29/04/2007

The harmless church?

In his book The Tide is Turning, Terry Virgo quotes a newspaper’s modern appraisal of the modern church minister: “He is a general dogsbody looking after a group of well-meaning, but generally harmless people.”

That is a very serious statement and a tragic reflection of the state of the UK church. Praise God that the tide is turning. However, I find this whole issue to be a personal challenge to myself and my church. Am I harmless? Should I be harmless? Should I be regarded in a somewhat derogatory way as “well-meaning” (but presumably wrong)?

This does not fit with the position of scripture.


The church is not well meaning, but possesses the truth


The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3v15). “Your word is truth” (John 17v17) and we have His Word. We possess the truth. The truth is:
  • A double-edged sword (Heb 4v12).
  • It’s a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jer 23v29).
  • The entrance of His Word brings light (Ps 119v130). And men hate the light. The truth exposes the deeds of darkness.
Therefore, if our church is simply regarded as well-meaning, there is a problem. Of course we are not going out of our way to offend, but we should be known as people with something to say.


The church is not merely a group of people, but a people saturated with God

There is something lacking if the world simply regards us as a group of people, perhaps like any other group of people in the world. Some may go to the golf club, some to play bingo and some to church. Yet the Bible teaches quite clearly:
  • We are God’s Holy temple (1 Cor 3v16-17).
  • We are a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph 2v22).
  • We are a bride – beautiful for our Lord (Eph 5v25-27, Rev 19v7-8) – even those who are not being married on the day recognise the beauty of the bride. Psalm 45v12, speaking prophetically of the bride says, “And the daughter of Tyre will come with a gift; the rich among the people will seek your favour.”
  • We are a spiritual house (1 Peter 2v5). Again, a place where God is present, as He is worshipped. He says that He is enthroned upon our praises (Psalm 22v3). We are a holy nation (1 Peter 2v9), distinct and separated. As clearly a nation as the English, French, Chinese, Nigerian, Brazilian. People should know who we are.
  • As a result of this, the presence of God is known – even by unbelievers (1 Cor 14v24-25). They might not like it, but they know it as a fact.

The result is a dangerous people


Acts 5v14-15 says “Yet one of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” Far from regarding the NT church as “generally harmless people”, those around were in awe and fear of them – and people were being saved in multitudes.

We are meant to be the head and not the tail. The tide is turning – and the scriptures give us a vision of what we should be seeing. To quote Ps 45v12 again: “The rich among the people will seek your favour.” Spurgeon comments on this verse:

“Not by pandering to their follies, but by testifying against their sins, shall the wealthy be won to the faith of Jesus. They shall come not to favour the church but to beg for her favour. She shall not be the hireling of the great, but as a queen shall she dispense her favours to the suppliant throng of the rich among the people. We go about to beg for Christ like beggars for alms, and many who should know better will make compromises and become reticent of unpopular truth to please the great ones of the earth; not so will the true bride of Christ degrade herself, when her sanctification is more deep and more visible; then will the hearts of men grow liberal, and offerings from afar, abundance and continual shall be presented at the throne of the Pacific Prince.”

There is a sense in which this is beginning to happen. The local district council in our part of London is saying to the churches “we need you to help us with the young people – here is some money.” But this should be the norm. Sitting in dilapidated buildings, getting smaller and smaller until we die is not the answer God has for His church.

May the complaint of our enemies be, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” (Acts 17v6). Turning the world upside down is the destiny of the church!

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