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What’s Right With The Church

by Victor Knowles

Victor-Knowles-300-240x300“On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

Matthew 16:18 NKJV

I GREW UP loving the church. The Church of Christ in Hamburg, Iowa, where my father preached from 1951-1954, was where I fell in love with the church for which Christ died. That church had such a positive impact and influence on my life that I have carried a high view of the church ever since.

It is popular in some circles today to bash the church. Bob Russell recently wrote an article, “Quit Bashing God’s Church!” Here are a few quotes:

Did you know that 106 of the first 108 colleges established in America were established by the church? Do you know who was responsible for building most of the hospitals in our country? Not the atheist society but the church.

     The church has funded most of the inner city missions, food pantries, prison ministries, orphanages and homes for the elderly. Over the past 30 years churches have established scores of crisis pregnancy centers and saved thousands of unborn lives and tenderly ministered to unwed mothers.

     When Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf coast, Christians from scores of churches were the first on the scene and the last to leave – all the while scraping no money off the top for themselves. And guess who is still in Haiti assisting in the cleanup after the devastating earthquake two years ago? You got it – the church.

     …Because of local church ministries millions have been saved for eternity, countless families have been solidified, teens kept off drugs and suicides prevented. Hurting, grieving people have been comforted and weak souls strengthened by the weekly preaching of God’s word in little-known churches across the land.

     So let’s be perceptive enough not to be influenced by the anti-church rhetoric of our day. Let’s give thanks to God for the faithfulness of church leaders who led us to the Lord and taught us God’s Word. Let’s appreciate our heritage and build upon the foundations of the past and be determined to make the church of tomorrow an even more effective representative of Christ on earth.

I am not a church basher; I am a church booster. I am an ambassador of good will for the church for which Christ died. How could I be anything else or anything less? “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25 NIV). How can anyone not love the church? How can anyone not give himself or herself wholeheartedly to the church, just as Christ did when He laid down His life for her?

Timothy Dwight was the President of Yale University from 1795 to 1817. Are you aware that he wrote one of the greatest hymns of the church – about the church?


I love Thy kingdom, Lord,

The house of Thine abode,

The Church our blest  

Redeemer saved

With His own precious blood.

 

I love Thy Church, O God!

Her walls before Thee stand

Dear as the apple of Thine eye,

And graven on Thy hand.

          

 

     For her my tears shall fall,

     For her my prayers ascend,

   To her my cares and toils be  given,

   Till toils and cares shall end.

Dwight wrote those words in 1800 – 214 years ago! And we are still singing them – and meaning them – with all our heart.

Today I want to share with you from Scripture what’s right with the church. I will not be talking about the fact that it has the right founder, the right name, the right message, etc. We all know that. Jesus is the head of the church, we gladly wear His name, and we want to proclaim the message of salvation through Christ to everyone, everywhere. What I want to accomplish in this time frame is to impress upon your minds and hearts what’s right with the church. I am not asking this as a question: “What is right with the church?” I am making a declaration: “What’s right with the church!” I have no questions or question marks about the validity and value of the church. I have only positive exclamations and exclamation marks about the validity and value of the church.

So, here we go! What’s right with the church: The first thing that’s right with the church is the people.

THE PEOPLE

“Here’s the church, here’s the steeple; open the doors – see all the people!”

Ekklesia . . . Called out people, assembly of people.

The word “people” appears 2,697 times in the NIV – 102 times in the book of Acts (NIV) alone.

We (the church) are a blessed people. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). Paul mentions seven spiritual blessings in Ephesians 1:3-14 (just one sentence in the Greek).

  1. Chose us in Christ before the creation of the world (v. 4)
  2. In love He adopted us as His children through Christ (v. 5)
  3. Redeemed us from our sins through the blood of Christ (v. 7)
  4. Lavished His grace upon us (v. 8)
  5. Made known to us the mystery of His will (v. 9)
  6. Works out everything for us in conformity with His purpose (v. 11)
  7. Marks us with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (v. 13)

We are “God’s chosen people” according to Col. 3:12. That is why we are to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, and forbearing and forgiving. That’s what God is, and we are His chosen people. That’s what He wants us to be.   “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

It wasn’t always this way. “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet. 2:10). We weren’t even a people at one time. But now we are a people, the people of God.

We are God’s called people; called to be holy. “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people” (Rom. 1:7). “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people” (1 Cor. 1:2). This is your calling, my calling, our calling. This is “your best life now.” Not to become rich and famous. But to be God’s holy (set apart) people.

We are a citizen people. “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Eph. 2:19). Out citizenship is in heaven. We have dual citizenship. Our passports should really say, “Citizen of heaven.”

Remember the song, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” More than lucky. Luck has nothing to do with it, unless you are Andrew Luck of the Colts who happens to have that name. We are the called, chosen, fellow citizens with all of God’s people!

John the Revelator heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3). We are a continuing people, an eternal people!

The next to last word in the Bible is people! “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” (Rev. 22:21). Grace. Jesus. God’s people. A fitting 3-word synopsis.

People aren’t perfect. But if anyone is in Christ, he is a new person, a new creation. In fact, “…in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ…” (Col. 2:9-10). The NKJV says, “And you are complete in Him.” We are dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne” (“The Solid Rock”).

What’s right with the church? The people – called, chosen, holy (set apart), complete in Christ a people who will continue throughout eternity. This is the way God wants us to see each other – as His children, hence, brothers and sisters, His forever people, fellow citizens with all of God’s people. Lanny Wolfe wrote a great song: I love the thrill that I feel when I get together with God’s wonderful people. There’s no place I’d rather be than with the one’s who’ve been set free, I’m so glad I’m in God’s great big family.

That’s what’s right with the church. The second thing that’s right with the church is the plan: it has the best plan in the world.

THE PLAN

People need a plan. And God has a plan for His people. Life without a plan is not life at all. It is just existing, drifting, meandering, slowly dying. What a sad thing going to the grave never knowing God’s plan for your life. “God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth” (Ephesians 1:9-10 NLT).

I love those words: “And this is the plan!” My daughter Emily has a plan for everything. At an early age she would announce to the family: “I have a plan.” And she did. And she still does. She is still announcing her plans for the family – usually very good ones, I might add.

God’s plan always includes Jesus, always is centered in Jesus Christ. That’s why the church is called “the church of Christ” or “the churches of Christ.” If your plan – if your congregation’s plan – is not centered in and around Jesus Christ, it is the wrong plan.

The late Carl Ketcherside commented on this passage in Ephesians 1. “The hidden purpose of God, concealed through the ages is now disclosed. And that purpose is also both His will and pleasure. … It is His pleasure, cheerfully and eagerly entered into, a divine secret kept under the blanket of love until the right moment, and then uncovered with a burst of heavenly joy as a demonstration of the richness of free grace lavished upon us.  “What was the greatest secret, the mystery which was to fulfill the divine purpose, plan and pleasure? It was that the universe [everything in heaven and on earth] might be brought into a unity. The creation of God is a universe. It is not a multiverse. There is not a single unrelated atom. The chain of relationship extends in an unfathomable and incomprehensible network which links all creation together. There is more to creation than the material. ‘For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him’ (Colossians 1:16).

“Sin distorted the glorious artistry of creation. It defiled and alienated, divided and destroyed. But the will of the Creator is to see that unity is restored, not merely as relates to things on earth but things in heaven as well. This means that in Christ will be realized the purpose which gathers up every thread of history and weaves it into a pattern where there will be no crude design or frayed edges. The divine pleasure is to promote unity – universal unity – unity in Christ!” (“The Divine Purpose,” Mission Messenger, January 1972). Someone has said: “Not all that matters is the man, the man must also have a plan.” Our plan is simply The Man, Jesus Christ.

Do you like a good mystery? Here is the best mystery ever. Paul unveils it in Ephesians 3:2-11.

“Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You and I are a part of the greatest plan ever revealed to man. This is “the eternal purpose.” This is so much bigger and better than the plans of man, even the great Marshall Plan, which was designed to get the people of Eastern Europe back on their feet after WW II and prevent the spread of Communism. Paul understood this plan when he came to Corinth, that cosmopolitan center of corruption and vice. “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NIV). We should be as wise. This is what’s right with the church. We have the privilege of participating in the greatest plan ever revealed to mankind, indeed, the universe. Better than the aforementioned Marshall Plan, FDR’s “New Deal,” Truman’s “Berlin Airlift,” Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System, JFK’s “New Frontier,” LBJ’s “Great Society,” Nixon’s opening up relations with China and Russia, Reagan’s “Tear Down this Wall” accomplishment, and GHW Bush’s “Thousands Points of Light” program. The world’s best hope and only hope is Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God and Light of the World, and we have the glorious and priceless privilege to preach the living Christ to dying nations.

In 1902, Dr. E. T. Cassel (b. 1889, Indiana) and his wife Flora sat down and composed this great song.

     I am a stranger here, within a foreign land;

My hope is far away, upon a golden strand;

Ambassador to be of realms beyond the sea,

I’m here on business for my King.

     This is the message that I bring, A message angels fain would sing:

“O be ye reconciled,” Thus saith my Lord and King,

“O be ye reconciled to God.”

What else is right with the church? It has the ultimate prospect – heaven.

THE PROSPECT

Paul continues in Ephesians 4 with what I like to call “The Magnificent Seven.” There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. I want to focus on the third “one” – the one hope. Paul says, “You were called to one hope when you were called.” The church is the called out people. But to what are we called? One hope! I believe that one hope is eternal life, heaven. Paul goes on to tell us that Christ ascended on high – higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe (v. 7-10). Rich Mullins wrote,

   Our God is an awesome God, He reigns from heaven above With wisdom, power, and love

   Our God is an awesome God

Jesus Christ reigns from heaven above. And someday He is coming back to take us home. This has always been the desire of Jesus for His people! Look at the great prayer of Jesus in John 17. “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am” (v. 24). “Father, I long for the time when those You have given Me can join Me in My place so they may witness My glory, which comes from You.” (The Voice) “Father, I want those you gave me to be with me, right where I am” (The Message)

Earlier, Jesus had said: “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3 NASB).

Our prospective home is heaven.

     This world is not my home

   I’m just a-passing through

   My treasures are laid up

   Somewhere beyond the blue.

   The angels beckon me

   From heaven’s open door

   And I can’t feel at home

   In this world anymore.

So Paul writes, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:2-4 NIV)

Heaven is our eternal destination but is seldom the focus of our daily contemplation. The world, just like the earth, has a magnetic pull. C. S. Lewis said, “All that is not eternal is eternally useless.”

 

Here are 7 things you can do to help you set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth.

  1. Remember that your citizenship is in heaven.
  2. Remember that your treasures are in heaven.
  3. Remember that your loved ones who died in Christ are in heaven.
  4. Remember that your sufferings are connected with heaven. Our momentary afflictions are working for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17).
  5. Remember that your inheritance is in heaven. (1 Pet. 1:4 – “kept in heaven for you.”
  6. Remember that your reward is in heaven. “Great is your reward in heaven.”
  7. Remember that your name is written in heaven.

Don’t miss heaven for the world. It’s where the church will gather forever in eternity. It’s an out-of-this-world retirement home. “There’ll be no place like heaven my home, when all of God’s singers get home.”

 

Preached by Victor Knowles, July 29, 2014, at the 67th Annual Kentucky/Indiana Christian Fellowship Week Bible conference, Portland Christian School, Louisville, KY.

 

                               Victor Knowles is Co-Founder and President of Peace On Earth Ministries. www.poeministries.org

 

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If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:8