CHURCH IS NOT A BUILDING – CHURCH IS THE PEOPLE OF GOD

WE WILL CONTINUE TO DO CHURCH – WE WILL CONTINUE TO BE CHURCH

2020 VISION – WE NEED TO SEE THINGS CLEARLY – FROM GOD’S POINT OF VIEW

HOW IS THE CHURCH GOING TO BE DIFFERENT?

PART 4: UNITY AND WITNESS

“AN ARMY OF ORDINARY PEOPLE”

VICTORY COMES WHEN THERE IS UNITY

Jesus famously said:

“if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand” (Mark 3: 24 KJV)

Think about the “beautiful game” – football. This week, after months of suspension due to the pandemic, the English Premier League resumed (albeit behind locked doors). The game is made up of 3 levels:

  • The individual player – who most definitely has a mind of his own!
  • The team of 11 – of whom the individual is just one part
  • 20 teams who all play each other – of which 1 team is just a part

Now imagine the chaos if the individual player decided to “do his own thing” – refusing to pass the ball to any of his team-mates, refusing to follow the direction of the captain? He would not be in the team for long – teams need “team players”.

Now imagine the chaos if the team did its “own thing” when it came to play against other teams – refusing to abide by the off-side rule, insisting on picking up the ball and running with it (what sort of a game would that be!!!)?

Basically, the League only works because each of its constituent parts agrees to work together. If each player or each team refused to work with the others, then the whole game would fall apart, and we would all have to watch Rugby instead!!!

AN ARMY HAS TO BE UNITED

In the same way an army is made up of the individual soldier who, if a “lone wolf” can bring disaster in the battle. And the soldier belongs to the regiment – which rightly has its traditions and its pride. But, imagine the chaos if one regiment refused to fight alongside another when the Commander-in-Chief ordered them into the battle together! There is no doubt that the battle would be lost and the war would be lost too.

THE CHURCH IS AN ARMY AND HAS TO BE UNITED

Military metaphors abound in the Bible: we are the army of God – all Christians – everywhere. We are individuals with our own minds, who are called to join together in local church families. Like regiments each is different – with different traditions and pride. Some are called Evangelicals, others Baptists, still others Methodists or Church of England.

But, we would all agree that we are all part of the same army whose Commander-in-Chief is the “King of kings and LORD of lords” (Revelation 19: 16) – Jesus.

And we are all called on a mission – to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28: 19), fighting against our enemy, the devil, who wages war against us (Ephesians 6: 12).

All of this is SO obvious, and all of us must surely agree on the principle and practice of unity in the church of God…

But, historically this has NOT been the case…

DISUNITY AND DISASTER

In the 1960’s (so long ago!!!) I was a choir boy and Sunday School attendee in my local church. A beautiful, old stone building. By the age of 11 I believed in God but no longer believed in the church that seemed to see Jesus as dead.

So, I left.

But I never left the faith and a few years later – in 1972 – a friend introduced me to his, very much alive, church and I joined the Elim Pentecostal Church in Rochester. WOW! What an exciting culture shock for a young teenager! A church that really knew God!

But, I quickly discovered, to my dismay, the disunity existing between the churches. The Pentecostals looked down on the traditional churches as being “spiritually dead and doctrinally unsound” and had nothing to do with them. The traditional churches viewed the Pentecostals as little short of heretics. And growing quickly was the so-called churches of the Charismatic Renewal – well…what did THEY know!

God’s church was like an army who all say they served the same Commander-in-Chief but would not serve together.

Catholics are against Protestants, Charismatics are against Cessationists, Creationists are against Evolutionists, Calvinists are against Arminianists, Free church are against established church. What a mess!

And the result? Well, we see it today. A church that for years has been declining in numbers and which has been so weak that “the opposition” has changed the face of British society which is no longer under-pinned by Biblical values.

A church disunited has led to a disaster!

It is time to ensure that this is no longer the case.

As we come out of “Lockdown” the church MUST be different. The vision is of churches in Ashford that are different in tradition, but which are now working together in unity to fulfil the mission to take the Gospel to our community. And of a Church in Ashford that is joining in the battle with the Church throughout the UK so that the gates of hell may not prevail!

Let us look at our chosen Book of Acts to see that unity is always possible EVEN WHEN WE DON’T AGREE ON EVERYTHING:

UNITY IN THE BOOK OF ACTS

The context here is that the Good News has spread from the Jews to the Gentiles – Good News! But, the Jews had been grounded in the requirements of the Law with its physical manifestation most clearly seen in the practice of circumcision. And so we read:

ACTS 15: 1-11

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they travelled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.’

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles should hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’

Now, what is significant here is what we DO NOT HEAR! The “believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees” passionately believed that Gentile Christians MUST be circumcised. The decision of the council in Jerusalem went against them. And….the Pharisee believers DID NOT leave the church. They did not say “we don’t agree with you so we are going our own way and will no longer be a part of you”. The silence on the matter showed that they SUBMITTED to the will of the church DESPITE what they themselves thought. For the sake of UNITY they went along in a direction they were not personally comfortable with.

BECAUSE they kept the unity of the church the focus of the church on mission carried on unabated – and the church grew in number and strength.

What would have happened if they HAD split from the rest of the church? Without a doubt we would have seen a collapse in the WITNESS of the church. Christian would be arguing – fighting – against Christian; their focus would have been on their differences; the Gospel would have been held up; outsiders would have mocked a divided church just as they mock the divided church today!

JESUS WARNS AGAINST DISUNITY

The ministry of Jesus was challenged constantly by disunity within the religious community of the time. And Jesus clearly warned of the dangers of disunity:

Luke 11: 14-20

14 Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. 15 But some of them said, ‘By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.’ 16 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.

17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: ‘Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. 18 If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. 19 Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 20 But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Now this would never happen today…would it??? Unfortunately, it does! To this day church groups and denominations attack each other publicly about what the other group is saying or doing. And every time this happens the church is ridiculed and weakened; the Gospel is not spread and society continues to turn away from Christian values.

We must learn how to be “one” without being “the same”.

UNITY AND NOT UNIFORMITY

Unity is where we are one, standing as one, going forward as one, even though we are different in many ways.

Uniformity is that we all believe and say and do the SAME thing.

There is nothing wrong in being different, in saying different things, in doing different things. We are ALL different from one another.

Just look at us – in our own church family! We all have different views: do you know how hard it is to be a pastor?! Ask 50 church members what colour curtains we should get and you will get 50 different answers! Even within our particular church family we hold different views – about Creation, about the Gifts of the Spirit, about the songs we should sing. That’s OK as long as we remember to value the other before ourselves – and so we accept their views without necessarily agreeing with them. And that’s OK as long as we remember that we were all made different so that we could fulfil different functions within the church (which is the message so clearly given in 1 Corinthians 12).

And just look at us from church to church! In one church all women have to wear hats and all men should be in suits; in another church even the speaker is in jeans and T-shirt! In one church only hymns are sung; in another it is all about the latest choruses. In one church the only infallible Bible is the King James Version; in another the Message paraphrase is in vogue. In one church people “speak in Tongues” and stand up to give a prophecy; in another all is read from a “Book of Common Prayer”. That’s OK as long as we remember to value the other before ourselves – and so we accept their views without necessarily agreeing with them. And that’s OK as long as we remember that we were all made different so that we could fulfil different functions within the church.

What matters is what makes us united, what makes us one DESPITE the (superficial???) differences. What matters is that we all agree the “fundamentals” of the faith as expressed by Paul in Ephesians 4: 1-6 rather than the “incidentals” which are subject to interpretation and personal preference:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Key words here that foster unity are “humble and gentle…patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity…” It’s NOT easy. Effort is required. But it is worth it, because a church united is where we see:

  • Focus on the spreading of the Gospel
  • Promotion of Christian values in society and resistance to post-modernist ideas

UNITY – A CHALLENGE TO THE CHURCH

Let us open our eyes! Let us have 20:20 vision as we come out of this time of Lockdown.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

We are individuals with personal views, beliefs and preferences but we are ONE family in ACC. Let us, like the church in Jerusalem, be willing accept the decisions of the church as a whole.

We are a unique church family in Ashford with our own ways of worship and working. But let us decide now that we are going to be working far more closely with our brethren in Ashford in order to make a stand on societal issues and in the preaching of the Gospel.

What this means, I believe, is that as we come out of Lockdown our church family is being called to be one with each other more than ever before:

  • Sharing resources with other churches more while still-remaining uniquely ACC
  • Praying together with other churches more while still-remaining uniquely ACC
  • Worshipping together with other churches more while still-remaining uniquely ACC
  • Evangelising together with other churches more while still-remaining uniquely ACC
  • Standing tall for God in a collapsing society more with other churches while still-remaining uniquely ACC

To be His witnesses to all the world His Church MUST be one!

APPENDIX: ENCOURAGING VERSES ENCOURAGING UNITY

PSALM 133

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life for evermore.

JOHN 17: 20-23

20 ‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – 23 I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me

ACTS 4: 32

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had

ROMANS 12: 5

in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others

ROMANS 12: 16

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited

ROMANS 15: 5-7

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 CORINTHIANS 1: 10

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought

1 CORINTHIANS 12: 12-14

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptised by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 And so the body is not made up of one part but of many

GALATIANS 3: 28

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus

EPHESIANS 4: 2-6

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

EPHESIANS 4: 13

until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ

PHILIPPIANS 2: 2

make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind

1 PETER 3: 8

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble