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Jun 14, 2020

'New' Church

Passage: Titus 1:5-

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Covid-19 Challenges

Keywords: church, accountability, church leadership, home church, essentials of church, politicize, polarize, unity vs. unanimity

Summary:

In the Covid-19 crisis, it is important to know what are the essentials the Scriptures lay down about church that we must not surrender regardless of what form 'church' takes in a crisis situation. This message seeks to identify many of those essentials as well as explain how one of them, leadership, functions at Mosaic.

Detail:

“New” Church

June 14, 2020

Q:  How’s everyone holding up these days? 

Yesterday I was telling my wife, Sandy, that I woke up on Saturday with a deep sense of sadness.  And as I talked to the Lord about it, I realized that it was sadness over the sense of loss I and many of you are feeling as a result of what has been unfolding in our world and nation for the past few months. 

      Christian author Walter Wangeron has, in his writings, articulated a very important point when it comes to what we are experiencing these days.  He makes the point that life is, in some ways, a series of deaths, sometimes great and sometimes small.

  • We’ve been celebrating the milestone of graduation for about a dozen of our students. That’s a celebration…and also the end of an era/chapter that is certainly bitter-sweet for parents.
  • Covid has brought lots of ‘deaths’, some large and some small: death of businesses, of careers, of employment, of school experiences, of friendships, of financial stability, of choices, of freedoms, of ways of doing things, etc. 
  • The same is true of church, as we will see in just a moment.

But before we do that, I feel burdened to make some brief observations about what the last three months has done to our relationships with each other and our relationships within our society/culture.  In essence, everything has become both politicized and polarized.  As one fellow pastor commented to me last week, “Satan is sowing a spirit of division in our nation.” 

POLITICIZED:  By “politicized” I mean that there is very little we can have a public conversation about today that will not be viewed as having political overtones.  Name a topic and I can probably give you multiple illustrations of how that topic is seen by someone as political, divisive.  Just post on Facebook….

ILL: “Mary had a little lamb….”  “Why Mary and not James?”  “Are you a dog hater?”  Why not a bear?  Do you have an issue with small animals?” 

      Whether we’re talking about church or clothes, friendships or theology, race or business or marriage, everything has become divisive and “politicized.”  And as we know, politics rarely if ever unites a church or nation.  And at a time when the church desperately needs to be together and a uniting influence, we have been separated from each other month after month. 

      My suggestions:  try to avoid seeing or hearing things today through a political, divisive lens.  The more we can avoid doing that, the better chance we will love one another and experience God more. 

POLARIZED: By “polarized” I mean that we are all being pulled to the margins and away from any sort of “shared-middle” when it comes to thoughts and ideas.  We are all being told we are a bunch of divided and diverse people who must either be for or against things; closer or farther from certain people; more liberal or more conservative, etc.  Rather than focus on the huge field of common ground we actually have as human beings, we are being told we must focus on the smaller fringes of our differences.  And as Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand,” (Mt. 12:25).

            So, we all really must recognize that this is the agenda of the enemy—to politicize and polarize us in this time.  If we recognize that, we stand a chance of not succumbing to it nor being destroyed by it. 

            The second thing I want to remind us of before we turn to God’s Word is a truth that doesn’t get much press in our culture today:  we will all give account to God one day for how we have lived during these days. 

            As pastors/shepherds over this little part of God’s flock called “Mosaic Fellowship,” the Scripture tells us that we, your pastors, will one day give account to God for how we cared for your souls and taught God’s word during this time.  We, just like every parent who will one day give account for how they raised, trained and led the children given to them by God, will answer to God for how we handled this crisis, this flock of Mosaic and the truth of God’s word that speaks to this time. 

            As the “flock of God,” God’s people, members one of another in the body of Christ in Spokane, you will have to give account to God for the decisions you are making about your own lives, your faith, your families, priorities, values, practices, etc. 

            This is precisely why I and the other pastors have chosen the passages and topics we have been addressing the past 3 months.  You all know that topical preaching is not my favorite nor forte.  But as I and the pastors have prayed, day after day and week after week, we have together felt burdened to address from Scripture what God has to say on the critically important issues related to this crisis, issues like fear, conscience, the nature of the church, unity, civil disobedience, persecution, fellowship and more. 

As I’ve had conversations with people these past 3 months, I’ve found myself saying over and over again, “You really should listen to that sermon on…fear…conscience…unity…the church…etc.”  Never in my pastoral career have I not known from week to week what was going to be the next text or passage or topic.  But never have I felt that the things we have been addressing week by week were more directed by God and timely. 

            It is so easy to preach and teach the Word of God in the abstract when we’re not facing major crises week by week that are forcing all of us to determine in profoundly important ways how we will actually live out our faith in Jesus.  But now is not such a time.  As much as we would all like to wake up tomorrow with the realization that this has all been a bad dream, the reality is that our world, our nation, our state, our church and the church around the world will never be the same. 

            In some ways that is a really good thing.  Both our nation and our church needs to significantly change some things about who we are and what we’ve done.  But in some ways it’s also not a good thing.  Not everything that is happening and not everything people are becoming is better or good right now. 

LLL:   Let me illustrate this simply in the life of God’s people, the church, and specifically our church, Mosaic.  “The Church” across America and here in Spokane as well as Mosaic itself will never be the same as it was pre-Covid.  Here’s the reality:

NEGATIVELY: 

  • Some people will never “come back to church.” After 3-6-9 months or more of doing “internet church” and not gathering with the people of God in person, some will have decided that they don’t really need to be “the church gathered”.  They will be satisfied with Sunday’s on-line from here on out.  In fact, they will find they prefer that kind of “church” to having to get the kids up and dressed, drive 10-30 minutes to ‘church’, and punch a huge hole in their weekend.  For whatever reasons they have or will decide that whatever they were doing before ‘at church’ is no longer something they value that much.  So, they will invent a new form of Christianity for themselves that doesn’t include the church gathered.  That will happen to thousands of people in Spokane and perhaps millions across America.  It has and will also happen to Mosaic. 
  • Some people will switch churches. (This could be a “positive” depending on what actually happens to these folks when they ‘switch local churches.’)  Some churches will close and cease to exist because of this ‘sheep-shuffle’ while others will grow and flourish.  Depending on where you were in a local church before Covid-19, you may either have to start all over again in developing a real ‘spiritual family’ or you may come back to your previous ‘spiritual family’ to discover that someone you really loved has chosen to leave that family and you won’t be seeing them again.  That will happen all over our nation and city.  It will happen here at Mosaic too. 

POSITIVELY:

  • Conversely, some Christ-followers will have their spiritual passion fanned into flame as a result of this time of isolation. ILL:  Young woman I was talking with recently after a church gathering who said, “You know, before this time, I had a hard time getting motivated to want to come to church.  Now, I wish we had church every day!”  Some of you have realized how much real, meaningful fellowship means to you now…and you are more spiritually passionate and personally committed to making it happen than ever before in your life.
  • For most churches, this event has forced us to rethink ministry, to re-tool what we are doing to be more effective in the ‘new reality’ we are all faced with. ILL:  Here at Mosaic we are rethinking how we shepherd this congregation, how we do or haven’t done fellowship, small groups, house churches and the like.  Hopefully the next time (and there will be a next time, I’m sure), we will be a healthier local church that has more productive structures and ministries that will better handle and grow through times of isolation and disruption. 

So, with that rather lengthy introduction, with the time that remains today, let’s look at what God’s word has to say about what we should be considering as essential to being a healthy church going forward…and some of the changes we may need to engage to become that kind of church.             

PRAY

The foundational question Andrew left us with at the end of last week’s message on the role of conscience in many issues but particularly this current Covid quarantine is, “What aspects of ‘church’ are biblical essentials that we must pay attention to if we are to BE the church Jesus wants us to be?”  Whether we’re going to be a large church with lots of city-reaching ministries or whether we’re talking about turning Mosaic and this city into a host of small ‘home churches’ that ARE the church in every block and neighborhood of this city, what are the biblical essentials either a ‘house church’ or a city-reaching church must focus on? 

Throughout the course of the past few months, we’ve already mentioned some of the things the N.T. lays out as important ‘church experiences’ if we want to be what Jesus had in mind for His church.  We talked about things such as…

  • Fellowship: gathering together with other believers in meaningful conversations around biblical truth. I alluded to all the “one another commands” in the N.T. that require that we actually be in relationship with each other in order to obey them. NOTE:  That doesn’t mean that can only happen at a Sunday morning, large-group gathering.  In fact, it might better happen over the phone or one-on-one.  But the question still stands, “Am I doing even that on a regular basis with spiritually meaningful intent?” 

ILL:  Recently heard of a large church that surveyed their people as to their interest in returning to simply any kind of small home group experience and when they would be interested in that. Options ranged from “I’m ready to start meeting with 2 or 3 other people/families right NOW” to “Not until we have a vaccine” and ending with “Not interested at all.”  60% chose the last option—“Not interested in a fellowship group anytime in the future.”  ☹

Other “essential church experiences” we’ve already touched on in previous weeks that must be part of a biblical church experience have been…

  • The need to be sharing spiritual gifts/ministries God has given us with one another rather than not using them by not interacting meaningfully with other believers. (See 1 Cor. 12-14; Eph. 4)
  • Worship: that involves shared prayer together as well as singing spiritual truths to one another (ala Ephesians 5:18-20; Mt. 26:30).
  • Communion/baptism: both of these biblical ordinances that the church has practiced have always been done in some ‘publicly shared’ form, not alone privately. (See 1 Cor. 11; Luke 22; Mark 14; Mt. 26.)

HOW and WHERE that takes place may vary significantly.  But both the N.T. and the history of the church make it clear that you can’t really claim to BE the church or even be part of a church if you are not regularly engaging in fellowship, worship and shared ministry to one another and the world. 

            But is that ALL we are called to BE/DO in order to “be the church”?  I’ve heard people say, “Well, Jesus said in Mt. 18:20, “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”  So if I just get together with 2 or 3 other believers, isn’t that ‘being the church’?” 

God’s answer to that is unequivocally “No.” That line of reasoning must eventually lead you to say that since the Holy Spirit lives in every true believer individually, I am ‘the church’ even when I’m alone in my home or out in nature.  We certainly are part of the church even all alone—the church universal—but we certainly are not the church either house/local/city or regional. To be that, there must be certain other components of your experience. 

Just what are those other essential components of church life that must exist if we are to BE, biblically speaking, the church?  Obviously this is a much larger subject than we have time to cover in the remaining ____ minutes.  So let me give you a list of additional items/issues we must factor in regardless of whether we are talking a ‘home church,’ a mega-church or a city-church.  Then I will zero in on just one or two of them as examples of issues we at Mosaic are currently engaged with.

Essential Functional Components of Being “A Church”

Besides the 4 we already talked about….

  • Fellowship
  • Shared spiritual gifts and ministry
  • Worship
  • Church Ordinances: baptism, communion

We have…

  1. Prayer
  2. Interconnectedness with the ‘city church’.
  3. Instruction/teaching/guarding of the Word
  4. Church leadership
  5. Church discipline
  6. Church stewardship of finances
  7. Evangelism/preaching of the Gospel
  8. Missions/church multiplication

I would maintain that, IF we are missing any of these essential functional components of the life of the church, we can claim we are “a church” BUT we will not be fulfilling the full heart of Jesus for His Bride, the church and we may well not actually be “a church.”    

So let’s choose a couple to look at. 

#4.  Church Leadership:

Without trying to give you a complete Scriptural teaching about what we call “church polity” or leadership, let me give you 5 of the passages that are key in constructing biblical church leadership. 

  • 1 Timothy 3—elders/overseers/deacons
  • Titus 1—same
  • I Peter 5—role of leaders shepherding the flock
  • Hebrews 13:17
  • Acts 20

Let’s go simply to Titus 1 for just a moment and notice a few things about church leadership.

Vs. 1:5--The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

—Leadership is to be connected on a city-wide level (not autonomous but relating to other spiritual leaders of a city). 

APP:  How we do this at Mosaic: 

  • by-laws call for intervention by other like-minded and theologically respected church leaders whenever we have serious internal conflict.
  • How I as lead pastor relate to other church leaders in Spokane—probably 10-25% of my week is spent in these relationships.

—Leadership is to be “ordained”/appointed/recognized by others, be that ordination councils, denominations, church bodies, city-church leaders, etc.  They are not just self-appointed.

APP:  Mosaic—I was “ordained” officially by an association of Baptist churches in Oregon 38 years ago; I function as an “elder”/pastor at Mosaic (as do Bob, Jesse and Andrew); I’m recognized in this city as a pastor/shepherd/spiritual leader.

—Leadership must be qualified (vv. 6-9).  That must include both personal character qualities, family qualities and teaching/ theological qualification.  It doesn’t mean church leaders are perfect in character or perfect dads or perfect theologians/teachers of the Word.  But they must rise to a level in each that engenders trust, confidence and submission in those they are charged to lead. 

This is what sets “elders” apart from “deacons” (see 1 Timothy 3).  Elders must be able to teach and exercise authority over others in a theologically responsible, mature, biblical manner. 

Paul goes on to talk about the proof of being qualified:  it’s the home life of a leader as well as their ability to use the Word of God to discern truth from error and heresy from orthodoxy (Titus 1:10-16).

An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

This is also what sets a “home fellowship group” apart from a church.  Parents are always to be leading their family spiritually, just like pastors lead churches.  But a single family does not constitute a “church”.  ‘House churches’ may meet in a single-family home…or they may meet in a multi-family/person facility like a barn or a larger church building.  But “home church” as it is thrown around today is simply the SAME term for “local church” biblically speaking.  The only difference is the size of the ‘house’ that determines the size of the ‘church.’ 

This is also why, historically, the interconnectedness of the city church was critical.  ILL:  the house church movement in China has produced many very good things (like fast growth, evangelism, deep fellowship)…and some not-so-good things (like cults, heresies, manipulations, etc.).  It is our connection to the historic church and the city church that should guard us from the abuses.

HOW an individual and church practices ‘church leadership’ may differ from situation to situation (thus different denominations/branches of Christendom).  But having and living under some form of church leadership is essential to BE a church according to the Bible. 

APP:  How this practically functions at Mosaic

  • Most pastors are “elders”—biblically and theologically trained and recognized as such to a degree that they can lead the church spiritually.
  • MLT members are “deacons/deaconesses”
  • We operate on a “consensus” basis, not a conformity or uniformity Ex:  decision on when to restart public church groups and gatherings 4 weeks ago. 

QUESTIONS???

Pick another “essential element” you would like more teaching on? 

[Take several minutes to address that area, if time permits.]

CONCLUSION:

  • What Mosaic becomes going forward will be shaped by these “irreducible minimums” of the church. HOW we express them is certainly open to discussion and implementation.  And we welcome your input!    Join us on Monday nights from 7:00-8:00 p.m. on Zoom for an open discussion of Sunday’s message…and other issues that may be important to you presently.  We’ll try and keep it biblically rooted and relationally loving.  Go to zoom.com and type in meeting number 869 8161 8035
  • Some of these “essential elements” may impact you personally more than others. All of them should impact you when it comes to choosing a local/house church to be a part of wherever you are living. 
  • If these “essential elements” are, in fact, “essential,” then each of us must seek to make them a continual, regular, and essentially uninterrupted (as much as is possible) part of our spiritual journey and practice. We must all continue to wrestle with what this means for us in the midst of things like pandemics, of government laws and restrictions, of future national or regional emergencies, of unforeseen changes that will come to life.  And we must all guard against making the church of Jesus Christ fit what we want it to be over making our experience as the church what God wants it to be.

Benediction:  Hebrews 13:20-21

20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.