Thursday, July 23, 2009

Church Membership - Part Eight

In our church, there is a third requirement for church membership. That requirement is that you agree to support the work of the church financially and spiritually as you are able.

Remember, we are a family. The church is the family of God, and our local church is a family within the extended family of the universal church. So how does a family operate? In our family, we have visitors who often come and stay with us. We love having guests. We want them to feel at home, and we don't expect them to do the dishes or take out the trash. We serve them, and we do it joyously.

But things are different for the members of our family. If you are a part of our family, you are expected to pull your fair share of the load. You will take your turn with the dishes, and you will have assigned chores. We don't call them chores in our family, we call them acts of service or acts of ministry to the ones we love. But the jobs are the same. And if you are a part of the family, you are expected to carry your fair share.

Now certainly, babies aren't given a job. And the jobs that are given are age appropriate. I don't give my four year old a chainsaw and send him out to cut firewood. That would be stupid on my part. But we can expect our four year old to pick up his toys when he is done playing with them or help set the table. As he grows in ability and maturity, the complexity of the job will increase. And if one of our kids doesn't do his chores (I mean acts of service), he pays the consequences. Only our guests get away with doing nothing. That's how it works in our family.

Now, shouldn't we have the same expectation of people who join our local church family? shouldn't they be expected to contribute something to the well being and health of the church? If you are our guest, we will serve you gladly; but if you are part of the family, you are expected to serve along side of us. You are expected to pull your fair share.

And we will give you ministries based on your spiritual maturity and according to your spiritual giftedness. New believers won't be asked to preach a sermon, for instance, or become a deacon. No one should be given a job above their skill level. But you should expect to do some ministry within your skill level and giftedness.

This is Scriptural, you know. Ephesians 2:8-9 teach that we are saved by grace through faith, and that it is not of works. But the next verse, Ephesians 2:10, talks about our work. It says, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we could walk in them." We aren't saved by our works, rather, we are saved to work. We are created to work for God. Even before we were born, God planned work for us. God gave us at least one spiritual gift so that we could accomplish the work He'd planned. He also gave us His Spirit to indwell us and empower us to do the work. He supplies all we need.

God expects us to get the job done. What an abomination for a true believer to sit on his duff like so much dead wood and just soak up the good benefits that come from Christ without ever lifting a finger to help. Yet, how many people sit in church week after week like a bump on a log, or like a corpse in a pew? They never give back to God any of the money that he provides to them to live on, and they never serve Him with the gifts he has given them. If they were created to work for God, they have aborted their purpose.

Certainly, God gave His best to us. John 3:16 tells us, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." God sent His Son to the cross to die for us as our substitute so that He could offer us eternal life as a free gift. All we have to do is reach out our hand in faith to receive it. How can we not be so eternally grateful that we we wouldn't do anything for Him? We should be willing to pay any cost - to go any distance - for the one who loved us this much. So why then is it a strange thing if we expect members to support the work of the church?

What about you? Are you a guest or a member? If a guest, how long are you going to simply go along for the ride? When will you commit yourself to the work of ministry?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Church Membership - Part Seven

There is a second requirement of church membership. We said the first was a solid testimony of being born-again. The second, at least from our church constitution, is an agreement with our doctrinal position.

What does that mean? Does it mean that we have to agree with every jot and every tittle that's written (That's a little King James Bible lingo for you)? No! That's not what it means. Quite frankly, our church's doctrinal statement is quite basic. It isn't based on denominational distinctives, nor does it try to cover every doctrine in depth. We believe and teach a lot more than what is in our doctrinal statement. But our doctrinal statement does cover the fundamentals of the faith, especially when it comes to the nature of God, of Christ, of sin, and of salvation. Is it a perfect statement? NO! Would any of us necessarily write it again the same way? Probably not! But that doesn't mean it isn't a good statement.

Now certainly, the Bible is inspired. The Bible is perfect and changeless. But our doctrinal statement was written by fallible men. That's why our constitution provides a method to change it. It isn't easy to change, and it shouldn't be. But, yes, it can be changed. That doesn't mean we are turning heretic if we change something. But it does mean there could be a better way of stating what we believe. So we don't expect absolute and perfect agreement. That isn't what we mean when we say that it is a requirement to agree with our doctrinal statement.

What it means is this: It means we want people to join our church who believe basically what we believe. Those who join should support and agree with what we teach anmd preach. Not every jot and tittle, necessarily. We don't claim to have a lock on truth. Nor do we claim infallibility. If you disagree with what I have to say, I am more than willing to listen to you to wee if I am wrong.

But what we don't want is for someone to join the church with an agenda to change us. We are an Independent Bible Church by conviction. That's what we are going to stay. If you want a Universalist Unitarian Chruch that denies the doctrine of the trinity and contends that everyone will eventually be saved, well, how can I say it kindly? Our church isn't for you. If you are looking for a church where everyone speaks in tongues and gets slain in the spirit, our church isn't for you. If you are looking for the high church where the service is read out of a book, our church isn't for you. Do you see what I am saying? We are an Independent Bible Church. If that is what you are looking for, this is the place for you. If you want something else, you need to look elsewhare.

Does that mean we wouldn't want you to attend our services? Of course not! We would be honored if you worshipped with us. And there are many wonderful, mature Christians who disagree with us on some doctrines. But we are what we are because we believe this is what God wants us to be. We believe this is what God tells us a church should be. Join us if that's what you believe.

But don't join us if your goal is to change us. That would only bring schism to the church. In Proverbs 6:16 it says, "These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him" Then, after listing six, the seventh is, "And one who sows discord among brethren." Don't be one of those who sows discord in this church. If you don't believe what we believe, don't join. Or come and sit quietly in a pew as our guest. But don't try to bring upheaval by pushing doctrines contrary to our core beliefs. That's why we require agreement with our doctrinal statement from people who join the church.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Church Membership - Part Six

We've talked about the need to assure that every church member is a born-again believer - that in order to be a member of the local church, they already are a part of the universal church through their faith in Jesus Christ. But why is this important?

As a congregational church, we believe that Christ is the head of His body the church, and the church takes her orders from Him. But how can an unsaved person receive guidance from christ through His Holy Spirit if he doesn't have the Holy Spirit within him? How can he possibly vote on issues with Christ's mind if he doesn't possess Christ? He can't.

Churches that allow unsaved people into their membership inevitably go liberal over time. It's only natural. How can they help it? If they have unsaved people helping shape the direction of the local church, how can it stay true to the course? That's why requirement Number One is a clear confession of faith.

Does that mean we don't want unsaved people to come to our church? Do we not want them to attend? Don't be silly! Of course we do! They are most certainly welcome. We invite them to come. We desire that they hear the Gospel message and respond to it. We want them to get saved. So, yes! We want them to come as our invited guests. But we don't let them put in a change of address until they become part of the family. Until they profess Christ, they are simply that - invited guests.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Church Membership - Part Five

Last time, I said that the non-negotiable requirement for membership in the local church was that one be born-again. That is the requirement to be part of the universal church, so it must be the requirement to be a member of the local church. But why? Why is it important? Let's think about it. And I am assuming you are a Christian, so let's think as Christians.

Who should the church call as their pastor? What is the most important criteria? Who should the church choose as a deacon? Or, who would you want the church to pick as the Sunday School teacher for your kid's class? Do you see what I am getting at? The first and foremost qualification must be that they are saved - that they are born again - and then that they have some measure of spiritual maturity.

Requiring church membership is a minimal way of assuring this. To say that, if you want the privileges and responsibilities of church membership, you have to make a commitment to join; isn't too much to ask. And it isn't hard for a genuine believer. To join our church, there are three simple requirements. We will cover the first today.

The first requirement is that you be born-again. This is the only requirement to be a part of the universal church. You must be born-again through faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, you must be a Christian. But being a Christian requires that you make a confession of your faith. This is what it teaches in Romans 10:9-10:

"That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

We think it is important for a believer to profess his faith.

"But, wait a minute," You may say. "I'm already a Christian. I automatically became part of the universal church when I trusted Christ, didn't I? Why shouldn't I automatically be a member of the local church?" The simple answer is, Christ can see your heart. He knows whether or not you have trusted Him. We don't. And it is our job to guard the local church. So we need you to tell us about it. We need to hear your testimony of salvation before you join. We need you to tell us what you are trusting in for salvation.

Certainly not everyone who claims to be a Christian is one. We talked about that back in our discussion of the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. Not every profession of faith is genuine. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, Matthew 7:21-23:

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'"

You only have to think of the cults that come to your door to know the truth of this. They claim to be Christians. They work like crazy. Some of them put us to shame with their zeal. But they aren't saved because the have not trusted Christ. They trust in their own good works. Acts 16:31 says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved." It doesn't say trust in your good works.

Ephesians 2:8-9 teach,

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."

If they are trusting in their good works to get them to heaven, they aren't saved. And if they do not turn to Christ in faith, they will one day hear those words of Jesus, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who proactive lawlessness."

Obviously, not everyone who claims to be part of the universal church really is. We want to make sure before we allow them to become members and engage in ministry in our local church. that is why we require that we hear their testimony.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Church Membership - Part Four

After all that we've said concerning wheat and tares and false teachers, how does this apply to church membership? Why do we and most churches require a person to actually go through the process of joining the church in order to minister within the local church? The answer should be obvious. The answer is quality control.

Oh, but that doesn't sound good, does it? It makes it sound like the church is some kind of elite club where the less than desirable need not apply. But that's not it at all. There is, and should be, no prejudice within the church. You can see this in Galatians 3:26-29:
"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
When this says we are all sons of God, that doesn't mean every person, but every person who has come to Jesus Christ in faith for salvation. That's what makes us a child of God and an heir to the promise. Being Christ's is the only requirement. That puts us all on equal footing within the kingdom of God.

Indeed, the church is an equal opportunity employer. People aren't called by God because of their riches or power, or their good looks, or talent. Most of the time, it is in spite of a lack of any of these things. It tells us this in 1st Corinthians 1:26-29,
"For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things that are not to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence."
God doesn't often choose those with lots of natural talent. The rich and famous, the talented and powerful; anything they accomplish for God they would take credit for. "After all, I am so talented," they would say. Or, "That was my money that paid for that program, you know." But someone who isn't all that much in themselves - the common and despised person of this world - if he accomplishes something for God, he knows that God did it through him. God gets all the credit.

So, no! When I say quality control, I am not talking about excluding the less than rich and beautiful. I'm talking about the difference between saved and unsaved. Only the saved are part of the kingdom of god. Only the saved are children of God. Only the saved are part of the universal church. Therefore, only the saved should be allowed to be members of the local church.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Church Membership - Part Three

We've been talking about the tension that exists in every local church between the genuine believers and the make-believers. Now throw in the question we have asked: why are there so many different denominations and so many different local churches, even in small, local communities; and you can understand how this tension plays out.

It plays out like this: The true believer wants to see the pastor preaching and teaching the Word of God in all its grandeur, straight and unvarnished. They live for the pure milk and meat of the Word. The true doctrines of the faith excite them. The make-believers prefer false doctrine that tickles their ears. "The Bible is outdated, after all, and not relevant for today," They say. "We have come so much farther than those parochial Jews who were prejudiced against women and gays. We're enlightened." And they think they can sit in judgment over the Bible deciding what is or isn't relevant for today.

Now, it they are better at infighting and can come up with enough votes at a congregational meeting, they can change the doctrines of the church. They can assure that the preachers who are called are the less offensive ones who won't step on the good church member's toes by preaching the Word, or make unbelievers feel uncomfortable.

This is precisely why the elders of the church are commanded to guard and preserve the pure doctrines of the church. We can see this as Paul called the elders of the church in Ephesus to him as he was on his way to Jerusalem to be arrested and taken to Rome. In Acts 20:25-31, he says:
"And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears."
That's the problem. False teachers will arise to draw the church away from the truth of God's Word into error. Paul claimed that he had taught them the whole counsel of God's Word, holding nothing back, no matter how much public opinion swayed against Him. False teachers will lead the congregation away from the truth. But it is Christ's church. He purchased it with His own blood. He gets to say what our doctrines should be, and He has through His Word. It is up to His preachers to teach it straight. It is through the false teachers that arise within the church, the savage wolves as Paul calls them, that false doctrines enter the church. The elders must guard against that. Requiring an examination for church membership helps to guard against this.

Even Jesus warned that the wolves would come, and He warned that they would not be easily recognized. But He gave us the key to pick them out. In Matthew 7:15-16, Jesus said: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits." The false teachers will come disguised as genuine believers, just like tares. They will present themselves as sheep, the name Jesus used of His true followers. But like the tares, they will bear a different fruit. Being careful with church membership, requiring an examination of the perspective member as to salvation, will help keep out the savage wolves.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Church Membrship - Part Two

Last time, I painted a picture that was pretty black and white as I contrasted the different objectives within the church of the true, born-again believer and the make-believer. But I'm sure you know that in the real world, nothing is ever that black and white. Especially with people, they come in shades of gray.

Sometimes new believers don't seem much different from the world they were just saved out of. they still carry the smell of the fires of hell on them, and they still have lots of that old baggage from the world they carry around. They desperately need to be discipled by an older, dedicated believer. On the other hand, some unbelievers are the sweetest, most generous and moral people you would ever want to meet. You would never know they have never trusted Christ for salvation - that they are still as lost as a billy goat. You'd swear by their actions that they are good Christians. So sometimes, it is really hard to tell them apart. Is this person a carnal Christian? Or is this person a moral pagan interested in the church? And how can you tell them apart?

Remember, the basic problem in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares is that you can't tell them apart - not until the harvest - when the tares show themselves by not producing any fruit. That's the problem we face in every church. How do we tell them apart? Christians don't come with a big "C" tattooed across their foreheads, and unbelievers don't come with that "666" tattooed across theirs. Not yet, anyway. So how do we know who is on our side and who is on the devil's side?

And quite frankly. sometimes the tares don't know either. Quite often, they are deceived into thinking they are just as good a Christian as the next person. And lots of times they are, to our shame. Except that they really aren't. But that's one of Satan's most effective tactics - the tactic of deceit. Revelation 12:7-9 says,
"And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So that great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."
Do you see? Satan is now down here on earth stirring up lots of mischief, and his most effective tactic is deceit. Satan deceives the whole world. And Satan loves nothing more than to have the tares think of themselves as wheat. He loves to deceive the make-believers into thinking of themselves as genuine (They aren't likely to get saved that way).

But that is precisely why Paul urged personal introspection. 3nd Corinthians 13:5 teaches, "Examine yourself as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless indeed you are disqualified." Self examination is so vital. Just because you are a member of a church doesn't mean you have been saved. Make sure you are. Examine your life. And that is why perspective members need to be examined for the genuineness of their faith. Are they really, truly a part of the true church?

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Need for Church Membership

We spent a lot of time talking about why there are local churches, and especially why there are so many of them. We asked why there are literally hundreds of denominations in this country alone, and why there is a different local church on nearly every corner. The answer we gave was, in part, found in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. The moral of the parable, for our purposes, was that that while Jesus is busy building His church and filling it with genuine, born-again Christians - the good grain of the parable; Satan is busy filling the church with make-believe Christians - the tares of the parable. The tares look just like the wheat, but aren't. And they never bear fruit. But they are within the church rubbing shoulders with the true believers.

As such, there will always be a tension within the church - a tension between the two groups as they each follow their respective sower. They will each try to pull the church in the direction desired by their sower. And while the sower of the true-believer is Christ, the sower of the make-believer is Christ's arch-enemy, Satan. The directions they want to go are polar opposites. Everything they are looking for is different. The local church they would each make would be unrecognizable to the other.

True believers want to be taught the Word of God. Make believers want their ears tickled with feel good sermons. True believers want accountability. Make believers don't. Genuine believers will want to grow in their faith and knowledge of God. They will want to mature spiritually. They are eager to know and learn through private devotions. And they are excited to come to church to be taught the Word of God. They really genuinely want to know what God expects of them so they can get their life lined up right. They want to be clean from their sin that they have learned to hate so much. They will want to get things done for Christ and won't have to be begged to serve. They will eagerly volunteer to work hard. And they will share their faith with others. In other words, they will be committed to Christ.

The make believers? Well, they will be content to stay just the way they are. They will resent Bible studies and sermons that challenge them. They might get in a huff if the pastor or Sunday School teacher steps on their toes. Especially, don't try to tell them that anything they do is sin. They like their sin. Their sin is an old, comfortable friend that they want to keep around. And they will show up at the church services when they feel like it, if they feel like it. To them, regular church attendance is optional. And to get them to take a job around church? It is like pulling teeth. Maybe they will if there is enough glory in it, but probably not. In other words, make-believers want a comfortable place where they can come and go as they please. Many prefer total anonymity. Some want a place where they can be pampered and coddled and entertained.

True believers want a place where they can join in and be committed - where they can be taught and where they can serve. It really becomes a lifestyle thing with them. So, true believers strengthen a local church (They are the church), while make believers within the local church weaken it. What kind of church member are you?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Picking A Local Church

Not all local churches are the same. There are good ones and there are bad ones. And you have to be able to tell the difference. If you become involved in a bad church that preaches a distorted Gospel, you could be deceived, or at best, spin your wheels in a cause that is more dangerous than useless.

So, how do you pick? Local churches are as thick as fleas on a dog. They are all different to one degree or another. Some are bigger and some are smaller. Some are friendly and some are not. Some have upbeat music while some rely on traditional hymns. But what is most important? What really makes a good church?

This is the key element. There are local churches that lead people to God for salvation and teach His Word; and there there are local churches that will deceive you, teaching false ways to God that only lead to hell teaching the opinions of men instead of the Word of God. This is the single most important element. Is the local church true and faithful to the Word of God or are they not?

As for me, I have chosen to be a part of an Independent Bible Church. That's the territory I have staked out as a pastor. But what kind of a church is that? What does Independent mean? Does it mean that we can't get along with anyone else? Does it mean that we won't fellowship or cooperate with other churches - that we are as independent as a hog on ice? Not at all. It simply means we are free from outside control.

No denomination controls the affairs of our church. We are self governing, and we believe that was how the early church functioned in the book of Acts. Like them, we choose our own officers and call our own pastor. We own our own building. We make our own decisions, following the leading of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Word, of course.

But we also feel it was the responsibility of the local church to preserve sound doctrine. In 1st Timothy 3:15, Paul writes, "But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, the pillar and the ground of truth." That's the local church. It is the pillar and the ground of the truth. In His letters to the seven churches, Jesus wrote condemnation to the church in Pergamus because they tolerated false doctrines within their midst. Revelation 2:14-16 says,
"But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth."
Jesus will judge us as a church based on our adherence to sound doctrine.

The early church was autonomous. Modern churches need to be autonomous. Jesus is our head and we follow His Word for our direction. To be independent means we have to rely on the Lord, not some outside organization. This should drive us to our knees in prayer.

But we are also a Bible Church. That means we are centered on the Word of God. The Bible and the Bible alone is our authority. We don't follow some man. We don't follow some creed or doctrinal statement. We follow the Bible to the best of our abilities. We do this because we believe the Bible is sufficient. In 2nd Timothy 3:15 it says: "And the from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." The Scriptures are necessary to learn the way of salvation. Then it continues in 2nd Timothy 3:16-17, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." If that's what the Word of God does, what more do we need?

Yes, there are good creeds and good catechisms. We can use them. They can help us succinctly crystallize and explain the doctrines of the Bible. But they don't contain all the Word of God, so they aren't sufficient. There are good traditions that we can follow, but they never super cede the Word of God. This is why we are a Bible Church, and this is why we teach and preach the Word of God in all of our services.

If you attend our services, you really ought to bring your Bible because that is what we use every time - every week. Every week, week after week, you are going to find me standing in the pulpit teaching the Word. There really isn't much variety. I've heard of churches that week after week continually have a variety act. They feature a Christian rock concert one week, then a Christian karate expert the next week giving his testimony and breaking boards. They have all kinds of acts to keep people's attention. I guess the make-believers need that. But hopefully, you don't need a juggler or a dancing pony to make church entertaining. Hopefully, you attend because you take the Word of God seriously and want to learn what God has to say.

Here you just get the word, straight and unvarnished. We believe it is the most important element of our worship. As we study the Words of Scripture, the Word comes alive in our hearts. It purifies us, prunes away the dead wood. It washes us clean. It is our daily food - our milk and meat. It is what causes us to grow into spiritual maturity and holiness. The Word convicts and challenges us. It continually shows us new ways to worship God. What could be more exciting than that?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why There is a Local Church - Part Five

The universal church is made up of only born-again believers adopted into the family of God. The local church, however, has a mixture of believers and make-believers. We learned this from two parables: the parable of the wheat and the tares, which taught that the enemy sows make-believers within the church that look and act like genuine believers but never produce fruit; and from the parable of the mustard seed, that showed that the church grows big enough to form a perch for the birds of the air that, according to the parable of the sower, snatch away the seed of the Word from the make-believers. It has been this way from the beginning. Make believers are within the Church basking in the blessings of church membership, but not understanding the truth and craving false teaching. It tickles their ears.

Look at Paul's charge to the young pastor Timothy in 2nd Timothy 4:1-4:
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned to fables.
Paul's mandate for every preacher called by God is to preach the Word. Why? Because the day would come when sound doctrine would not be tolerated. People won't want to hear the Bible. They will only want their ears tickled with feel good sermons and prosperity gospel sermons.

But do you see this? While God's true servants are preaching the Word, Satan's servants are preaching their fables. And the tares prefer the fables because it tickles their ears. And if the true believers don't check out the teaching - if they don't act like the noble Bereans who scoured the pages of Scripture to make sure the teaching they were hearing was correct - soon the fables will become the primary doctrines of the local church. When it disagrees with what they used to believe they will separate from the "unenlightened" believers who want to adhere to the old way and still believe the Bible, and they will start a new church or a new denomination.

Now, don't get me wrong. Sometimes it is in the reverse order as a group of believers will leave an apostate denomination to return to Biblical principles. The Protestant Reformation was such an example as they left the Roman Catholic Church to return to the Bible as their sole authority. The Bible Church movement is another example as they came out of the liberal denominations to return to the fundamental doctrines of the faith. So the separation goes both ways.

Nowadays, some of the denominations don't even get the Gospel right. It's been that way since the beginning too, since Paul had to write the book of Galatians to counteract a false gospel. But that is the very heart of our faith, isn't it? As Romans 1:16 says, For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believers, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. If they get the Gospel wrong, there is no other way of salvation, no way into the universal church, no way into the family of God. And people stay lost and condemned.

And Satan wins. Satan always wins if he keeps people from getting saved and if he can screw up our doctrines. Satan always wins if he can divide us. So the diversity of denominations is an accomplishment of Satan, not of God. We almost have to wonder why some of them even call themselves churches if they deny the Scriptures and teach an incorrect Gospel. They aren't leading people to God, but away from Him. They aren't leading people to salvation and heaven, but misleading them right into hell.

In his book, Let the Church Be the Church, Ray Ortland asks, "Has your church really become part of the church, or did it just steal the label?" What he was asking was this: has your local church really become part of the universal church, or is a counterfeit? there are a lot of churches that aren't churches yet they masquerade as churches. John MacArthur claims,
"I am convinced that in the name of Christianity, there are many places that call themselves churches that are not churches, and they have men leading them who call themselves pastors who are not pastors, and they have congregations who call themselves Christians who are not Christian. They are not churches, and they are not pastors, and they are not Christians, and yet they proudly post the label, Christian."
So no, not all local churches are the same. there are good ones and there are bad ones. there are good denominations and there are bad denominations. It all depends on their adherence to the truth of the Scriptures. And you must be able to tell the difference.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Why There is a Local Church - Part Four

Lat time, in talking about the makeup of the local church, we looked at the Parable of the Wheat and Tares in Matthew 13. We saw that while Jesus populates the local church with true, born-again believers, Satan populates the local church with make-believers - the tares. They look just like the genuine, but they aren't. They never bear fruit.

Today, we want to look at the second parable Jesus told. It is the Parable of the Mustard Seed in Matthew 13:31-32:
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.
Jesus was talking about the church beginning small. It began with just 120 people praying in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, but the church would grow large and fill the earth. The mustard seed is a tiny seed, but the bush it grows into could reach fifteen feet high. That's plenty big enough for birds to roost in.

But what are the birds? That's the question. I've always learned that the immediate context helps us understand the meaning of any passage. So, does Jesus talk about birds anywhere else in the immediate context? Sure He does! He does so in the Parable of The Sower where a farmer goes out to sow seed in his field. In Matthew 13:4, it says: "And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside, and the birds came and devoured them." When Jesus explained the parable, He told us the seed was the Word of God and the one who snatched the seed away was the evil one - Satan. We see this in Matthew 13:18-19:
"Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside."
So, Satan is active in snatching away the Word of God from those who don't understand - like the unsaved tares. He accomplishes this within the church through his false teachers and false prophets who teach things contrary to sound doctrine. Where do you think so many silly doctrines come from? Certainly, they are not found in the Bible.

False teachers have been in the church from the beginning, and the tares are always ready to listen to them and believe them. The tares aren't saved, remember? They don't have the Holy Spirit within them to guide them to the truth. So false doctrines make sense to them. They seem appealing. They tickle their ears. And a battle over doctrine erupts within the church, maybe a split happens, and often a new denomination is started.