We are dealing with the covid-19 "plandemic" and are experiencing things that most of us have never experienced. Can any of you remember a time in America when the church was forbidden to meet? Three months ago this would have seemed impossible. Because of the coronavirus, our state governments have imposed lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. The governors have deemed some things essential during this time and other as non-essential. They have stopped all elective surgeries except abortions. Liquor stores are essential, but churches are not.
So, let me ask you a question. Is the church essential? Before we can answer that, we need to know what I mean by church. The term "church" could refer to the universal church or the local church. The universal church is the church into which Christ places everyone who has come to trust Him as their Savior (1 Cor. 12:13). This church began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 2:1-12; 11:15-16). When a person places his trust in the death of Christ to forgive his sins, Yeshua puts him into the body of Christ (1 Cor.12:13). The Holy Spirit of God unites him to Christ eternally.
It is true that the church is comprised of all believers, but the emphasis of Scripture is that the church is a local function. The word ekklesia, in secular Greek as well as in the Greek translation of the Tanakh, always refers to a group that assembles and meets together and never just to an entity. So, the manifestation of the spiritual body of Christ is the local church. The church universal always finds its expression in the church local, a body of believers called out of the world and into a spiritual fellowship based on the life of Yeshua within. So, when I ask whether the church is essential, I’m talking about the local assembly. Is the local church essential? I would say that it should be, but I would also say that many churches aren’t essential. What do I mean by that? If a local church is not fulfilling its God-given purpose, then I would have to say that it is not essential. To determine if a church is essential, we have to know what the purpose of the local church is. What is the main purpose of the local church? To answer that question, look with me at 1 Timothy 3.
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 1 Timothy 3:14-15 ESV
Let me give you a little background. First and Second Timothy and Titus are commonly called the Pastoral Epistles because they consist chiefly of instructions and admonitions to two pastors, Timothy and Titus. Paul is writing this letter to his son in the faith, Timothy, who was pastoring the local church at Ephesus:
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine. 1 Timothy 1:3 ESV
This epistle deals with the following: (1) error in the church and how to deal with it, (2) the proper pattern for church leadership, namely, the qualifications for and roles of elders and deacons, (3) the proper attitudes and roles for men and women in the church, and (4) the procedures for discipline in the church. The key verse is verse 15.
if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 1 Timothy 3:15 ESV
Paul had hoped to come to Ephesus soon, but if he was delayed. He wanted Timothy to know how to conduct himself in the house of God. The word "behave" is from the Greek word anastrepho which describes his whole life and character. It especially instructs Timothy in his relationships with other people. Paul is talking about proper conduct within the local assembly of God's people.
"In the household of God"—the Greek word for "household" is oikos. This speaks not of a building but of a family. Then he says, "Which is the church of the living God." There is no definite article (the) and should be translated "which is the Living God's Church." The word "church" is from the Greek ekklesia which means "to call out of." The church is a body of called out people.
Please note that the church is the "Living God's Church." The church belongs to God. The title "Living God" was used over and over in the Tanakh.
I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions." Daniel 6:26-27 ESV
Believers, our God is the Living God. We need to keep this in mind, because many times when we face a crises situation such as this "plandemic," we act as if God were dead. The great reformer Martin Luther was confronted one day by his wife Katie. She confronted Martin with the fact that he was acting as if God were dead. Luther was in the midst of a great spiritual battle with the Catholic Church. His writings were responsible for causing fractions and sparking the Protestant Reformation. His central teachings, that the Bible is the central source of religious authority and that salvation is reached through faith and not deeds, shaped the core of Protestantism. Emperor Charles the V said of Luther at the Diet of Worms, "A single friar who goes counter to all Christianity for 1,000 years must be wrong." One day during this battle Martin Luther came into the room and Katie was all dressed in black and was mourning. Martin Luther asked her who died, and she said, "God died." Martin Luther went into a rage shouting theological truths about God and said, "God cannot die." To which Katie replied, "Well, Martin, the way you have been acting I assumed that God must have died." Martin Luther got her point.
Now notice what Paul calls the church—"a pillar and buttress of the truth." In Ephesus, to which these letters were written, the word "pillar" would have a special significance. The greatest glory of Ephesus was the temple of Diana or Artemis. When Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Diana, got the people stirred up, notice what they cried out.
When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" Acts 19:28 ESV
The temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. One of its features was its pillars. It had 127 pillars, every one of them the gift of a king. They were all made of marble, and some were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold.
It may be that the main idea of the word "pillar" here is not support, such as in a "buttress," but rather "display." The idea is that the church's mission is to hold up the truth of God for all men to see. The church is to support and display the truth of God. I think we do this in two ways.
- We preach and teach the Word of God.
- We reveal the living Christ to our world.
Let’s look at number 1. We are not the source of truth, the Bible is. But we are to support and display it. The Bible is God's Word, and the church is to support and display that truth. Timothy was to do this through preaching and teaching the Word of God.
Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 1 Timothy 4:11-13 ESV
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Yeshua, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:1-2 ESV
I don't believe that the church's mission has changed. We are always to be the pillar and support of the truth. This is done through faithfully expounding the truth of God's Word. Whether the church is essential, then, depends on whether it is teaching the Word of God. This is the mission of every local church, but I believe that most local churches have forsaken this role. And when the church forsakes teaching, it is no longer essential.
In his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman writes, "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."
Postman is right on with his assessment. In this Age of Show Business, truth is irrelevant because what really matters is whether we are entertained. Substance counts for little; style is everything. What is really sad about this is that that kind of thinking is true in the church as surely as it is in the world. I'm afraid that the church is forsaking its calling and is no longer the pillar and ground of the truth. It has become a source of entertainment.
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 a 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. It was just a typical Sunday show for that pastor. He packs his church with such special effects as cranking up a chain saw and toppling a tree to make a point, providing the biggest Fourth of July fireworks display in town, and holding a Christmas service with a rented elephant, kangaroo, and zebra. The Christmas show features 100 clowns with gifts for the congregation.
There's no denying that these antics draw a crowd. Many churches that have experimented with such methods report growing attendance figures. And a handful of mega-churches that can afford first-class productions, effects, and facilities have been able to stimulate enormous numerical growth. Some of them fill huge auditoriums with thousands of people several times every week. But where do we get the idea that the church's job is to draw a crowd? The purpose of the church is not to see how many people it can get in the doors. Its purpose is to be a pillar and ground for the truth of God's Word.
A few of these mega-churches resemble elegant country clubs or resort hotels. They feature impressive facilities with bowling lanes, movie theaters, health spas, restaurants, ballrooms, roller-skating rinks, and state-of-the-art, multi-court gymnasiums. Recreation and entertainment are inevitably the most visible aspects of these enterprises. Such churches have become meccas for students of church growth.
Today evangelicals everywhere 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 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 and wrong if it doesn't seem to work.
When pragmatism becomes a guiding philosophy of life or ministry, it inevitably clashes with Scripture. Spiritual and biblical 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.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 ESV
Majority reaction is no test of validity. Yeshua said,
"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." Matthew 7:13-14 ESV
Prosperity is no measure of truthfulness.
The tents of robbers are at peace, and those who provoke God are secure, who bring their god in their hand. Job 12:6 ESV
Pragmatism as a guiding philosophy of ministry is inherently flawed. Moses struck the rock and got results. But God also judged him for his disobedience, and he never entered the promise land.
and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle." Numbers 20:7-8 ESV
Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, "Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?" And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. Numbers 20:10-11 ESV
Moses got results. He brought water out of the rock. All was well, right? No.
And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them." Numbers 20:12 ESV
In our day, pragmatism is sweeping through the church. Methodology has replaced theology as the main issue many church leaders are concerned with. Pastors are turning to books on marketing methods in search of new techniques to help churches grow. Many seminaries have shifted their pastoral training emphasis from Bible curriculum and theology to matters of style and technique.
Perhaps most telling is the growing number of churches that now feature drama and entertainment instead of traditional services where God's Word is proclaimed. The new pragmatism sees preaching as passé. Plainly declaring truth is deemed too offensive and utterly ineffective. We're now told we can get better results by first amusing people and thus drawing them into the fold. Once they feel comfortable, they'll be ready to receive biblical truth in small, diluted doses.
Proclaiming the gospel message of redemption for sinners and exposition of the Word for saints should be at 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, the church will lose all effectiveness.
Believers, the growth of the church is a product of the sovereignty of God and not of special gimmicks and plans. Look at how Paul described the growth process.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 ESV
We are to proclaim the truth of God's Word, but it is God who causes growth.
What if the Old Covenant prophets had subscribed to today's church growth philosophy? Jeremiah, for example, 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 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. Here is how Jeremiah preached.
Then Jeremiah came from Topheth, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy, and he stood in the court of the LORD's house and said to all the people: "Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, behold, I am bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the disaster that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their neck, refusing to hear my words." Jeremiah 19:14-15 ESV
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 his 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.
What about Jonah? Did he use a church growth strategy to reach Nineveh? NO! He simply proclaimed the truth of God and the whole city repented.
"Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you." So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Jonah 3:2-5 ESV
The apostle Paul didn't use a system based on merchandising skill either. He shunned clever methods and gimmicks.
For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-6 ESV
Biblical truth is the only framework by which we can evaluate the rightness or wrongness of ministry methods. If we make effectiveness the gauge of right and wrong, how can that not color our doctrine? Ultimately, the pragmatist's notion of truth is shaped by what seems effective and not by the objective revelation of Scripture.
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.
The case for preaching and teaching the Bible is simply this: There is no other way by which you can be exposed to the thinking of God except from the Word of God. It is different than all the other books in the world because it is a compendium of the thoughts of God about human life. This is why the church is to focus on the teaching of the Bible. Not only will it transform our behavior, but it alone brings salvation.
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.
The church is to support and display the truth of God. I think we do this in two ways.
- We preach and teach the Word of God.
- We reveal the living Christ to our world.
The church is the continuing incarnation of God. The word "incarnate" comes from two Latin words meaning "in flesh." It means that God took on a human body in the person of Yeshua the Christ. And since Yeshua ascended into heaven, we now, as His body, continue His presence on earth.
All Yeshua said and did was to reveal the Father.
Yeshua said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? John 14:9 ESV
The emphasis of John 14:7-11 is pretty clear. Six times Yeshua says that He and the Father are profoundly One and that His presence is the presence of God the Father.
We saw this in our study of the Fourth Gospel—Yeshua is Yahweh. Yahweh is revealed in Christ. He is the fullness of the Godhead bodily. In Him is the very wisdom and truth of God personified. The purpose of everything He ever said was to reveal the Father—to reveal Yahweh. Now watch what Yeshua says in John 20.
Yeshua said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." John 20:21 ESV
"As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you"—who is the Lord talking to here? This is addressed to His first-century disciples. Does it apply to us? Are we sent to proclaim the Gospel and reveal the Father? Yes, I believe we are. The most fundamental reality of human existence is that we're made by God in His own image to be His representatives in His created world. The image is not an ability we have but a status. God intends us to be His representatives on earth. Practically, what does this look like? As Christians, as children of the heavenly Father, we have a duty to imitate Christ. Since He is compassionate, we as His image bearers are to be compassionate, Because He is loving, we are to be loving. He is just, righteous, and true, so are we to be also. We are to display Him in all we say and do. We are all sent to bear His image.
Let me remind you of what we have seen in our study of 1 John.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:12 ESV
"No one has ever seen God"—so John is talking about love and then he says, "no one has ever seen God." On the surface, this statement seems kind of random. What does God’s invisibility have to do with a discussion of love? John continues in verse 12, "If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." What does he mean? He means that the unseen God, who was historically revealed in the incarnation of the Son, is now revealed by the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit in His people when they love one another. It’s an amazing thought! People do not see God and they may not read the Bible, but they will see God when Christians love one another. Mutual Christian love manifests the presence and actions of the invisible God.
How is this love of God demonstrated to us today? We know that it was demonstrated in Christ when He came in the flesh, went to the cross, died for our sins, and rose again. But we can't see Him. As God was manifested to men in the past in the incarnation of Christ, God will be manifested to mankind in the present not in Christ but in the loving Christian. Therefore, when the world looks at us, what do they see? Do they see Christ? Do they see God? Paul puts it this way:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. Ephesians 5:1 ESV
"Be imitators of God"—"be" is a present imperative and has the idea "to become." They were to develop continuously into imitators of Yahweh. The Greek word for "imitator" is mimetes. It is the word from which we get our English word "mimic" (to mimic or to copy something). What it denotes is an actor, someone who spends time and energy in studying a character with the view to reproducing it. The constant call to the Christian is to be like Yahweh. It is Yahweh's purpose that each of us reflects the image of our Father. We are all to be image bearers.
If we are going to imitate Yahweh, what is the prerequisite? You have to know Him well. You cannot imitate someone whom you do not know. To know Yahweh, we must understand who He is as revealed in His Word.
Yeshua is God incarnate and the church is to be Yeshua incarnate. We are the visible expression to the world of the Savior who is presently in heaven.
Is the Church essential? It is if it is teaching the Word of God and revealing the living Christ to the world. The Church is to proclaim the truth of God’s Word and reveal His Son to the world, even as Yeshua did when He was on this earth. As the household of God, the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth, we are the current expression of Yeshua the Christ in the world. What a staggering job description! Nothing could be of more essential importance!
From the very beginning of God’s dealing with his people, the Bible has stressed community. In fact, biblical discussion of godly living is almost always set in the context of growing together, in community, as God’s people. For Christians today and for the last 2,000 years, God has established the local church as the vehicle for that community.
The Christian life is strengthened and encouraged as we meet together. We need one another. Are you aware of all the "one another" verses in the Bible?
I believe that the Church is essential and that it should be meeting. Someone is bound to ask whether we are to obey our governing authorities who are telling us not to meet. I believe there are two exceptions to the command to obey those in authority over us. First of all, we are compelled not to obey if what the authority is telling us to do a violation of God’s Word. We are never to violate Scripture in order to submit to anyone. A clear example is found in Acts 5.
"We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men." Acts 5:28-29 ESV
The Bible commands us as Christians to be subject to governing authorities (1 Pet. 2:13-14), even when these authorities are evil people. But if the governing authorities command us to do something that would be disobedient to God, then we must obey God, even if it results in our being punished.
If our authority misuses its God-given power to command what He forbids or to forbid what He commands, then the Christian's duty is to disobey the human authority in order to obey God. As Christians, no earthly law can exceed the Word of God. When the two clash, God always wins. And when the governing authority extends its reach beyond its defined role, I believe it has become an enemy of God.
Does Yahweh want the local church to meet? Yes. This is the whole reason that he created it. Body life is very important to your Christian life.
The second exception to our obeying authorities is if they violate the law of the land. As Americans, whom must we submit to? The supreme law of the Land is "The Constitution of the United States." Under our laws and form of government, it is the duty of every elected official to obey the U.S. Constitution (and his or her State constitution). The problem in America today is that our political leaders have violated their oaths of office blatantly disobeying the U. S. Constitution—the "supreme Law of the Land." Our government is loading us up with unlawful laws. I do not believe that we have to submit to these laws because they are unconstitutional.
Amendment I—"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
It can be argued that every part of the above quote has been violated either directly or indirectly by our State Government. The hindering of religious-based gatherings has occurred across the United States. Peaceful assemblies have been banned. Even groups of 10, 3, and sometimes just 2 people have been disallowed in several U.S. states. The freedom to petition the government has been curtailed by stay-at-home orders. You cannot engage in free speech activities such as holding up picket signs for a protest if you cannot leave your home.
These blatantly unconstitutional actions have historical precedence. Government convincing its citizenry that fundamental rights come second to the illusion of security and prosperity is exactly how Nazi Germany maintained a mental grasp on its citizens.
It is impossible to argue that attending a worship service is any riskier than going to Home Depot or Lowes that have hundreds of people in the store, and yet community worship is just as essential for believers as shopping at Lowes.
I’m sure that someone is bound to state that ‘it’s dangerous to go out. What if we catch the virus?" Listen, if you want to stay home, then stay home; if you want to wear a mask, then wear a mask, but don’t tell me what I need to do.
Studies continue to emerge proving what many have already known—Covid-19 the pathogen, is nowhere near the threat we were told and nowhere near justifying "Covid-19 the hysteria."
So, despite what our government might say, the church is essential in the world today. We are literally the presence of Christ on earth. We reveal Christ, even as Christ reveals God. And the church’s mission is exactly the same as Christ’s mission—to proclaim the truth of God.