I recently heard of an English Bishop compare the mission of the church to that of a museum: “I suppose… keeping alive aspects of the Christian heritage for those who are interested in that sort of thing…” Statistics seem to back him up: last year, 2.7m church members left, never to come back again. Every year in America 4,000 churches close their doors (while only 1,000 are planted). There are now half as many churches as there were a hundred years ago. Is this the church’s last hurray? Will our generation witness the death of the church? A recent poll revealed that less than 9% of Americans have a Christian world view (believing that the Bible is accurate, in a literal hell / heaven, that salvation is only by grace). Does church really still work? The honest answer is yes and no. Some do and some don’t. The difference: great churches are communities where the new covenant has united membership in a common grace and a common purpose. (Ephesians 2:14-22)
A Common Grace
If you can’t find yourself in Ephesians 2, you’re not looking! It covers all groups (ethnically and spiritually). It begins explaining about our shared fallen, sinful condition (v1-3, 12-13). We were dead in sins, children of disobedience, captive to sinful lusts, without hope, doomed to hell. But God intervened! The Father planned our salvation (1:3-6), even before we the creation of the world. Jesus, the Son, purchased our salvation (1:7) with His own blood. And the Holy Spirit preserves our salvation (1:13-14) for the continued glory of the Father and Son. The amazing thing about salvation is that it was all God (2:8-9). Salvation is only because of God’s grace, appropriated through faith. Have you received the greatest gift ever given? I’m thankful that my testimony is all God, none of self.
We are now His Body (1:23,2:16,3:6,4:4,12,16,5:30). If you are saved, you are His body – in your family, in your neighborhood, in your factory, on your shift, in your class, at your church. Our Head is depending on you and me to be His hands, His feet, His tongue. Not only are we His body, but we are His building (2:22, 1Cor 3:16). I am not the temple of God alone; we, together, are God’s construction project. In addition to being His body and building, God also calls us His Bride (5:23, 27). Let us look forward to the trumpet’s sound, hearing the angelic announcement, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh!” Wow — what a day that will be! Let us make ready our wedding garments as a church together. Let us invite many guests to the ceremony. Let us look for and long for His appearing. Oh, what grace we share as a church!
A Common Purpose
God’s plan is to display His glory to all of creation through the church (Eph. 3:9-11): to angels, to demons, to mankind, to all of creation. In other words, when people (and angels/demons) look at the church, they should see Christ. Not only will they hear our statement of faith or read our church covenant, but they should witness the gospel (good news) of God modeled in our lives and spoken on our lips. This isn’t just about what we can reveal in a few hours on the first day of the week, but how we live our lives every hour of every day of the week.
Together, we are filled with His Power (1:22-23, Col. 2:9-10). To accomplish the tall task of glorifying God for the universe, He has equipped us with “the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” There is no higher authority than that of Christ’s. No title, no position, no government, no kingdom (visible or invisible). In Him dwells all the fullness of the God-head. But that’s only half of it… The Bible says that Christ has shared His authority with the church. He put all things under His feet for the church (1:22 – dative case states personal interest, denoting advantage). “All things are yours… all are yours.” (1 Cor. 3:21-23).
The church is NOT in danger of extinction. It is not weak and powerless. We have all of Heaven’s resources at our disposal… available anytime we decide to get with His program! We have a guarantee: “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19) We have been called to a mission, commissioned for a purpose (Matthew 28:19-20) – but not without His power (Matt. 28:18, Acts 1:8).
If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell—and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward. . . . How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
– Words of Atheist, Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller), after he was given a Gideon Bible by a Christian
Together, we display His Love (1 John 4:9-11; 3:16-19; John 13:35). Real love is the identifier of Christ-followers. Forgiveness, acceptance, sacrifice are foundational to a family – to God’s family. If we are to be a living proof of the gospel (and we are), then we must take the message of John 3:16 as our example. When a church fails to building relationships, creating a community of hope and deep friendships, it is doomed to fail.