5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.’ (Exodus 19:5,6. NRSV) 9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. (1 Peter 2:9.NRSV)
Non-negotiable May 24th, 2009 Matthew 7:21-23 1 Peter 2:4-5 Rev. Paul Carter Introduction: From time to time in ministry you have to preach a sermon that you don’t want to preach. This morning is one of those mornings. We need to destroy a stronghold and demolish an argument today and that is far less fun than building up and edifying but it is no less important and it is no less a part of the process. We understand this in the physical realm; for example, when we purchased that piece of property out front we understood that it was possible that we would have to tear down the existing building because of mould and bacteria. We understood that and we factored that in. In order to plan new uses for that piece of land we may first have to go through a deconstruction phase. So it goes in the spiritual realm. Before you can build up an area of wisdom and understanding sometimes you have to tear down an area of deception or error. The Apostle Paul says:
We destroy arguments 5and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5. NRSV)
In every way we think we need to think under the Lordship of Jesus – our minds need to be CAPTIVE TO HIS LORDSHIP – amen church?
We are starting the last leg of our Wholly Thine Series and we are supposed to focusing in on the theme of ‘Community’. All of the descriptives God uses in the calling passages of the Bible are communal descriptives: ‘A chosen PEOPLE’. ‘A holy NATION’. ‘A KINGDOM of priests’. Whether you look in the Old Testament version of the statement in Exodus 19 or the New Testament version in 1 Peter 2 what you see is three leaves supported and held together by a common communal stem. It is the stem we are going to be talking about for the next several weeks but before we can we have to destroy a stronghold. We have to tear down the idea that a person can be a Christian without belonging to a church. We have to address the question: Question 1: Can I Believe And Not Belong? So this is not really the first message in that series. It is more of a prequel. We have to do this before we talk about that – does that makes sense? Open your Bibles to Matthew 7:21-23:
21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” 23Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” (NRSV)
I’ve told you before that the Greek word translated ‘evildoers’ is the word ‘anomian’. Everyone here knows the word ‘theist’ – a theist is someone who believes in God. An Atheist is what? Someone who does NOT believe in God. The Greek word for law is nomos so an A-nomian is someone who does not believe that Jesus has a law. Those people are not saved – though they cast out demons, though they serve on committees and though they tithe of their income. Thus saith the Lord. Flip forward to John 15:14:
14You are my friends if you do what I command you. (NRSV)
If you want to be in a relationship with Jesus and be one of his philoi, his beloved, his friends, than you have to come under his Lordship. In case that isn’t clear we have 1 John 2:4:
4Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him’, but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist (NRSV)
This is the testimony of Scripture from the beginning – Old Testament through New Testament. We see it in Isaiah 66:2:
But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word. (NRSV)
The Scriptures are consistent throughout: Fairly Obvious Principal #1: If you are rebelling against the word of God you are not saved. Jesus said:
46 ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46. NRSV)
You are not a Christian if you are living in rebellion against God’s Word. Period. Now, this does not mean that a real Christian doesn’t sin:
8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8. NRSV)
Everybody sins. But when a real believer sins and the Holy Spirit convicts or if they resist that and they are rebuked by a fellow believer, a real believer immediately confesses. The very next verse in 1 John says:
9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (NRSV)
Believers may stumble and confess but obedience is the standard token of faith. Let me share something from the week before I left for Arrow. A lady came into my office to see me. She had been coming to the church for about two months – she started coming during the Sex series. She had always considered herself a Christian – she went to church on a regular basis, was part of a prayer group and regularly read Christian books and watched Christian T.V. She told me all of this and then she dropped the bomb. She said: ‘Pastor coming to this church over the last two months has made me suspect that I am not actually a Christian.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I asked. ‘Well the thing is I’ve been living with a man who is not my husband for the last several months and I never did finalise the divorce with my ex-husband – after the Sex series it seems like that might be a sin.’ ‘First of all’, I said, ‘who cares what I say or what I think, let’s check the word of God.’ I took her to some of the passages we looked at already this morning about how many people will say ‘Lord, Lord’ many people will go to church, many to prayer group, many will watch The Chrystal Cathedral on TV and will be declared unsaved by Jesus. We talked about how a real believer trembles before the Word of God and does what Jesus says. Then we looked at Matthew 5 where Jesus defined adultery and divorce. Then I flat out asked her: ‘What do you make of all this?’ She said to me: ‘I’m not saved. I’m on the outside looking in and I want that to change.’ So we got down on our knees repented of our sins and she received Jesus Christ as her Saviour and Lord and she got up and obeyed the Word of God. She got out of her living situation and is determined to go back and set things up in a way that aligns with the Scriptures. Is that woman saved? You bet she is – she may have been ignorant of the Word of God but when she heard it she made the leap of faith and she accepted God’s Word as God’s WORD. That’s saving faith. Here is the thing church – God may throw down the gauntlet and he may make a rule that has absolutely no rational basis to it – not that it is irrational – God is not a God of irrationality – but it may not be rationally discerned. We may turn our rational minds to contemplate it and it may defy those efforts. Some of God’s rules I can figure out. I think I know why God said that sex should only happen inside a permanent marriage commitment. Its better for babies to have a mom AND a dad. I get that one. I get why
God said don’t steal: life is a little safer when we’re not all clearing out each other’s houses while we’re off at church. I get it. But here is the rub: do I even need to get it? Can I submit to something I don’t understand? Do I tremble before the Word of God? Or do I eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil so that I can be like God deciding right and wrong for myself? And do I obey God only when his take on things agrees with my take on things? This is the narrow gate folks: letting the Word of God BE AS THE WORD OF GOD in our lives. We tremble before it whether we understand it or not. His ways are higher than our ways. Let’s assume you got past fairly obvious principal #1 – if you are rebelling against the Word of God you are not saved. Assuming that, let’s look up some new text. Open your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 12:12-14:
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. (NRSV)
Let’s also look up 1 Peter 2:4-5:
4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (NRSV)
Fairly Obvious Principal #2: The will of God is for individual converts to be joined to the greater body or larger house This use to be so obvious that it was just woven into all of our traditions and habits as believers. It used to be, in many denominations, that baptism WAS membership. When a person got baptised they came out of the water and they were henceforth considered members. I pastored at a church that did it that way. People would get baptised and then the next Sunday we would give them their baptism certificate and their membership certificate. The problem with that is that it caused people to defer baptism until they were old enough to vote as members which is not Biblical, but at least it reflected the understanding that you can’t be saved and not connected. If you are saved enough to get
baptised than you are saved enough to be connected. In other traditions, the Lord’s Table was the token of membership. Many Baptist churches did it this way in the old days. You would take some classes shortly after your baptism and then if you passed your examination you would be admitted to communion and the first Sunday you participated in communion you were considered an official member. We refer to that as ‘Closed Communion’. The trouble with that, we decided, is that when visitors from other churches come they feel excluded from taking the Lord’s Table, so we stopped doing that. Then we just made membership an entirely separate issue. We stopped connecting it to baptism or the Lord’s table and it was just a thing over here. Now most of us still intuitively understood that belonging is an important part of believing. We see the obvious benefits. Accountability, encouragement, support etc. and it seems like a no brainer that if you believe, you must belong. But to some it became an option. Why can’t I believe and not belong? We’ve already proven why that isn’t possible:
21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:21. NRSV)
If the real believer is the one who keeps the commands of Jesus and trembles at the Word and who DOES THE WILL of the Father AND it is the will of the Father for the new convert to belong to the body and be built into the house than you cannot BE a believer and refuse to belong. Irresistible Conclusion #1: You cannot believe and refuse to belong Of course that isn’t the end of the argument. A person might well ask a second intelligent question: Question #2: Can I Belong ‘Privately’? Can’t my belonging be a matter in my own heart? Can’t I say in my heart: ‘This will be my tribe, this will be my faith family and I will go the distance with them.’ Can’t I do that in my own heart without making a public show of it? Well let me ask you a
comparable question. Suppose your teenage daughter said to you: ‘Mom, Dad, last night in Joe’s car, he and I privately decided that we would spend the rest of our lives together. We would enter into a life-long, exclusive relationship of emotional, physical and sexual intimacy with one another for the glory of God.’ How would you feel about that mom and dad? Isn’t that how we define marriage? No? What’s missing? The public declaration. As a society we understand that decisions made in the back of a car are quickly forgotten. Don’t make me sing Paradise By The Dashboard Light. But if you are going to spend $15000 and send out invitations and invite a minister to stand with you in a church under the gaze of God Almighty you better be sure you mean it because we’re not doing this again – at least not by choice – amen? Amen. Public matters. Jesus thought so. He said:
32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven (Matthew 10:32. NRSV)
Let’s hit the third question in stride here and then offer a final conclusion. Question Three: Can I Belong Universally? From time to time a person will say: ‘I don’t belong to any one local church, I belong to the church of Canada or I belong to the church of Orillia.’ What they’re saying is that for them the tedious issues like weekly service in the nursery, volunteering to make sandwiches for a funeral or helping to put away the sound equipment after the worship times are not really where its at. They prefer to drift around and here this speaker on such and such a topic or that speaker on such and such a thing. But since they believe in Jesus and they identify with THE CHURCH at large, they’re covered. We could make a very practical argument against that stronghold by pointing out that there are many blessings in the mundane functions of tribe. Making sandwiches IS a ministry that blesses people and blesses you, is it not? Serving in the nursery is a way of investing in the future of your tribe and when those children are sitting on boards and making decisions and you are a senior they will be more inclined to be kind and considerate if they remember that you used to change their diapers. Isn’t that so? Nevertheless, let’s
avoid the practical and just deal in the Biblical. One of the reasons the Scriptures demand belonging at the tribe level is because every Christian needs to be in submission to spiritual authority. The author of Hebrews says:
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you. (Hebrews 13:17. NRSV)
Part of the WILL OF GOD is for every individual believer to be under the watch of a spiritual leader. That doesn’t happen when you flit about from church to church. The pastors from 7 different churches meet in my office on Tuesday mornings at 7:30 a.m. for prayer. Before we pray we sometimes share prayer concerns and information of general usefulness. From time to time a pastor will ask: ‘Does anyone know which church Sally So and So attends? She’s been at my church for three weeks in a row but I thought she was a member at Steve’s church.’ Then Steve will reply: ‘She was at my church last summer but then I thought she left and went to Mike’s church.’ Mike will reply: ‘She only came to my church for two weeks then she left and went to Zak’s church’. Zak will reply: ‘I’ve never met her, maybe she is that lady I saw in the back row on Sunday.’ The original pastor will then say: ‘Well, the thing is, Sally So and So is living with her boyfriend and yet confesses to be a Christian. Further to that she is a real gossiper. One of us needs to confront her on these things. Which one of us is her pastor?’ But none of us knows. None of us is her pastor. So what do we do? Sally So and So thinks she has beat the system. By belonging nowhere but going everywhere she thinks that she has invented a form of buffet Christianity without the nasty side effect of personal holiness. If you like the worship at Jubilee, go there on Sunday nights. IF you like the preaching at OLC then go there on Sunday morning. When the leadership closes in, switch up your routine. Pastors by and large, do not confront visitors. We don’t. Visitors are welcome and they can come and go and that’s fine. But we say at the membership meetings, ‘If you decide today to become a member you are inviting up close and personal accountability and teaching. We won’t harass you but we will pastor you. IF you gossip we will ask you politely to stop. If we see you at
the bar getting drunk we will invite you out for coffee on Saturday morning – probably bright and early somewhere nice and loud. If you cheat on your wife we will demand that you stop and that you apologise and come clean. If you cheat on your taxes we will ask you to stop tithing until you have paid back the government what you owe.’ This is spiritual leadership – this is part of what pastors and elders do. That is why Paul told one of his young trainee pastors:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-2. NRSV)
As a visitor, you only get the up front teaching piece. As a member you get also the convince, rebuke and encourage piece – its like getting a combo at McDonalds. Members get fries and coke with that. Suzy So and So thinks she has the system beat, but the truth is she is only hurting herself. She is not resisting ‘the church’, she is resisting the will of God. When you reject the experience of tribe and the experience of spiritual authority you are rejecting the will of God. And we’ve already seen where that leaves us:
21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:21. NRSV)
There is no way to avoid the fact that: Irresistible Conclusion #2: Belonging is a PUBLIC and a LOCAL matter Before we finish up with some practical application let’s just see those conclusions side by side so we understand what we have seen in the Scriptures: Irresistible Conclusion #1: You cannot believe and refuse to belong Irresistible Conclusion #2: Belonging is a PUBLIC and a LOCAL matter If you want to be a believer in Jesus, belonging is not optional. You must belong in a public way and in a local way. Thus saith the Lord.
Application: So what does that mean for us here as a church? We have a bunch of long time adherents, are we saying that they are not saved? We have a bunch of visitors here, are they not saved? How does this work at the practical level? I think that in most churches, and I think in our church, there are three types of non-members. 1. The visitor.
I think we all know what a visitor is. A visitor may be a person who has heard about this church from a neighbour or a friend and they have come to ‘check us out’. They may be a Christian in search of a local tribe or a non-Christian wondering what this Christianity thing is all about. How should a visitor hear this message? Well you know what you are in for if you decide to become a Christian. There is no point in lying to people is there? To be a follower of Jesus is to commit to the experience of tribe – to the experience of family. It means allowing yourself to be built into a body like an organ or a hand is part of something but not all of something. It is humbling but it is also incredibly liberating and it is part of the process. You should know that up front. 2. A person in transition.
A non-member might also be a person in transition. Perhaps they were a member of a church in Barrie but found it too far to drive and are now looking for a new tribe to connect to. That’s fine! You haven’t lost your salvation by exiting your old church. You are not resisting the will of God – you are seeking the will of God. Good for you! Carry on. You will have heard this morning that this church takes the word of God seriously and the call to tribe seriously. If that appeals to you, you should consider connecting. If that doesn’t appeal to you, you will have figured out that this is not the place for you. One word of advice to those in transition: do not linger long outside the body. I am not a medical doctor, but one thing I know, when organs are transplanted
from one body to another, speed of transfer tends to be a high value. A good doctor does not remove a liver from one person, set it down on the counter and then order a pizza and make a pot of coffee before inserting that liver in another body. Every doctor knows speed of transfer has a lot to do with successful transplant. The Scriptures call on us to reflect on the metaphor of the body as a way to understand church life and I think this principal is as true in the Spiritual body as it is in the physical. Do not linger long outside the body. 3. A long time adherent.
Finally, a non-member might also be something we call an adherent. An adherent is someone who has been here too long to be called a visitor but who for whatever reason, refuses to publicly align and commit. Church leaders are perpetually scratching their heads over this one. What exactly is a believer who refuses to belong? You know the answer after today, don’t you? There is NO SUCH THING AS A BELIEVER WHO REFUSES TO BELONG. There are two ways to hear this message as an adherent. One is, if you are hearing this for the first time, you can shift immediately into obedience with the will of God. That's what real Christians do. Real Christians are not born knowing the whole will of God, but when they hear it, they shift and adjust to it. The more we know, the more we are accountable for and we need to shift into alignment with what we’ve learned. So if you haven’t heard this before, you’ve heard it today and a real believer will immediately shift into alignment. For those folks you can use the worship register to indicate an interest in membership and we’ll start working with you. The other way you can hear this is to say: ‘I’ve heard this before and I refuse to change. I think this is a big power grab. I think this is just old school thinking and I like the way I have organised my personal relationship with Jesus.’ It is my duty as a pastor to tell you that if that is your heart inclination, the Scriptures say that you are not saved. The Bible says:
4Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him’, but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist (1 John 2:4. NRSV)
Now the wonderful thing about the Bible is that the Good News is always placed very near the bad news. The bad news is that if you refuse to align with the word of God when you hear it then you are not saved. The good news is that it is such an easy thing to fix that! All you must do is confess your pride and stubbornness of heart and he will heal you of your pride and forgive you all your sins and make you a child of God. In my bible this good news is on the very same page:
9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9. NRSV)
My encouragement to you is to admit the truth of the bad news and quickly embrace the Good News. God is not far off. He loves you and invites you to sit at the family table. It is a wonderful table, it is a wonderful house. Amen church? Amen. Let’s pray together.