Monday, June 02, 2008
A Church That Flies
I started a new sermon series yesterday, that a lot of people have responded to very well. So, for those you who weren't there, here's the transcript of the sermon:
I want to begin by explaining a very important distinction that we have sometimes blurred. The largest bell ever cast is known as the emperor’s bell. It is the largest bell in the world. It weighs 440 000 pounds, it is 23 feet in diameter. It was cast in Russia to celebrate the coronation of Tsar Kolokol III. There was a problem, however. The bell could not be hoisted into position. They tried. It fell, and a 12-ton piece broke off the lip. The bell now stands as an ornament in a public park. It has never rang, not once.
Point: Sometimes the form of something (how it looks) can overwhelm its function (what it was intended to do). A bell, regardless of how big and beautiful it looks, is not a bell if it cannot ring. It is useless if it cannot make a sound.
If you drive out of town in any direction, you are likely to go by a junkyard. And you’ll see rows and rows of rusted out cars. Some still have their wheels on. They all pretty much look like cars. They have the form of cars. But the problem is that none of them can get me from point A to point B. They no longer function as cars - and it really doesn’t matter that they look like cars, if they can’t transport me, they don’t work like cars.
One more example: Holly used to work for a foundation that operated 4 house museums. They’re wonderful homes, full of furniture from the Civil War period. Now if I were to take a tour through one of those museums, and I got tired, and sat down on one of these antique chairs, the docent would throw a fit. They’d have me off that chair before I could take a breath! Why? Because what looks like a chair no longer serves the function of a chair. A chair is built, by design, to sit in - that is why it has a seat, a back, and 4 legs. And if you ever come across a piece of furniture that has a seat, a back, and 4 legs, and you may not, under any circumstances, sit in it - well, it’s useless.
So we have two concepts now:
Form (how something looks, its shape, its characteristics)
Function (what it does, and why - its purpose)
Baptism is a great example of form and function working together – the form of baptism is immersion in water b/c the function of baptism is a spiritual death, burial, and resurrection, and a washing away of sin. The reason why you do something precedes the specifics of how you do it. How you do something is only important if you’re doing it for the right reasons. In other words, form (what something looks like, how you do something) is important, but it always follows after and serves function (why you do something, its purpose).
I have been conducting an informal poll – asking people to name the “marks” of the church. What the church looks like. And, predictably, they rattled off the usual list - acapella singing, weekly communion, giving, praying, preaching, local autonomy, plurality of elders, deacons, someone even said having the name “Church of Christ.” But then I asked them to define the function of the church. What is the work that God has called His people to accomplish? If we say that we are the body of Christ on earth, how is that body supposed to function? What is the church for? Why are we here? What is God trying to do through us? Now that is a tougher question. We know the form, but what’s the function? Or is our function to simply get the form right? Is our purpose to be a carbon copy of the 1st century church? Is that it? Surely there must be more? You can have all the forms and structures and language down just right – you can have acapella singing, weekly communion, local autonomy, plurality of elders, deacons – you can even have the “right” name on the sign outside: “Church of Christ” – and be of no use to God. You might as well be a chair in a museum!
So, what are the functions God wants us to perform? What are the goals God wants us to strive for? It has become fashionable to say that we have an “identity crisis” in the church. Well, we don’t. We know who we are. We have a functional crisis in the church. We don’t know what to do! We have wings, but we don’t know how to fly! Instead of asking “how did they do things in the NT?” let’s ask “what were they about? What was their business? And why? What functions did the church perform? What is the business of the Kingdom of God? What goals and ambitions should we embrace? What purposes are central to our very existence?
From our reading of Acts 2 (42-47) and the rest of the book of Acts, I believe there are 7 basic functions of the church: Worship, Holiness, Being a Community, Maturing each other (discipleship), Service, Witness, Influence. This is the work that God has entrusted to His church. These are purposes to pursue - these things transcend time, culture, circumstance. These things are important and necessary for the church to function and exist and bring glory to God. And in the time remaining today we’re going to briefly look at the first function of the church – next week we’ll talk about holiness, community, and discipleship, and the week after that we’ll talk about service, witness, and influence.
1) God’s People are Called to Worship.
Worship is the primary function of God’s people – b/c worship is the acknowledgement that God is in our presence, that He is holy, and we are not!
We must worship. We must let our praises ring out. It is something we cannot not do! Under Moses, the first 2 of the 10 commandments addressed worship. The entire book of Psalms is the record of the worship of the Israelites. The NT church was primarily a worshipping community. Worship is an attitude and lifestyle - it was, and still is, a way of glorifying God in all we do. Worship was the reason the early church came together, and it is the reason we come together.
But we need to remember that true worship must never be confused with assemblies and rituals - it is, rather, the experience of the presence of God in our lives. Worship is when we see our own brokenness, and we express our gratitude to God, with joy, and fear, and humility. The language of worship transcends words. God demands that our worship honor Him and change our lives. Worship is not just an event you attend, it is not merely a set of rules to follow. It is an experience you cannot live without!
And perhaps, the most important practical implication of worship is that it has to change my life. There has to be a consistency between what we do in here one hour on a Sunday, and what we do out there the rest of the week. Worship has to change my life. This inconsistency is what the Jews of old were condemned for:
Our final text is a description of what heaven will be like, and no surprise, it is endless worship in the presence of God forever. But it is worship based on the notion that God, out of His great love for us, actually did something that benefits us greatly!