The Church Receives an Identity.

Erik Raymond —  March 11, 2014

We live in a very strange time in our history. Today people define themselves by what they do and feel. Personal preferences become the arbitrator of what is or is not true. Much of the debate surrounding the issues of human sexuality and same-sex marriage stems from the issue of the one who sets the rules.

And when you get many people who agree on these common rules you have a culture of legislators, arbitrators of what is true. A man may say that he is actually a woman and a woman a man.

To illustrate the confusion, Facebook now offers the field “custom” to its users in addition to the traditional category of “male” and “female.”

As people, we do not have a right to define or dictate things that we do not have authority over. We did not create ourselves. We do not dictate our gender. This is the Creator’s privilege and pleasure, not our own.

This also holds true for the church. The church is not ours to customize. We are not ecclesiastical entrepreneurs. The church is God’s. And, we are his. In fact, we have no more right to alter, redefine, or change the church’s identity than we do our own gender. The church is the household of God.

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14–15)

If a church has any ambition of being a faithful church they must get this down. The church is God’s household, God’s people. He owns her, therefore, he defines her.

Today churches are doing all sorts of things. Some are good things and some are not good things. The church’s job however, is to preach, teach, and apply the Bible. That’s it. This is the irreducible complexity of ministry. In one sense you could say that you never have to do more than this–there are many different expressions of this, but never less than this. Everything we do flows out of preaching, teaching, and applying the Bible.

Many times, out of a desire to love their neighbor, churches can get involved in all types of ministries. Many of these things are good things. They are things that Christians are free to do and should be encouraged to do however they are not the mission of the church. What ends up happening to the church is disastrous. They get involved in things that are good but not precisely what they are called to do. They leave off the ministry of the word in view of other “good” things. And as a result, churches become little more than non-profits with a spiritual tone.

Paul said it clearly, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14–15, ESV)

We are to take this to mean that everything he writes is what we are supposed to be doing. Paul was concerned for the church and endeavored to instruct young Timothy how the church was to function. Thankfully the pastoral letters are overwhelmingly simple and straight forward.

Similarly, in the Book of Revelation, in chapters 2-3 John walks us through some of Christ’s correspondence with various churches. Some are commended and others are rebuked.  There is a repeated them throughout, that catches your attention:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches… (Revelation 2:11, ESV)

All seven churches get this exhortation. What does this mean? It means that God is speaking to his church. What does he emphasis? Hearing the Word of God and being faithful to it. This is what he means when he said, “Hear what the Spirit says to the churches…” The church is to hear God speaking to her. How does he speak to her? He reproves, corrects, and trains in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).

And what is the goal? You see in verse 10 of chapter 2, “be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Each church is called to hear the word of God and to be obedient to do what it says. In other words, every church is called to be faithful. A church’s faithfulness is characterized by her obedience to the Word of God. Churches receive their identity they do not create it. There is no option for “customizing” church ministry to our own desire.

(note: this post is taken from a sermon preached at Emmaus Bible Church entitled What is a Faithful Church?)

Erik Raymond

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Erik has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erikraymond

5 responses to The Church Receives an Identity.

  1. After visiting many churches in our city, we have recently joined one that we think is the most biblical of our options. There is much to commend at our church. However, one thing that has been unsettling is what seems to be a lack of attention to studying God’s word together. Now the pastors give verbal ascent to the importance and authority of God’s Word and preach mostly expositionally on Sunday gatherings but in the small group life of the church, God’s Word is rarely present. It is my impression that many young, church leaders have the impression that small group study of the Word is not important and that it leeds to insular, non-missional community. So many seem to downplay studying God’s Word together for the sake of being outward reaching. How should I think/talk about this idea that somehow too much studying of God’s Word gets in the way of fulfilling the other task of the church, which is reaching the lost?

    • It may be good to talk with the pastor about their philosophy of ministry. If he is faithfully preaching the Bible then he probably has thought through what you are doing in the small groups. It’s also important to remember that the Bible does not prescribe small group ministry. It is something that churches do to facilitate that which is biblical (one anothers and evangelism).

  2. “As people, we do not have a right to define or dictate things that we do not have authority over. We did not create ourselves. We do not dictate our gender. This is the Creator’s privilege and pleasure, not our own.”

    Yep. But you insist that human gender is binary when there are clear examples that it is not *at the time of birth*.. So who is dictating things beyond the Creator’s intention?

  3. This was great. I was just telling someone about how many pastors have abandoned their call to be life coaches. Like you’ve said, the problem isn’t what they’re doing but where (and when) they’re doing it. A pastor’s main call isn’t how to better my life in the self-help, motivational speaking sense. He is to point me to The Life which is Christ and what the Word says about the abundant life in the biblical lens.

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