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The church: Relevance vs. reverence

I think we would all agree that our world is truly messed up right now. It seems that at every turn, there is another blatant display of wickedness. It also seems as though Christians are under constant attack. So what are we supposed to do? How can we ever impact the culture in which we are living today?

We do so by taking a page out of God’s original playbook, which is the Book of Acts. It is here that we read the history of the early church, which is the only organization Jesus ever established. In fact, Jesus said that he would build the church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (see Matthew 16:18).

When I became a pastor many years ago, I built my preaching and teaching on the template that is found in the Book of Acts. It is still the same template it is built on today.

We are living in a time in which some people are saying, “We need to re-envision the church,” or “We need to reinvent the church.” But I beg to differ. I think we need to rediscover the church. I don’t think we need a new version of it as much as we need to get back to the original version that Jesus himself established. Why? Because the version he established changed the world. The version he established turned the world upside down. Today it seems to me as though the world is turning the church upside down. So the answer, I believe, is to return as much as we can to the original foundation and template Jesus laid down. That is God’s original design for the church.

We are also living in a time in which it is very popular to critique the church. In fact, I read about one church that did an Easter campaign in which they put up signs throughout their community that said, “Church sucks.” The intent was to attract visitors to their website, where they would learn more about that particular church. But I was actually offended by the idea. How dare they say that church sucks? Who are they to say that about the church? Do I think the church is perfect? No. Do I think the church has flaws? Yes. But I also know the Bible says that Jesus loves the church (see Ephesians 5:25). So I never would speak critically of that which Jesus loves.

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Some people are disillusioned by the church today. They are bitter with the church. And when I hear people talk about their anger or disillusionment with the church, I wonder just what it is they are looking for. If they are looking for a hypocrite-free church, then their search is over, because no such church exists.

There is also a trend in many churches today to be relevant to the culture, so they are trying everything they can to connect. And while I am all for relevance, I do not believe in relevance at the expense of reverence. The church is still the church. And when I stand up to preach, the Bible tells me that I am to speak “as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11 NKJV). I am not there to be an entertainer. I am not there to share my personal philosophy or political views. I am there to teach the Scriptures and to call people to Jesus Christ. My job is to glorify God and focus on him. And if I fail to do that, then I am missing the mark. Sometimes I think churches are trying so hard to be cool that they have forgotten how to be biblical. We need to keep the integrity of our message intact.

I believe the church exists for three reasons, and the first reason is the exaltation of God. The church needs to have a high view of God in everything that it says and does. That should be the focus of the church – to glorify God.

I also believe the church exists for the edification of believers, that is, to build up each other and encourage each other. Every believer needs to be an active part of the church, because it is in the church that we learn about God together. It is in the church that we worship together. It is in the church that we find accountability to one another. It is in the church that we discover and use our spiritual gifts. You simply cannot be the Christian God has called you to be without being a part of the church.

That is something to really think about, especially in the days in which we are living. The Bible says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25 NLT).

The outgrowth of that is the evangelization of the world, which is another reason the church exists. The church of the first century turned their world upside down. Their critics said of them, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6 NKJV).

That is what we need in our culture today – a holy disturbance. As G. Campbell Morgan said, “Organized Christianity which fails to make a disturbance is dead.” It seems that wherever the apostle Paul went, something happened. Either there were conversions or there was a riot. But there never was a dull moment, because the first-century Christians shook the world.

If we stray from that original template for the church, the blueprint Jesus himself gave us, we do so at our own peril. The early church that we read about in the New Testament’s Book of Acts is the church that changed the world. They were ordinary people, called of God to do extraordinary things. Theirs was the beginning of a movement that continues to this very day.

While the objective of some may be to have a big church, that never has been my goal. My goal is to have a strong church. I believe that if we as a church concentrate on our depth, then God will take care of the breadth. There may be bigger churches, and that is fine. But my objective is to have a church that is strong and, even more to the point, a church that is biblical.