way in community. Love is best personified in Jesus. Because of the way he loved, we are capable of loving each other. And how in the world are you going to get better at loving if you leave? Take that hurt, march it in there, and let love handle how we operate. We can’t grow in love without each other.
Romans 5:8. Christ demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. You can’t really appreciate God’s love unless you’ve been hurt in the church. Because you know he’s been hurt and he still loves.
Our love for each other is the best way to heal the hurt that we have.
Is there anything I’m supposed to be or be a part of in this church?
Is there any unhealthy sin in my life? I need to deal with that right now.
If there is hurt you’re carrying, ask God to heal it and help you love in a way that makes this church greater.
We aren’t going to be a church that doesn’t hurt. But we can be a church where love dominates and creates a better witness for the world.