Acts 2:42-47; John 8:31-36
Let me tell you a story. It’s a story told by Pastor Joshua Harris. He says, “I met Michael at a bookstore near my home. Twenty-something, and sporting a goatee, he had thin black hair. He was sprawled out on a chair at the intersection of two aisles of books. What caught my attention about him was that in the midst of all those books he was intently reading a Bible. I struck up a conversation. He told me he was a Christian but was going through a difficult time in his life and faith.
“Eventually I asked, ‘Where do you go to church?’
“‘I don’t really,’ he said. ‘The last two churches I went to both went through nasty splits right after I showed up,’ he said. Then he laughed, ‘I’m convinced that I jinx churches.’
“‘I don’t believe in luck,’ I told him. So I invited him to visit my church. Michael did visit our church a few weeks later, but I haven’t seen him since. Is he out there still trying to navigate his Christian journey alone, or has he joined a church fellowship? I’ll probably never know.’”
And then Harris goes on to say, “‘Sadly, there are too many Michaels – uninterested, disillusioned, distrustful.’”
This is the second message in our six-week series on Why Church Matters. Last week I talked about what the church looks like from heaven’s perspective. What we learned is that the church is a body – we are the body of Christ. We are the bride of Christ – in other words Christ loves the church in much the same way as a bridegroom looks at and loves his bride or a bride looks at and loves her husband to be on their wedding day. And then we discovered that each one of us is a living stone – united and built together into a holy temple where Christ himself takes up residence.
I think that when we look at the church from heaven’s perspective –the body of Christ, the bride of Christ –living stones put together as a holy temple for our Lord – that we will come to a better understanding of why the church – the local church – is important. So I want to talk to you today about why we need the local church.
Now granted, sometimes I feel that when I preach a sermon like this – sometimes I feel like I’m – well – like I’m preaching to the choir. The people who probably need to hear this message the most – are those who are not here.
And yet – there just might be a Michael here today who needs to hear this. Or those of you who are here all the time – I want you to hear that I appreciate the fact that you already understand why the local church is important.
Now you know that the church is more than just this place – this body of believers – gathered together as Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. We are part of a larger church body called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, otherwise known as the ELCA. And the ELCA is a part of the larger church – what we can call the universal church – which is made up of Christians – disciples of Jesus Christ – of every denomination – all around the world. So we are a part of this universal church because we are a part of the local church here at the corner of Clarence Center Road and Elm in the heart of Clarence Center.
Now – I want you to consider for a moment – consider what your life might be like if this church – if Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church were not here. That it did not exist. That another local church – the Clarence Center United Methodist Church down the street did not exist. That Epiphany UCC church down the other way down the street did not exist. That none of the local churches that you know of – or that you have ever been a part of – what if they did not exist.
What if a whole generation of believers – from years and years ago – had suddenly decided that they could be believers – disciples of Jesus Christ – members of the universal church – who also believed that they did not need to be attached to a local church! And – let’s take it all the way back to the beginning. What if those first disciples had felt that way? What if they thought, “We’re a part of the universal church. We don’t need to write no Gospels. We don’t need to write no letters to churches – ‘cause there aren’t any local churches to write letters to. No – we’ll just sit around and wait until the Lord returns.”
Do you see? Of course you do! The local church matters. It has always mattered. And support of the local church matters – not just to perpetuate itself – but to make sure that the Good News of Jesus Christ is passed on to the next generation. Remember – the church is always just one generation from being extinct. If we’re not there as a church for the next generation of believers – if we’re not there as the local church – then how in the world is the next generation going to hear about and know about and experience the love of Christ? Because it is precisely in the local church that we learn about who God is as He has revealed Himself in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. It is precisely through the local church that we see Christ in action in the world.
Now – I believe that this also happens in the home. In fact – it needs to happen in the home. Faith is caught and taught most often in the home. But you need – I need – the local church to be partners with parents and grandparents – when it comes to passing on the faith to the next generation. And what that faith looks like – what the love of Christ looks like – when it is experienced first-hand in the local church.
Why do we need the local church? It’s kind of a worn out phrase by now – but when it comes to passing on our faith – it takes a village to raise a child – it takes a village called the local church to help parents pass on the faith to the next generation.
In addition to passing on the faith to our children – the local church is visible to the whole community – a reminder even to unbelievers – that Christ is here. And it is my hope that this visible – tangible – active – and life-changing body of Christ – is making a difference in the communities in which all local churches find themselves.
Chuck Swindoll has been preaching the Good News for decades. He is a pastor of a church in Texas. Some of you listen to his “Insight For Living” program on WDCX, FM 99.5 at 8:00 AM during the week. Let me summarize for you what he has to say about the local church based upon our reading today from Acts chapter 2. And quite frankly, I think that these verses from the end of the second chapter of Acts is one of THE best descriptions of what the local church looks like that you will read anywhere. Churches that model themselves after these verses are what I like to call an Acts 2 church. See if these things don’t also describe us here at Zion. Because I like to think of us as an Acts 2 church.
Swindoll identifies from these verses four objectives of the local church. In fact he calls them the WIFE that every church should marry. W-I-F-E.
The W stands for worship. Now I’ll say more about worship at the end of this series – but let me say that it is here – in the local church – that the Lord is worshipped. One of the primary tasks of the local church is to provide opportunities for worship – to worship together as a body – as brothers and sisters in Christ – the One Lord who is the God and Father and Savior of us all. Worship is one of the marks of discipleship that we hold up as being of primary importance for those who would call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ.
The I stands for instruction. Verse 42 of Acts 2 tells us that the church – the worshipping community – “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” One of the pitfalls of do it yourself religion – or do it yourself Christianity – is this. How do you know if what you believe is true? How do you know? When we participate in worship – or in a Bible study group – or a confirmation class – we are learning what the Scriptures have to say about faith – about Jesus Christ – about the things that matter to God. And this is best done in and through the local church.
The F stands for fellowship. Not only did those first Christians devote themselves to worship and the Apostles’ teaching, but they also joined in fellowship. Again – thank God for the local church. You know by now that I think that the church – the local church – needs to be a fun place to be. We need to laugh together. I think we Christians don’t spend enough time laughing with each other. But in order to do that, we need to spend time together. Work with each other. Study with each other. Serve with each other. Just find ways to get to know each other. That’s what the local church is for.
And finally – the E in WIFE stands for Evangelism. Read the book of Acts and just notice how many times it says that the church grew in numbers. Our job as the local church is to reach out with the Good News of Jesus Christ – through what we say – and quite frankly – how we say it – but perhaps more importantly – by what we do. Being a sincere, authentic witness to the community for Jesus Christ. Showing what the church – the body of Christ is really all about.
So there you have it. The WIFE every church should marry.
Folks – there are too many Michael’s out there in the world who want and who need a place to call their church home. Whether here among us – or in some other local church. Even though I think this is a great church – I can’t and I won’t even begin to pretend that this is the only place where people are going to find what they’re looking for in a local church. You know that I don’t care where people go as long as they go.
But it is my firm belief that churches that are modeled after the Acts 2 church model – churches where worship, instruction, fellowship, and evangelism are valued – where children are treasured – where our elders are respected – where all are welcome – these are the churches that make a difference. And that’s the kind of church that I want to be a part of.
If you’ve come here today wondering why you’re here. Or if you’ve ever contemplated going it alone – or perhaps you’re content with taking a seat on the margins – I hope if nothing else –I hope today I have given you reason to stop – and to think – and perhaps even to pray – about your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ within the body of Christ in the local church.
I hope you see why we need the local church. Without the local church – Christianity would have withered and died centuries ago.
And that’s why church matters.