Today we continue in our series on the church. We’re in this series because people have been leaving the church in our culture. The great “de-churching” is unprecedented in our country and the trend isn’t slowing down. It’s impossible to think that some people in the church may not be in it soon.
What is the church? What is it for? What’s our relationship to it? And is there something about the church I may be missing?
This series is not just to keep people from leaving or bring people back who have left. It’s just to make us a better church and understand our responsibilities.
As a result, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time looking at our membership process, what we refer to as partnership. We want to support that in a greater way. It’s led to some changes and we’re going to share with you soon how we’re going to come alongside our partners better than we ever have. In the middle of December, you’ll be invited to partner with us if you’re not yet.
We have come through the book of Acts and seen the beginning and expansion of the church. We haven’t really defined it yet, so here is a basic definition based on what we saw in Acts:
There have been elders set up in every one of the churches. We watched in Acts, the authority move from the apostles to the elders. I want to speak to you today about the authority of the community and its leaders.
One writer said that when you get through Acts, it turns out the church is not a glob…there’s a real structure to it.
There’s not one of us that has been given individual authority over our own lives as believers. Our authority is in the local body of believers. This is another reason we have to be in the body.
It’s one reason, and I believe it’s the strongest reason, that church is not optional in a believer’s life.
The average person in our culture believes there is no loss if they stop going to church.
There’s no description of a believer outside of the church in the Bible. And every picture of someone outside the church is always dangerous.
So, if you’re not in a church, the vast majority of the New Testament is not applicable to you.
This is heavy stuff, because you have a responsibility to the church you can’t ignore. There are people you have to care for and be accountable to––if you’re not in the church you don’t have it.
We followed Peter in the book of Acts. The Spirit came down and Peter was the main person we followed until the Jerusalem council. So, I want to take you to his book that was written later back to the church.
You see the hand off here between apostle and elder. He says to shepherd the flock of God. It’s a sacred phrase.
This is not saying “young people” in general. “Younger” is anyone who is not an elder. He tells everyone else to be subject to the elders. If you’re not in a church you can’t do that. It takes a lot of humility toward one another.
God opposes the proud person who doesn’t want to be under the leadership of the church and submit to one another. But he gives grace to the humble. That text is for you and me as members of a church.
Nothing Peter says here applies to you if you’re not in a church.
Now I’ll take you to Matthew 16 where Peter first hears this.
Peter becomes the rock on which Christ builds the church. We walk through Acts where Peter proves to be that rock.
The gates of hell are just death. It locks you in. God is saying, my people who gather in my name are not subject to death.
The YMCA can’t say that. No other club you’re a part of. Only the church. It can’t be destroyed. It’s indestructible. And it’s perfectly safe to serve in and serve under God’s authority.
Jesus is saying there’s a real relationship between heaven and earth. Whatever God is doing in the world through the church that Jesus is building. Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven.
If you want to see how God rules things, you step into the church to find out. There is an incredibly important link.
So what is binding and loosing? What are the keys for?
It’s access to the kingdom and it’s authority. If you have the keys to the place you have authority.
Somehow, the church in how it operates, becomes the passageway for whether you’re granted access into the rule of God. The church is the centerpiece of that.
If you’re not in a church, how does the binding and loosing apply to you?
In Acts 8, Peter said one guy couldn’t come in because he hadn’t repented. Whatever things you open or close on earth will have already been opened in heaven. You’re not making the decision, Peter. You’re not endorsing the actions of heaven, but heaven is guiding the course of action of the leaders in accordance with his predetermined purposes.
The church isn’t out there making its own decisions. Heaven is behind it, acting on its behalf. It’s hard to imagine a tighter connection between what God is doing and how he uses the church to accomplish it.
Whatever that flow is between heaven and earth that involves the church, you are outside of that if you’re not in the church. Do you want to be outside of that?
What are you really binding and loosing? We get a picture of that in chapter 18.
It starts with you and your brother alone. You don’t announce it. You handle it together. But if he doesn’t listen, you take people with you. This is following Deuteronomy 19 of having witnesses for proof. If you don’t listen, we’re supposed to take a few people to look at the matter and make sure one of us isn’t nuts.
Once you establish you’re not nuts, here’s what happens.
Here’s the connection between Matthew 16 and 18. We literally either keep you in and give you access or we close the door and forbid you to be part of this community because you’re not living up to it.
This is applied to the church, whereas it was given to Peter in Matthew 16. Now it’s given to the church. The church forbids or grants access.
The goal is to win your brother. What happens if you lose a brother? For him to be removed is considered loss. He loses out on the privileges and benefits of being in the community. But there might be more. Look how you’re treated. A tax collector and a Gentile. These people were the lowest morally in the culture. Jesus would say these people don’t look like believers. They look and act like unbelievers.
So it calls into question whether your faith is real or not if you’re not letting the community get something out of your life that isn’t of God.
This is so important. The reason we’ve highlighted these words in the picture is because the first and second steps are useless if the third step of telling it to the church is off the table. If it’s just you and me, there’s no authority to appeal to.
If a close friend and then a couple of people and then a whole community sees it, that’s very unhealthy. Someone has to communicate that to you. That’s a major loss for you and us.
The only authority that the one or the two has is ultimately within the church structure. The tax collectors and Gentiles were at the bottom of the scale, had no place among the people, they were out.
The worst thing for you is to be out of a community. It puts your whole faith in jeopardy. God expects the church to affirm our faith and life. I’m obligated, same as everyone else in this room.
Here again is another picture of the negative depiction of a person who is out of the church. You’re demonstrating the character of a lost person.
This is a framework that the New Testament elaborates on. They all apply to us, but they can’t if you’re not in a church.
If the church is isn’t sure of your profession of faith, and it has shut access to you and asked you to leave because you will not repent, that puts you outside of the church and it cannot be confident that your faith is healthy. This means that if you’re outside the church, you should not be confident that your faith is healthy.
Some people have the attitude that me and God will figure it out on my own. That removes you from the heaven and earth flow of the kingdom of God.
If the church is unsure of your profession, you cannot walk around assured and think you can just go to God.
There’s no bypassing the church. You are not a church on your own. You were not called by God to govern yourself as a believer.
If you come together in agreement on something as the church that someone is not fit to be in this community, God says he’s on the side of the church.
This is a very sacred responsibility. Next week you’ll see the love involved in this process and the concern for your welfare in this process.
This verse has been used a million times out of context. Who are the two or three spoken of in this passage? The people in the discipline process with a precious brother who will not be won.
God sides with the church when the church agrees that a person is living in a way that is damaging to the church and refuses to take it seriously. That person cannot be a part of this community. God backs us on that.
If you’re in a church, you’re accountable to each other.
If you go to your Life Group and they find out you’ve had an affair, or are stealing, or gossiping in a way that destroys life, they have to confront you. If you’re the person who says I will do what I want, you don’t belong in the community. That’s a loss.
It’s only in the context of the church that I have recourse to get you on the right path. I have to have leadership to go to.
This is pretty heavy. God is taking seriously what the community is.
If you’re not in the church, then you’re not experiencing the way God moves throughout the world.
We all believe and assume God is with us individually, but you don’t experience it in this unique way if you’re not in a church, because there’s not way to carry it out to fruition. You’ve removed yourself from the church and there’s no way to get back on track. We do not have individual authority to govern ourselves.
There’s nothing like the church. It’s not like anything else.
Next week we’ll see a number of things about this process. Today I just want you to see that it’s very dangerous to be outside of it.
How does the rest of the New Testament speak to this in a way that would encourage us to want to be in a church to want to be loved and protected like this––how does the New Testament make us want to be part of the church in light of this process? That’s what we’ll talk about next week.
The application today is that God gives grace to the humble and opposes the proud. So, if you’re standing firmly in your sin, maybe you’ve never given your life to Christ, that’s pride. God opposes that.
If you’re in a church or have stopped going to church, that is pride and God opposes that.
You want grace, then be humble.