Thursday, 31 December 2009

OUR PRIORITY OF PURPOSE

The Church, says the Apostle Paul, was God's secret (read: "mystery") plan from the foundation of the world (Romans 16:25). Paul taught this. He promoted this. He preached it. He wrote about it. He called the local church the revelation of God's mystery (Eph. 3:3) and will according to His purpose "in Christ" (Eph. 1:6).
Ephesians 5:32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 
God's purpose in the earth today relates to the local church. The local church is, to paraphrase the Apostle, God's Plan A. God loves the local church! He wants us to love the local church as well (Col. 2:2).


Having ministered in over 20 local churches this year on three continents, I have been blessed to see the differing expressions of God's purpose through the local church. Some of these churches were large. Some were quite small. Some were in cities. Some were in remote areas. Some were literate. Some met in homes. Some were well established while some were church-plants. It's hard not to be impressed from a casual reading of the New Testament that the local church is God's purpose and the hope of the world. Everywhere the apostles went they preached the Gospel and gathered the converts into an organised, structured community called "churches".
Acts 14:21-23 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
We can see from the New Testament that the will of God for all people is that they receive Christ through the preaching of the Gospel and become a member of a local church. This is why being a part of a church community is not an option for the Christian. And being "a part of" should be read as: "serving with my gifts and abilities" in the local church. A Christian is a servant. Being a servant is developed within the local church. For some people this might mean handing out newsletters in the foyer. For others it might mean the high position of leading a small group such as a Bible Study Group. For some this serving might mean a ministry of special financial support as God blesses and prospers their life. Perhaps for some it means gathering with a few others to pray together regularly for the needs of the group and the church. We should all be serving in the church in order to be a part of the church. When we serve within a church it causes our attitude toward our church to be sweeter (Romans 12).


WHAT CONSTITUTES A LOCAL CHURCH? 
Some people hate the local church. These people despise the New Testament notion of an ordered community being led by a God-ordained authority who lovingly lead, feed and care for the church. Some of these people who reject what the New Testament prescribes for the local church distort Scripture to justify either abstaining from being a part of a sanctioned church or develop such a critical, independent spirit that they reduce "church" to them + their bible + their lounge room. While there are some Christians living for Christ in countries which are hostile to Christ, where there are no other believers, the normative practice for any Christian is to be a part of a local church. This raises the question then- what constitutes a legitimate local church? The local church is legitimate, said the Reformers, when-

1. It is an ordered assembly of God's people who gather for the Word of God to be proclaimed.
2. It is sanctioned through the ordination of a minister to conduct the sacraments of the Lord's Supper, Water Baptism and Marriage.
3. It exercises godly discipline (both positive and negative, that is, through encouragement it disciples people into Christlikeness and corrects people when they stray into error).
Since we are all required to be in a local church, it is also imperative that we understand what Christ's purpose for the local church is.


THE PURPOSES OF THE LOCAL CHURCH 
Based on the Great Command and the Great Commission we can see four foundational purposes for every local church.
1. To gather together for collective worship of God - "to love the Lord your God with all your heart..."
2. To gather together for the Word of God to be taught - "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you"
3. To gather together as a witness for God - "preach the Gospel"
4. To gather together for fellowship - "love your neighbour as yourself"

There are different ways to state these four purposes- "Up, In, Out", "Praising, Preaching, Proclaiming, Partnering", "Worship, Teaching, Evangelism, Fellowship", for example, but at Legana we put it this way: To Enthrone, To Empower, To Engage and To Encourage. While each purpose is important, there does seem to be a priority of purpose. This priority is clearer once we realise we can continue in three of these purposes once we are in Heaven, but one of our purposes can only be carried out in this life. Therefore, we must prioritise evangelism. We should pray for the lost to come to faith in Christ. We should live questionable lives to provoke the lost to consider the power of the Gospel to convert a sinner into a child of God. We should invite lost souls to our homes and events. As a church we currently cast the seed of the Gospel out into our community through our radio program, TV ads, church events, youth activities and in 2010 we will be introducing other vehicles for increasing our evangelism effectiveness. Thank God that this year we have baptised a tremendous number of people subsequent to their conversion to Christ! May we see more people publicly committing their lives to Christ in the coming year.


YOUR PURPOSE, YOUR CHURCH 
Psalm 92:12-13The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 
They are planted in the house of the LORD; 
they flourish in the courts of our God.


God's purpose for your life is intimately linked to the local church. This is the place where we are taught (read: "strengthened"). The local church is also the place where we not only are taught, but more importantly, where we learn. We learn to get along with others. We learn to serve. We learn to forgive. We learn to share. We learn to pray together. We learn to care. This takes place within the community of the church (our small groups). There is enormous spiritual benefit to being a part of the congregation of a church, but there is even greater spiritual benefit when a believer is a part of the congregation and the community (a small group) of the church. It is in a small group of the church (that meets to discuss Scripture and to pray and share together) that transformational discipleship happens. And this is God's purpose for your life- to be transformed into the likeness of Christ within the community of a local church.

Please join with me in prayer that we will be a part of building a strong, vibrant, healthy, Biblical local church that glorifies Christ and effectively reaches out together to see people reached with the Gospel.
Colossians 2:19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
I pray that we will continue to grow as a church. I pray that we will grow in number. That we will continue to see new people come to our church. That they will be welcomed and that those who don't know you personally will be challenged and will accept you as saviour. I pray we will continue to grow in knowledge. I pray we will be a disciplined people in reading your word. In committing your word to memory. To have wisdom in recalling the words we have read appropriately when speaking to our friends and family. I pray for those who speak and teachi in this church to be looking to you and your word for inspiration. That we who hear will know the truth when we hear it and likewise will be able to discern any untruths and know how to respond. I pray that indeed it is your word that is spoken from the pulpit and that people will be confronted with your word and your truth each week. I pray we will grow in love for our fellow man. I pray that we will be the good Samaritan of the new testament. We will show compassion and love for those around us. When we see others in need we will reach out. We will go beyond the norm in caring for others. We will be active in our good deeds. With our words we will uplift and encourage. With our actions we will help and support. We will continually lift others in prayer. Your love in us will be obvious to those around us and will lead to discussion and opportunity to witness. I pray we will grow in strength and boldness. We will have confidence in our salvation and speak out against those intent on tearing down the moral fabric of our society. When we see something wrong we will have the courage to speak out. When we see something wrong we will have the words to speak and the clearness of thought to act accordingly. Help us Lord to be true to your word. Help us to see things that prevent us from doing your work. Help us to recognise sin in our lives and help us to give it to you for forgiveness. May we seek a fresh touch by your Spirit to see your will accomplished in our lives. May our hearts capacity for you increase that we can compliment your work in this community. We love you and we love your people Lord. Amen
[Prayer submitted by Stephen Hill, Elder at Legana Christian Church]

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