Sermon 84 - What Makes A Church Great?
What Makes A Church Great?
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared
beforehand, that we should walk in them."
It is exceedingly important that we understand and be able to perceive the marks of a Christian church.
What makes a Christian church?
Have you ever seriously tried to answer that question?
One thing is sure:
Yet, that church may not be a Christian church!
A church is not built primarily through human striving.
The choir may sing like angelic hosts.
The preacher may have the eloquence of angels.
The sanctuary may be filled to overflowing.
The wheels of organization may be running ever so smoothly.
The budget may go over the top.
A church is Christian only when God can use it for his reconciling and redemptive purposes.
It is quite possible for a church seemingly to have everything, yet to lack the one preeminent quality
that a church should have -- which is a church controlled and commissioned by Jesus Christ.
Without this, no church can be what Christ intends it to be.
Since the church today is receiving so much recognition, both positively and negatively,
it is imperative that the nature of the church be understood.
The church means many things to many people.
The history of the church has been hampered by the failure of the multitudes to understand
its heritage and its destiny.
No victory has been won when the multitudes come, unless their lives have been changed
to conform to Jesus Christ.
It is always a temptation, even for the church, to judge the significance of a movement by
the numbers involved in it.
This is not to imply that numbers are unimportant.
It is to emphasize that the use of numbers is a false criteria.
Spiritual significance is never judged primarily by quantity but by quality.
By quality, I mean commitment.
Remember, our Lord said in Luke 17: 20: "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs
to be observed" -- that is, by statistics.
We must remember that the church is God's doing!
It was conceived, established, empowered, and commissioned by His grace.
What are the marks of a Christian church?
What is its essential nature?
What does establish its greatness?
First, The Church Is Great When It Is A Redeemed Community!
A Christian church is always aware that its origin is of God, not of man.
"For we are his workmanship," says Paul.
The church was not founded by good men who voluntarily decided to build for the promotion
of spiritual and moral principles.
The church is God's people, the "called-out ones."
It is "a colony of heaven" set in the loneliness of a world estranged from God.
This is of God!
The church is commissioned to reflect the love of God to a world full of hate.
The church is commissioned to speak the truth of God to a world torn by falsehood.
The church is commissioned to exemplify the beauty of God's grace and love to a world marred by sin.
The church has been commissioned to proclaim God's willingness to redeem and heal all
who will call upon him.
The church is made up of people who have come face to face with Jesus Christ and have
acknowledged His Lordship.
The church is not composed of people who are in it because their parents are.
Nor is the church composed of people who happen to live in a particular country or nation.
The church is the "New Israel", and to it are given all the promises of God.
And the members of the redeemed community, which is the church, will seek to reflect purity of life
and genuineness of character in all of their relationships.
Those who have been forgiven by Christ will, out of gratitude for His redeeming love, seek to
reflect His character.
This is the strength of the church to be demonstrated to the world.
We are to demonstrate the life of Christ.
The members of the redeemed community are also very conscious of their eternal destiny.
The present is important because it is lived against the background of eternity.
Eternal life for the Christian is a qualitative life here and now that shall continue there and then.
To live in such a manner will mean the death of spiritual smugness and pride.
It will mean to have the search light of eternity focused on how our lives cast shadows
across many of our activities.
The more the church is conscious of its high destiny, the more aware it is of its shortcomings.
The Second Mark Of A Genuine Church: The Church Is Great When It Is Community.
Our Lord said: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
( John 13:35)
As Paul says in our text, we are "created by Christ Jesus for good works."
Without love, the church is only a club -- a religious club.
Love is the dynamic that transforms the church into an instrument of God.
It is through the demonstration of sacrificial love by the church,
that is, love like Christ's love, that the world will be won to Christ.
What Kind Of Love Is This?
Unfortunately, our language has only one word for love, whereas the Greek has three.
We use the word, "love," to cover all kinds of affection.
"I just love apple pie." "I love football." "I love my wife." "I love my car."
The love that Christ gave and demands from his disciples is agape love.
If we would understand the nature and mission of the church, we must understand the meaning
of love in the New Testament.
The agape love is not dependent on the worthiness of the person loved.
It is unconditional, universal, and personal.
It is not based on emotional feelings of affection or of pity.
It is not sentiment.
It does not necessarily admire nor approve of what the person is or does.
It does not expect to receive for what it gives.
Such love practiced in the church is what the New Testament calls koinonia.
This Greek word is variously translated as participation, fellowship, communion, and sharing.
Its basic meaning is to share in a common treasure or possession.
Christian love (agape) desires to share what it has with everyone who will receive it,
creating koinonia, a fellowship sustained by participating in a common treasure.
The treasure is the love of God revealed in Christ.
This is what originally formed the church, and this is what sustains it.
Sharing Christ's love breaks down all barriers to form the one "Body of Christ."
Christian love understands.
How meaningful and helpful the church can be when it seeks to understand.
It then becomes a haven where erring, fallen, failing persons can find friends and be encouraged
to find life anew.
In the presence of the understanding Christ, Mary Magdalene,
who had been possessed by seven demons found a power to try again.
Zacchaeus was made honest.
The Samaritan woman at the well became a missionary.
All of them were changed because Christ's love for them understood their needs.
The church is the company of the forgiven, and it must be forgiving.
Our Lord made this the test of being forgiven: "And forgive us our debts, as we also have
forgiven our debtors." (Matthews 6:12)
Consider what this means to us, and what it will mean to persons who are desperate
for a word of compassionate love -- the lonely, the depressed, the weary, the troubled, the alcoholic,
the prostitute, the juvenile delinquent, the divorced, the social climber, the Pharisee,...
when they come into the church, and find the power of Christ to reshape their lives.
Have we forgotten that this very quality is what launched the church in triumphant conquest?
Let us not forget that the early church was constituted largely by the undesirables of society
-- the cheats, the harlots, the despised, the forgotten.
But in the church, by the community of love, they were transformed.
The transformation of their lives was the finest validation of the power of Christ to redeem.
This is the key to effective evangelism -- not the gimmicks, not noise, not pressure,
not propaganda, but a profound love of persons.
Nothing is so winsome as Christian love.
When the church is true to its nature and each member seeks out persons in this spirit of love,
It seeks nothing for itself; it does not keep books.
It constantly seeks the well-being of others.
many will come to Christ, and we will have a part in the building of the kingdom of God on earth.
The Third Mark Of A Genuine Church: The Church Is Great When It Is A Worshipping Community.
Worship, sincere and genuine is the very mainspring of the life of the church.
No church can be authentic that does not worship.
Paul says: "To Him be glory in the church..." (Ephesians 3:21)
A sense of mystery, awe, and wonder must pervade the consciousness of the church.
All too often this is lost in our busyness.
Then, our faith becomes trivial, bereft of that which prompts reverence.
Worship must be the inspiration for all things in the life of the church.
Every organization within the church exists for some specific purpose of relating people to God.
The organizations are means to an end, not ends in themselves.
It is only when the deep currents of worship cease to flow that the wheels of organization begin to grind.
Everything in the church -- teaching, finances, activities, etc -- must be undergirded by worship.
Worship issues in death -- the death of self- centeredness.
The church is a body dead to itself and able to say:
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me."
Worship attunes us, equips us for God's use.
It provides the inspiration by which we may walk in the way of righteousness and goodness.
When little Centre College played mighty Harvard in football back in the 1920s,
Harvard was the power house of college football.
It was prestigious, powerful, and big.
There were just 15 players on the entire Centre team.
Remember, this was before the advent of television, and radio broadcasting was very poor.
The radio signals cracked, and most people could not get the transmission.
A seminary professor confessed that he sent a student every ten minutes to the teletype office
to follow the developments of the game -- to get the score.
When the news came that little Centre College had beaten mighty Harvard, the people
of Kentucky rejoiced.
In fact, the news swept the country.
When Bo McMillan, the coach, was asked to explain it, he said, "Eleven men were in on every play."
We, as a church, must capture that spirit.
If every person who has his name on the church roll could be "in on every play"
-- as a redemptive agent for Christ, and as a compassionate person,
and as one who has been transformed by his worship -- we, too, could win significant victories for our Lord.
We are the church; so, let us strive to be in on every play in gratitude and obedience to our Lord!
Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White