Why Church? Confessing Jesus . . .

Why do we bother with church? From an earlier message I indicated that we bother with church because it helps us participate and develop in five key areas of which this is one: “We gather to confess Jesus as Lord.”

Now already I can hear the murmuring. Would it not be easier, and perhaps better for the Church to just be inspired by Jesus, rather than hold to a confession of Jesus? Could we not say as Christians “Jesus was nice, and so we want to be nice” rather than “Jesus is Lord, therefore we want to pick up our cross and follow”? It sounds so exclusive to say “Jesus is Lord” and even worse, it leads us to evangelism. How can we be so exclusive in the very confession that defines us? How dare we hold to a confession of faith that implies that all other religions and worldviews are wrong? There are two things to say here: 1) Read the Bible, and 2) Be a sceptical, trusting person.

1) Read the Bible

There is no doubt that the early Christians believed, and taught, and spread the knowledge that Jesus is Lord. Consider why John wrote his Gospel account of Jesus:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 NIV)

It does not say “these are written so that you may believe Jesus is inspiring, and so you may be inspired.” And this is the tip of the iceberg, page after page in the New Testament we find people who are not just inspired by Jesus, they confess Him as Lord:

In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time– he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. 1 Timothy 6:13-16

The identity of Jesus is a core element of the New Testament, it was a core element of the message and ministry of the early Church and it is a core element of the Church today. Indeed it is this confession of Jesus that defines what the church is: the Church is the community of people who confess “Jesus is Lord.” It is not that Christianity is exclusive, in fact it is wonderfully inclusive as the invitation of Jesus is given to all, but it is that Jesus is unique.

2) Be a Sceptical, Trusting Person

Some may wonder, with all the religions throughout the world, and with all the “gods” to choose from, how can we have the audacity to choose just one? So if you believe the Bible, yes, you will believe that Jesus is Lord, but why believe the Bible in the first place?

To this I’d respond “take what you normally do in life and do it with the big question of religion and faith,” that is, be a sceptical person who trusts. We are all sceptical people and that is how it should be for it keeps us from believing all manner of superstitions and false information. Scepticism is a normal part of your day, for example every Sunday people gather in our church who are quite sceptical that they will hear a short sermon. But trust is also a normal part of living. Every Sunday the people who gather also trust that the pews will hold them for the duration of the sermon, and so they take a trusting step and sit, quite thankfully. Now for some of us, myself included, this is a bigger step of trust than for others, but it is a natural and normal step of trust. Now it is possible that the pew will fail, but It is reasonable to trust the pew and sit. Now apply what you do naturally in life to faith, maintaining scepticism where appropriate, and taking steps of trust where appropriate. Let’s take some examples:

It is easy to be sceptical about the existence of the tooth fairy and take a step of disbelief. If your belief in the tooth fairy survives into adulthood, it will soon change when you start having children and your children’s teeth start falling out.

It is easy to be sceptical about Greek and Roman mythologies and take a step of disbelief. They died out ages ago quite naturally. They also flourished in their day quite naturally and we are right to be sceptical that they point us to God since they are an entirely natural phenomenon, that is, we can see and easily trust that they were man-made. But are not all religions man-made? Well . . .

It is easy to take a step of faith in a Creator, and to be sceptical about Naturalism. We do not have the time here, but you could look into cosmology and the beginnings of the universe (a birth usually requires a conception and conceiver), the fine-tuning of the universe at its beginning (crazy odds!), the fine-tuning of our “biosphere” for life (more crazy odds!), the nature of DNA and the vast information of a single cell (so please no preaching on simple cells evolving into complex beings – complexity is there from the start), the existence of mind, the appreciation of beauty, and the absolute nature or morality. All these make good sense with something supernatural going on. It is easy to be sceptical that all this just happened naturally and it is easy to take that step of faith that there is a design and purpose, and indeed God behind it. Unless of course you don’t want God to exist, in which case that step will be a difficult one to take indeed. But there are several religions with a Creator God, how can we have the audacity to narrow down on one? Continue with scepticism and trusting steps, let’s take one example . . .

It is easy to be sceptical about Islam. When you look into the history of Muhammad and Islam it makes sense as a natural phenomenon in its beginning and its flourishing and its persistence today. If God were in it, you’d expect that somewhere along the line you’d find God in it, but we find it easy to trust that it is a man made religion. The Koran itself, also can be seen as coming about quite naturally without any need for the supernatural. It feels like the work of one author in one place and time in history for a reason. As with Islam, so with most contemporary religions, dig into their history and it is easy to be sceptical, you’d think thrice about taking a step of faith that they are from God, but easily believe they are the work of humanity. But is this not true also for Christianity? Let’s look further . . .

It is easy to take a step of faith in Jesus Christ. Again there is so much to look into here, but study intently the beginning of Christianity, the works of the New Testament (primary sources in historian-speak), the change in the disciples, the message and activity of the apostles, and the flourishing and persistence of Christianity and we will find that it all fits together so well and is simply explained when there is supernatural phenomena at its root: the resurrection of Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit. It is easy to be sceptical that we have merely a natural phenomenon, a man-made religion here, and easy to take a step of faith that Jesus is Lord. Unless of course you don’t want Jesus to be Lord, in which case that step will be a difficult one to take indeed. Here again we find Christians making a bold confession, not because Christianity is exclusive, but because Jesus is unique.
(It is a worthwhile endeavour for Christians and non-Christians alike to look into atheists who have taken a step of faith and confessed Jesus as Lord – C.S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace for example – I cannot do this topic justice here)

I took a step of faith in Jesus long before I knew any of this scepticism stuff. God does not need to prove Himself, He just needs to reveal Himself. Whether we come to faith simply trusting or through a long route of following the evidence, we trust the same Person: Jesus, who is Lord. This is one reason why we bother with church: we gather together to participate and develop in our confession of Jesus as Lord, within the Church, but also beyond the Church out in the world. Many Christians do not like the e-word (evangelism), non-Christians like it even less, but the confession of Jesus as Lord both privately and publicly is central to the identity of the Church. The Church is the community of people who confess “Jesus is Lord.” And for good reason.

Why Church? Seeking God’s Glory . . .

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” (Exodus 33:18 NIV)

I find that my most embarrassing moments at church tend to also be the most poignant. My most embarrassing church moment thankfully came on a Sunday off, sitting in the back pew of a church rather than standing at the front for all to see. This church was a Pentecostal church, but it did not seem to be a very lively Pentecostal church, indeed the people present could have passed for Presbyterians in their expressiveness, but I was definitely being a typical Baptist, being in the back pew and all. The embarrassment came during the song “How Great is Our God.” A simple enough song, and simply done but for some reason on that morning I was really struck. The tears flowed from somewhere very deep and there was nothing I could do to stop them. I wanted to alright, especially as I seemed to be the only one expressing any emotion at the time, but there was no tap for the waterworks. I had an overwhelming sense of the greatness of God and smallness of myself. I tell you this, not so that you will think that I am super-spiritual (because I’m not), or that I am “losing it” (because I haven’t, yet!), but to remind you that God does make Himself known, and that knowing Him can be a deeply emotional experience.

How often do we pray that simple prayer of Moses, “Now, show me your glory”? We may pray often, with our petitions, intercessions, and pleas for God’s guidance and the strength to follow, but how often do we find ourselves praying with Moses, “now show me your glory”? James MacDonald in his book, Vertical Church points out that this prayer of Moses is answered by God through a deep experience of His presence which you can read about in Exodus 33. To experience God’s glory is to experience God’s presence. Isaiah gives us another great prayer that we don’t pray often enough:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! (Isaiah 64:1, 2 NIV)

Perhaps we don’t pray this kind of prayer often because we have in our minds the very true idea that God is omnipresent. But we can point to times and places where God’s presence has been more evident, more palpable, more of an experience held in the heart than a truth held in the mind. James MacDonald in the aforementioned book would say that we confuse the omnipresence of God with the manifest presence of God.

Have you ever experienced that real heart filling, perspective changing presence of God? If you have trusted in Jesus you will. You may experience it someday when you least expect it. You will experience it on that day when we are ushered into God’s presence in glory, in the hereafter. And when we experience that presence and glory of God we will worship, not out of obligation, nor with an eye on the clock, but with joyful and humble hearts that desire to bring Him glory.

Why do we bother with church? Because this is the people with whom we seek God’s glory, to see it, and to bring it, then to live it. Do the prayers of Moses to see God’s glory, or of Isaiah to experience God’s presence sound like your prayers? To gather together Sunday by Sunday is to make being in His presence, our lives bringing Him honour, the prayer of our hearts.

Why Church? Why Bother?

Attendance at church is in decline in Canada, and so too it seems are the number of people who identify themselves as Christians. Yet it feels like there is one statistic that is up; the number of people who would call themselves Christians yet not bother with church. In my travels I sometimes hear things like “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian,” or “I don’t need to go to church to worship God.” So why bother with church? Here are some reasons:

  1. We do the church thing because the Bible tells us to. “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NRSV). Rules and guilt have fallen on hard times in many parts of the church today, but these verses were written for a reason!
  2. We do the church thing because the early church did the church thing. They came to Christ, then they came together. This sets the standard for us to live up to today.
  3. We do the church thing because we are the Church. Notice Hebrews 10:25 does not say “not neglecting to go to church”? The early Christians did not go to church, they had a keen sense that they were the church, and it was natural therefore to gather in their shared family identity.
  4. We do the church thing because it helps us participate and develop in five key areas.
  • We gather to seek God’s glory
  • We gather to confess Jesus as Lord
  • We gather to become more like Christ
  • We gather to experience family in the Body of Christ
  • We gather to serve and love the world beyond ourselves

We will be looking at these five areas, which readers of Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Church” will sort of recognize, in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned . . . or get to church!