I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness:He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.
Normally I would wait for this sermon until the first Sunday of the year for this sermon but given what I am doing at the beginning of the year I needed the extra week so I did it now. I have given this address much like a president or governor does to start a year for the nation or state. In my case it is not just about my church though, it is also about the state of the church world-wide and in my nation. It is also not just about reports and statistics ( I do use them) but about an ethical ideal for the church fostered by a passage of Scripture that I had a ‘ah ha’ moment about a long time ago. I did my master’s thesis on First Timothy and what got me going on that was 1 Timothy 3:14-15. For me it encapsulates the three major images Paul uses for the church. It is these images that Paul uses in all his works when he speaks of the church and gives his advice to Timothy on how he ought to conduct himself. These three images are 1) The household of God, 2) the assembly of the living God and 3) The pillar and support of the truth. Over the years I have trained myself to look at the church through these three concepts of the church most of all and evaluate the progress of church based on their lens and not statistics. Statistics can help diagnose but the problem is spiritual no matter what. In my address I try to do a couple of things. State the ideal of what the church should strive for and then evaluate the world-wide church, national church and my local body according to that ideal.
The Household of God – this is the language of church as family. It is about love. If there is a cornerstone other than Christ it is his command that we should love one another. The church is supposed to be the ultimate expression of a loving family. On a worldwide scale I am not sure about this at times but compassion does come out between Christians from time to time. Nationwide in the USA I feel less secure about this idea being true. Denominationalism has been the driving force of the American church rather than love. Coupled with the fact that it seems to be more about entertainment than deep spirituality or loving someone unconditionally and the American church seems driven to self-destruction at times when it comes to being a family or household of God.
If there is a shining beacon to me in this world on this particular facet of love and family in my church. If there is one thing Hersey Congregational Church does well it is love one another.
The Assembly of the Living God – the word rendered church is actually a political word that is basically a group of people dedicated to a particular cause. The church is family to be sure but it is a family with a political objective. That objective however has nothing to do with advancing any earthly kingdom but a heavenly one through the preaching of the gospel of Christ. Worldwide there are good and bad areas for this. The western world is struggling and shrinking. For a time places seem to do well and revive and other times they fall backwards. There are the hots spots of the gospel and there are the places where it seems it is cooling off. In the USA we are definitely part of the cooling off but that greatly depends on whether or not you view the traditional church or the house church world in the USA. The traditional church is shrinking in the USA and unless something drastic happens will be reduced to a small sub culture in America by simple attrition. The house church movement however is doing well and may very well be the future of the American church. If it does not grow in a certain year it seems to at least hold stable.
In my own little corner of the church universe I do have the same concern, but I also have some hope. I look over the audience of my church and see an aging congregation but there are also some that are younger. The real issue is compassion for the lost to me. Will we get over the us four and no more and realize the very real future of stagnation and death and be concerned for those around us that need faith or not will depend on each one ability to wake up and take action as part of God political assembly.
The Pillar and Support of the Truth – The church has a responsibility regardless of facts and statistics to uphold the truths of the faith regardless. There are certain things the church cannot compromise on. I would say among these are: the humanity and deity of Christ. The Bible as God’s Word. Salvation through Christ alone and the resurrection of Christ. There is such a thing as the truth and it is the churches job to support that truth and uphold it regardless of consequences. Worldwide there is a simple divide of those how do this and die and suffer for it and those who live in religious freedom and balk at something known as ‘the truth’. In the USA our prosperity as a church has been our greatest downfall when it comes to this issue. We desire to be liked to much to keep the money flowing in and because of this compromise in the essential truths is kicking our butt. People do not follow wishy-washy ideals, they follow commitment and dedication to principle.
Hersey Congregational Church has an inherent blessing and curse because of its nature regarding this issue. Because our doctrinal statement is short, we have core things to uphold and we can truly let people be free in the non essentials. This would allow us to focus on these things very intensely but the downside is that we are not overly concerned with even the core of truth or how it applies to how we should do things. I often worry that sometimes our ethics becomes a little situational from time to time. I really can say that about the whole though because really in our church it comes down to the individual and their personal concern for the truth.
Normally,, I would end this address with a simple plan to improve but this year I decided to punt.. After two years of ideas that have had minimal or no success, I have decided to get back to the basics of preaching, teaching and prayer and letting God do the rest. In this case we will see what comes up in 2015. For me though I am just going to follow Christ and see who comes along.