Pastor David B. Curtis

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The Church's Priority - Part 1

2 Timothy 4:2

02/24/2002

What is the primary purpose of the church meeting? Fellowship? Worship? Teaching? entertainment? One pastor says, "The soul purpose of the church is evangelism. To reach lost people. It is not a hotel for the saints, it is a hospital for sinners." Is he right? Does the church gather for evangelism? If that is the case, then I should just preach the gospel every Sunday, right?

Is our primary purpose worship? Many would say that the church's purpose in gathering is to worship. I could agree with that if you told me what you mean by "worship". How are we to worship God? Give me a verse. How about:

John 4:24 (NKJV) "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

If we are to worship God in truth, then what should be the focus of our meeting? The answer I'm looking for is "teaching"! Do you think that teaching should be a priority when the church meets? Where do we find the answer? We already saw Jesus' words in John 4:24 - we must worship in truth. Where is the only place that we find truth about God? The Bible!

We talked last week about the need that we have as individuals to read and study the Bible. We said that the most essential practice for a vibrant spiritual life was "Bible study". We said it was the most important discipline in the Christian life. It is my opinion that studying the Bible should also be the church's priority when it gathers. Where did I get this idea from, the Bible! Look at what Jesus told his disciple to do:

Matthew 28:19-20 (NKJV) "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.

Jesus' disciples were to teach others all that they had been commanded. The way you make disciples is by teaching - teaching the Word of God.

Paul told Timothy to teach others who would teach others.

2 Timothy 2:2 (NKJV) And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Paul commanded Timothy to "preach the word".

2 Timothy 4:1-2 (NKJV) I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

What was the purpose of Paul's letters to Timothy?

1 Timothy 3:14-15 (NKJV) These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; 15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

Why did Paul write to Timothy? So he would, "...know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." Paul taught Timothy that the responsibility of church leadership was to teach God's people the Word of God.

Look with me at what Jesus told Peter:

John 21:15-17 (NKJV) So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed My lambs." 16 He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep.

The Greek word "feed" in verses 15 & 17 is bosko, which means: "to provide food". This refers most obviously to the teaching ministry of the pastor. In verse 16 he used the word poimaino, (tend) which means: "to shepherd". The emphasis in this text is on the feeding. The way a shepherd cares for his sheep is to feed them. A pastor's priority is to feed the people - to teach the Bible.

I think that the priority of the church meeting should be teaching. Do you agree with this? If you do, then what is going on in churches today should trouble you greatly. The church today is forsaking the ministry of teaching the Bible and moving into the entertainment ministry.

In his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman wrote, "Toward the end of the nineteenth century. . . the Age of Exposition began to pass, and the early signs of its replacement could be discerned. Its replacement was to be the Age of Show Business."

This is so true of the church today. In this Age of Show Business, truth is irrelevant; what really matters is whether we are entertained. Substance counts for little; style is everything.

In 1955 A. W. Tozer wrote these words in his book, The Root of the Righteous:

For centuries the Church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was - a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from moral accountability. For this she got herself abused roundly by the sons of this world. But of late she has become tired of the abuse and has given over the struggle. She appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment she may as well join forces with him and make what use she can of his powers. So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called sons of heaven. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God. Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate 'producers' peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it.

By today's standards, the issues that inflamed Tozer seem ridiculous. For example, churches were attracting people to Sunday evening services by showing Christian films. Young people's rallies featured up-tempo music and speakers whose specialty was humor. High-energy games and activities were beginning to play a key role in church youth work. Looking back, it may seem difficult to understand Tozer's distress. Hardly anyone these days would be shocked or concerned about any of the methods that seemed radically innovative in the fifties. Most of them are generally regarded as conventional today.

Tozer, however, was not condemning games, music styles, or movies per se. He was concerned with the philosophy underlying what was happening in the church. He was sounding an alarm about a deadly change of focus. He saw evangelicals using entertainment as a tool for church growth, and he believed that was subverting the church's priorities. He feared that frivolous diversions and carnal amusements in the church would eventually destroy people's appetites for real worship and the preaching of God's Word.

He was right about that. In fact, Tozer's rebuke is more fitting than ever as the church moved into the 21st century. The incipient trend he identified has come into full bloom in our generation. What the church was flirting with forty-seven years ago has now become an obsession.

There seems no limit to what modern church leaders will do to entice people who aren't interested in worship and teaching. Just how far will the church go to compete with Hollywood? A large church in the southwestern United States has installed a half-million-dollar special effects system that can produce smoke, fire, sparks, and laser lights in the auditorium. The church sent staff members to study live special effects at Bally's Casino in Las Vegas. The pastor ended one service by ascending to "heaven" via invisible wires that drew him up out of sight while the choir and orchestra added a musical accompaniment to the smoke, fire, and light show.

Antics like that would have been the stuff of A. W. Tozer's worst nightmares. Surely even he could not have foreseen the extreme to which evangelicals would go in paying homage to the great god Entertainment.

Churches today are frantically seeking new techniques and new forms of entertainment to attract people. Whether a method is biblical or not scarcely matters to the average church leader today. Does it work? That is the new test of legitimacy. And so raw pragmatism has become the driving philosophy in much of the church.

Pragmatism is the notion that ideas may be judged by their practical consequences. A pragmatist concludes that a course of action or concept is right if it brings good results, wrong if it doesn't seem to work.

When pragmatism becomes a guiding philosophy of life or ministry, it inevitably clashes with Scripture. Spiritual truth cannot be determined by what works and what doesn't. We know from Scripture, for example, that the gospel does not usually produce a positive response:

1 Corinthians 1:18 (NKJV) For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

And just because the majority is doing something doesn't mean it's right:

Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV) "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Pragmatism as a guiding philosophy of ministry is inherently flawed. Most of the new pragmatists believe the priority of the early church - devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching - makes a lame agenda for the church in this day and age.

Expositing the Word for saints should be the heart of every church's ministry. If the world looks at the church and sees an entertainment center, we're sending the wrong message. If Christians view the church as an amusement parlor, discipleship will die.

C. Peter Wagner, professor of church growth at the Fuller School of World Mission, is the most prolific, if not the most influential, spokesman in the church growth movement today. He writes of the movement's inherent pragmatism: "We ought to see clearly that the end does justify the means. What else possibly could justify the means? If the method I am using accomplishes the goal I am aiming at, it is for that reason a good method. If, on the other hand, my method is not accomplishing the goal, how can I be justified in continuing to use it?"

What if the Old Testament prophets had subscribed to such a philosophy?

Numbers 20:8-11 (NKJV) "Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals." 9 So Moses took the rod from before the LORD as He commanded him. 10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, "Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?" 11 Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank.

Moses struck the rock resulting in water for the children of Israel. But did the end - getting water, justify the means - hitting the rock? No! Moses got results, but God judged him for his disobedience:

Numbers 20:12 (NKJV) Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them."

Clearly, the end does not justify the means.

What about Jeremiah, he preached forty years without seeing any significant positive response. On the contrary, his countrymen threatened to kill him if he did not stop prophesying (Jer. 11:19-23); his own family and friends plotted against him (12:6); he was not permitted to marry and so had to suffer agonizing loneliness (16:2); plots were devised to kill him secretly (18:20-23); he was beaten and put in stocks (20:1-2); he was spied on by friends who sought revenge (v. 10); he was consumed with sorrow and shame - even cursing the day he was born (vv. 14-18); and finally, falsely accused of being a traitor to the nation (37:13-14), Jeremiah was beaten, thrown into a dungeon, and starved many days (vv. 15-21). If an Ethiopian Gentile had not interceded on his behalf, Jeremiah would have died there. In the end, tradition says he was exiled to Egypt, where he was stoned to death by the Jews. He had virtually no converts to show for a lifetime of ministry.

Suppose Jeremiah had attended a church growth seminar and learned a pragmatic philosophy of ministry. Do you think he would have changed his style of confrontational ministry? Can you imagine him staging a variety show or using comedy to try to win people's affections? He may have learned to gather an appreciative crowd, but he certainly would not have had the ministry God called him to.

It is folly to think one can be both pragmatic and biblical. The pragmatist wants to know what works now. The biblical thinker cares only about what the Bible says. The two philosophies inevitably oppose each other at the most basic level.

A major Christian magazine recently published an article by a well-known charismatic speaker. He mused for a full page about the futility of both preaching and listening to sermons that go beyond mere entertainment. His conclusion? People don't remember what you say anyway, so most preaching is a waste of time. "I'm going to try to do better next year," he writes; "that means wasting less time listening to long sermons and spending much more time preparing short ones. People, I've discovered, will forgive even poor theology as long as they get out before noon."

That perfectly sums up the attitude that dominates much of modern ministry. It is sheer accommodation to a society addicted to entertainment. It follows what is fashionable but reveals little concern for what is true.

A best-selling Christian book warns readers to be on guard against preachers whose emphasis is on interpreting Scripture rather than applying it.

Is that wise counsel? No! There is no danger of irrelevant doctrine; the real threat is an undoctrinal attempt at relevance. The nucleus of all that is truly practical is found in the teaching of Scripture. We don't make the Bible relevant; it is inherently so, simply because it is God's Word. And after all, how can anything God says be irrelevant?

Believers, the preaching of God's Word is to be central in the church:

2 Timothy 4:2 (NKJV) Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

That brief verse defines biblical ministry in one central command - Preach the Word.

Now notice that Paul adds the time and the tone here. The time, ..."in season and out of season." It is only possible to be in season or out of season, therefore it means; "all the time." Preach the Word all the time. There is no time when we change that commission, no time when that method of ministry is set aside for something else. Preaching the Word is to be done all the time in the church of the Living God.

The tone is also given in the verse, there is a negative aspect of reproving and rebuking, and that is we take the truth of the Word of God and we confront error and sin. And then there is the positive side, we take the truth of God and we exhort with patience and we instruct. Negatively, we confront error and sin. Positively, we teach sound doctrine and godly living. We exhort people to be obedient to the Word, and we have great patience in allowing them the time to develop maturity in their obedience.

Very simply, this verse is saying, "Preach the Word all the time both with a negative and confrontive aspect by which we confront error and sin and a positive one by which we instruct in sound doctrine and call people to holy obedience." Proclaiming biblical truth is what the Church is called to do.

Martin Luther said, "The highest worship of God is the preaching of the Word." That's true because God is revealed through His Word; therefore, preaching His Word is preaching His character and His will, and that defines Him in true terms and exalts Him as He is to be exalted.

Our mandate then comes not from the culture, it comes from God himself. It is God who has mandated us, through the pages of Scripture, to preach the Word, to preach every word and to bring to starving souls the only food that feeds, and that is the truth of God.

When you understand that the Word is the only power that converts the soul, you preach the Word.

Psalms 19:7 (NKJV) The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;

It is not only the source of salvation, it is the source of sanctification:

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

It is the power of the Word that saves. It is the power of the Word that sanctifies. It provides doctrine. It reproves error and sin. It sets upright and then trains in the path of righteousness. That's the sequence. You lay a foundation of doctrine, it reproves error and sin, then you correct that. In the Greek it literally means: "to make someone upright who has fallen down, you pick him back up, correct their error and their iniquity and then put them in the path of righteousness, train them to live an obedient life." The Word does that. The Word makes the man of God and everybody who follows His pattern complete. It prepares them spiritually. This is what we call the sufficiency of the Scripture. It completely saves, completely sanctifies.

We are committed to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, because it is God's self-disclosure, it is God's revelation. When the Word speaks, God speaks.

The psalmist said:

Psalms 56:4 (NKJV) In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?

I put my trust in the God revealed in the Word. If I'm going to put my life in His hand, I want to know Him. And the way I know Him is through His Word. And if I'm going to put my life in His hand, I want to know His will. And the way I know His will is in His Word. If I'm going to put my destiny in His hand, I want to know that destiny, and the way I know it is revealed in His Word.

No wonder Job said he loved the Word of God more than his necessary food. No wonder Jeremiah said the Word was in him, the joy and rejoicing of his heart. Jesus prayed to the Father, "Sanctify them by Thy truth, Thy Word is truth." It is the Word that is able to make you wise to salvation. It is the Word that is able to sanctify you. It is the Word that can cause you to grow as 1 Peter 2 says. The Word is everything, and that is why we must teach it.

1 Timothy 3:15 (NKJV) but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

We see here a very important definition of the church. Paul defines the church as,... "the pillar and ground of the truth." If there should be anything true about the church, it should be it's where you hear the Word of the living God.

Don't be quick to embrace the trends of the high-tech mega-churches. And don't sneer at conventional worship and teaching. The entertainment centered churches may gather a crowd, but they do little to help people build a solid intimate relationship with the Living God. Only the teaching of the Word can do that.

Psalms 19:7-11 (NKJV) The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward.

Since God's Word can accomplish all this, shouldn't it be our priority in ministry?

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