The Church, The Family of God

September 16, 2012

Over the past couple of years the media has made having a
hay day with the news that fewer and fewer Canadians are attending church on
any giving Sunday. They cite statistics that as a people Canadians seem to be
becoming more spiritual, that is
they pray more and meditate but they are not going to church as much.  You ever wonder why that is?  Well you are in luck because this morning we
have the top ten reasons why people don’t go to church.  You ready? 
Here we go the  # 10 Relate to
Jazz and rock more then Handel and Bach # 9 Would rather sleep in own bed then
pew # 8 Already served time as a child # 7 During organ music I think of Don
Cherry # 6 Can only remember 3 commandments # 5 Feel guilty enough already # 4
When I want to feel guilty I call my mother #3 Last time I kneeled I had a hard
time getting up again # 2 People that happy just give me the creeps and the
number one reason people don’t go to church: It just isn’t relevant.

 

Well that was fun but what would happen if we were to go out
and ask people on the street why they don’t go to church? Let’s see (Video clip
from e.seentials vol. 3 No. 5 “Word on the street_ Why don’t you go to church?”)
Maybe you can relate,
and maybe you can’t.  If I think back to
before I had a relationship with God church really wasn’t something I thought
about, church was what other people
did.  And for people who are like that it’s
mostly because they see church in a couple of different ways.
1) Some See Church as
an Obligation. 
There are people out
there who see church as an ought to or a got to.  When I was a kid and a teenager if I was
visiting at my Grandmother Guptill’s house I knew that if I was there over a
Sunday there was an obligation to go to church. 
You might choose not to go to church but then you really didn’t qualify
for Sunday dinner.  It was pretty much a
no brainer. So I would go, and smile and sing the songs or at least fake
smiling and singing the songs.  I was
there not because I wanted to be I was there under duress or at least as a
courtesy to Gram, it was important to her so I went.  And I don’t think it hurt me that much, it
did mean that when someone asked what religion I was that I had an answer: I’m
a Baptist.  I didn’t really know what a
Baptist was but I knew that the only church I ever attended was Baptist so I
must have been a Baptist. 
When I was in High School my best friend’s girlfriend
thought they ought to go to church,
and so to keep her happy he went.  That
was out of obligation.  He was Anglican
and she was Catholic and they wanted to find middle ground and so they choose
to try a Wesleyan
Church because his
brother was a Wesleyan Minister.  They
heard that Wesleyan was kind of like Baptist so they dragged me along as a
translator.  I went out of obligation.
Maybe you attend to make your spouse happy or to make your
parents happy. That’s attending out of obligation.  I’ve been preaching for 30 years and I can
usually tell when someone is here out of obligation.  But to be honest it probably won’t do you any
harm. The night that I chose to follow Christ, I had gone to church that night
out of obligation to get my best friend off my back.
Sometimes the obligation isn’t to another person it’s an
obligation that is felt to God.  Kind of
covering all the bases, you’re sure that somewhere in the 10 commandments it
says “Thou shalt go to church”.  You’re
not positive of all that God requires but you’re pretty sure that going to
church is part of that.  And you figure
that when you get to the pearly gates that if the question “did you go to
church?” is on the admittance questionnaire you’ll at least have that one
right.
Psychotherapist Wayne Dyer made
the comment that  “Relationships based on obligation lack dignity.”  Dyer went on to say “If you are living out of a sense of obligation you are a slave.”
That doesn’t sound like fun. 
Hmmm
2) Some See Church as
an Event.  “
Today family we are going
to church.”  Kind of like going to the
movies or going to the circus.  It’s an
event not an everyday happening. 
Sometimes those events are things like baptisms,
weddings and funerals. I heard someone refer to those events as hatching, matching and dispatching.  Kind of like the fellow who said “Preacher
the first time I went to church they sprinkled water on me and the second time
I went they threw rice at me.” The preacher thought for a moment and then
replied “Yeah and I suppose the next time you come we’ll throw dirt on you.”
I met a distant cousin a number of years ago and she told me
the only time she’d ever been in church, ever, was for weddings and funerals. Church
just wasn’t a part of her life.  And if
Church is simply an event then it’s difficult to conceive of it as a regular
part of your life, I mean how many weddings and funerals can you attend? I mean
even Hugh Grant could only do four weddings and a funeral. Of course that was
in the span of two hours.
And there are people who never attend church but when they
get married they want it to happen in a church, and when they have their first
child they want it baptized and when someone dies they go looking for a
preacher to handle the funeral.  But to
be truthful I think they are just superstitious and see the church like a lucky
rabbit’s foot, which obviously wasn’t that lucky for the rabbit.  They think that maybe they’ll have a better
marriage a healthier child and preferred reservations at the Pearly Gates if
they include the church in their plans.
And then there are the C & E folks, those who come at
Christmas and Easter.  It’s the thing to
do that’s what church is all about and Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without
going to Christmas Eve service.  I used
to be amazed when Anglican, Catholic and United Pastors told me how many
services they have to have on Christmas Eve to accommodate all the people for
that one event.  I thought it was mind boggling.  Last year we had five services and saw over
600 people attend those services plus all of those who attended online.  For many people Cornerstone is their church
even if they only attend at Christmas.
And then are still others who attend on a regular basis but
church is still just an event for them. 
Something that you do every Sunday. 
When I was growing up on Saturday we had homemade beans and rolls and
watched the Bugs Bunny show, every
week. That was Saturday and that was our event.
For some people on Sunday they go to church, but I think
they may be like Calvin Coleridge.  When
he was President he attended church alone one Sunday while his wife was sick.  Now obviously the President didn’t always pay
attention to the message because when he got home his wife quizzed him and
asked “So what did the pastor preach on?” 
The president thought for a moment and replied “Sin.”  “And what did he say about sin?” probed his
wife.  The president thought again and
replied “he was against it.”  I wonder if
he was really paying attention?
By the way that isn’t a new phenomenon Thomas Fuller made this comment almost 400 years ago “Many come to bring their clothes to church rather than
themselves.”
But if people see Church as an obligation or an event they
aren’t to blame, the church is.  For way
too many years the church has marketed itself that way.  Either they tried guilting people into
attending. You know “If you don’t attend church you are going to hell.”  I got news for you: simply attending church
isn’t going to have any impact on your eternity.  Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any
more than going to a Hockey Game makes you a hockey player or living in a
garage would make you a car.  Sorry.
Other Churches don’t bother with the guilt routine instead
they simply rely on the fact that their people have always come to church, it’s
the thing to do on Sunday, so they offer Church as an event, the thing to
do.  But in 2012 that doesn’t cut
it.  Church isn’t the only show in town
anymore and just because Mom and Dad went to church every Sunday isn’t a valid
reason for me to go.  I can find another
more relevant event to attend on Sunday.
So what’s the answer? 
How does the church become relevant for 2012?  The question that is asked by many churches
and pastors is: “What new thing do we need to become in order to attract a new
generation of believers?”
 
But we don’t have to become something new instead we need to
become something old and we need to present it in a new way.  Instead of looking at church as a religious
thing we need to see it as a relationship thing.  A relationship with God and a relationship
with others.
You see the Bible never saw church as an obligation, nor did
it see Church as an event as a matter of fact for the first 300 years the
church existed it was the socially and religiously unacceptable thing to
do.  It could get you fed to the
lions.  But when the New Testament sought
a metaphor to use for the church
of Christ time and time
again it came back to “Family” 
Listen again to the scripture that was
read earlier Ephesians 2:19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners.
You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s
family.
The Bible Sees Church
As A Family 
Now you may be thinking:
“But I already have a family.” There was a time that having a family was akin
to the Waltons on TV, Ma and Pa, the kids and the Grand Parents all living
together in happy harmony with Aunts and Uncles and cousins all within a
stone’s throw away.  But that isn’t a
reality anymore. 
We don’t see many families in this day and age that live in
the same community.  Just out of
curiosity I wonder how many people here today were born in Halifax. And of
those who were born in Halifax how many of your parents were born in Halifax?
No longer do we live and raise our family in the same
community as our parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and
nieces and nephews.  And because of that
we don’t have the support system that those people offered to us and to our
children.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead
wrote “Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family
to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support,
we’ve put it in an impossible situation.”  
And we weren’t designed that way,
humans are social creatures for the most part and throughout history we have
dwelt together in family units.
Jane Howard said “Call it a clan,
call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are,
you need one.” 
In 1990 we moved to Australia leaving our family behind
and the people of the church we went to adopted us as their family.  The invited us over for special occasions,
they were there when we needed someone to talk to or pray with.  We laughed with them and cried with
them.  Our first day in our new country
our children were introduced to Aunt Barb and Uncle Max,
they were family and we were family.  The
logo for the Wesleyan Church in Australia is “Not just a church, a family.” And it was.
But how do we move from “church” to “Family”? 
2000 years ago, in many ways becoming a Christian could mean
leaving your family behind.  You were no
longer identifying yourself as Jewish or aligning yourself with the Greek or
Roman Gods.  And your decision to follow
Christ would separate you from your natural family in much the same way as
physical distance often separates us today, and so your brother and sisters in
Christ became your family. 
So listen to the comment that Jesus made to his disciples in
John’s gospel.  Jesus was telling the
twelve how others would know that they were Christ followers.  He didn’t say it would happen because of what
they called themselves, or where they attended church or how they voted, or how
they wore their hair or what type of music they listened to instead he said John 13:35 “Your love for
one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
Notice that isn’t what made them Christ’s disciples it
simply proved that they were Christ’s disciples.  Because they loved one another.
Listen to a description of the early
church found in the book of Acts,
they had no church buildings, no
church names, no denominations but
they were the church. 
Acts 2:44-46 And all the believers met together in one place and
shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared
the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day,
met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and
generosity—
In the book of 1 Corinthians
Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth
telling them how they were to behave toward one another in the church.  Now this passage is very familiar because
it’s often read at weddings, but in
reality it wasn’t written about marriage relationships,
although it wouldn’t hurt to treat your spouse this way.  This was written telling believers how they
were supposed to respond to one another. Paul has just listed  a number of different spiritual gifts and
then he says 1 Corinthians 12:31 . . . But now let me show you a way of life that is best of
all.
Now listen to what Paul wrote:
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels,
but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I
had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and
possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains,
but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the
poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love
others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not
jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not
irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about
injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never
loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become
useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and
incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole
picture! But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become
useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But
when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in
a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that
I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything
completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last
forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
That’s what we are supposed to
be doing, do we always get it right? 
Nope, we’re still people, but we are trying to be more then a church, we are trying to be a family.  And if you don’t have a church family to call
your own we’d love for you to try our church family but more than that we’d
like to invite you to be a part of God’s family, and how does that happen?  John 1:12-13 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the
right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth
resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
 Two things here  “Believe in Him”  we talked about that this summer, who is
Jesus, who did he claim to be.  It’s not
just believing in Jesus in some nebulous, wishy washy way, mamby pamby, Jesus
was a cool guy, kind of way.  It is
believing that he was and is the son of God, that he was born of a virgin, that
he died on a cross and physically rose from the dead.
And the second thing is “Accepting Him”.  Accepting that he loves you, accepting that
he died for you, accepting that he can forgive you and accepting the grace that
he has to offer you.  And the
result?  You will become a child of God.