30 Minute Radio Lesson - WAVG Radio 1450 AM
Clarksville church of Christ
February 11, 2001
Speaker: Richie Thetford
"The Church: It's Work and Worship"
Almost instantly, the word church forms a picture in our minds of things we associate with religion. To some, church is a place of worship. To others it is a place for social contacts. Church is, to borrow from an old song, "Different things to different people." But what it is to the Lord? What work should it do and what is its primary function? Someone has said, "If man does not worship God, he will worship something, even it he has to worship himself." Naturally God never intended for man to worship anything other than God. Jesus built His church and in and through that body of believers, congregational or collective praise and worship is to be offered to God. Today on this program, we will read and study the passages pertaining to the work and worship of the church.
Hello, this is Richie Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ welcoming you to another presentation of"What Is Truth?"The Clarksville church of Christ presents this program every Sunday at this same time. Our purpose is to teach the truth and nothing but the truth. We always urge you who listen to let us know if you find us teaching what you think is untrue. We do not want to be wrong. You are very warmly invited to visit our services today. At 9:30 A.M. we have Bible classes for all ages. At 10:30 A.M. and 6 P.M. we worship congregationally, and each Wednesday we meet for Bible classes at 7:30 P.M. Our building is located at the corner of Hale Road and Hwy 131 in Clarksville. We would be delighted to have you come and visit us today.
The church Jesus built is spiritual from beginning to end. It is a"spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:5). Whatever the church is to do, must be done in harmony with the basic concept that the church is God's spiritual abode. The use of the term "house" is not intended to mean a house for God's people, but a house in which the Almighty is pleased to dwell. This naturally demands a figurative understanding, because God does not "dwell in temples made with hands" (Acts 17:24). But He does dwell within the church, the spiritual house Jesus built. Paul wrote of the church, "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:19-22).
The work involved in spiritual sacrifices is spreading the saving message of the gospel of Christ. The church exists for that purpose. It is unimaginable to conceive of the church Jesus built and think of any other mission it is to accomplish. The collective worship is not a work to be done by the church. Worship is a response to God which is motivated by love and fear. The church Jesus built puts nothing before the prosecution of spreading gospel truth to the whole world. The great commission demands it. Jesus said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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, 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" (Matthew 28:18-20).
There is nothing one finds elsewhere in the words of the Master indicating any other comparable mission. The work of benevolence is part of what Christ intended His church to practice. But benevolence, providing for those who are poor, deprived, uneducated, homeless, and jobless, is not the primary role Christ intended His church to play here on earth. This may sound somewhat legalistic and harsh, but it is biblical fact. In each case where the church Jesus built engaged in any kind of charitable act, the record is clear: it always provided for those who were members of the church. Nothing in the Bible ever indicates that the church was to go into all the world and remove poverty, hunger, ignorance, and things that fall into that category.
Notice the first case of charity the early church practiced. "Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all, as anyone had need" (Acts 2:44-45). The believers shared their possessions for only one purpose; to provide what any of their number lacked. This could never be construed as a general distribution among all those who either lived in Jerusalem, or were visiting there, on that day. In the next chapter Luke reports an incident that sheds light on this point. "And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple, who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms" (Acts 3:2-3). Here is a specific incident in which one who was not a member of the church appealed for benevolent help. Peter replied, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk" (verse 6). Peter had "silver and gold" that was commonly held by all the believers at his disposal. This was being "laid at the apostles feet" for distribution to those among the believers who had need (Acts 4:35). But Peter refused to pass that along to a non-member. Why? Simply because benevolent work in the church Jesus built is limited to those who are among the believers.
This limitation is consistent through the New Testament. One may wonder why. There is really only one reason that is acceptable to those who are determined to remain within the confined limits of Christ's authority. We dare not act, nor cause the church Jesus built to act, in realms of activity Jesus Christ has not authorized. The test of whether one respects His authority or not is easy to take. Those who are content to do only what He authorizes pass the test. Those who take liberties in the areas where Jesus has not spoken fail. Do you remember these words? "Not every one that saith unto me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?' And then will I profess to them, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, ye that work iniquity'." (Matthew 7:21-23). The term "iniquity" means lawless, a disregard for authority. Every one must weigh their deep concerns for the welfare of humanity against their respect for His authority.
If one dared to rationalize, one might conclude that the reason why there is no general obligation to go into the whole world to do charitable works has at least two possibilities. First, the Lord never intended to attract people to Himself or to His people through physical means. We remember the incident John records in chapter six of his gospel record. Jesus fed the multitudes with only five barley loaves and two small fishes. After this, He spoke to them of spiritual matters. Verse 66 reads, "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more." Jesus knew that many of them followed Him, "not because" they had "seen the signs, but because" they "ate of the loaves and were filled" (verse 26). He immediately cautioned, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures unto everlasting life..." (verse 17).
Second, Jesus never intended for His church to focus attention on itself. The breadlines, the handouts, the so-called "missions" in poverty stricken areas are part of Americana, but not of Christianity. Charitable works are sponsored by a religious organization with the underlying wish to attract members by dispersing out welfare. There is a conspicuous absence of this in the history of Christ's church. Where would you find the counterpart of the church kitchen in the New Testament church? Such a thing is simply not there.. Where, in the Bible, would one find the counterpart of the modern concept of a "mission" on "Skid Row" where the poor are fed, clothed, and offered temporary shelter? Where in the New Testament does one find that the early church practiced that kind of benevolence? It is absent from what we have been divinely given through revelation of the mind of God.
Russell E. Ritchey, author of a book called "Denominationalism," wrote of the way in which American denominationalists institutionalized and secularized religion in America. I believe this book has been used in several colleges and universities as a text book on denominationalism in America. Listen to this comment. "As reformers they turned, when persuasion failed, to political means, in order that good social habits of temperance and Sabbath observance might be maintained. As propagandists they sought the extension of democratic institutions -- if necessary by use to military force -- in order that all the world might share in the blessings of the kingdom of God on earth."(Denominationalism, Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tenn., page 246). It is the turning away from the simplicity of being a spiritual house, offering up spiritual sacrifices to God through Christ that has forged the very spirit and nature of modern day denominationalism. And, the produce is an institutionalized, secularized religious order.
Deviation away from the simple manner in which Christ's people in the first century executed the work He gave them to do has resulted in a complete restructuring of religion throughout the world. The only sensible remedy is to return to those primitive days in our focus and thrust. To work as He ordered His first disciples to work, to offer up the same sacrifices they offered to the Father through Him, should be our one and only goal as a religious force. The reason why churches have concentrated on political, social, and charitable endeavors appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the basic purpose Jesus had in mind for His church on earth. That purpose was the spreading of the good news of salvation to every accountable person on earth. He also intended His people to worship as a natural response of love to the Father, expressed in collective worship. Also. And, secondary to this was the natural response of love for brethren in taking care of whatever physical needs they may have had.
Is that the purpose for which the church of which you are a member exists? If not, there should be a re-examination and alteration done. If the church of which we are members is Christ's church, what right do any of us have to change the purpose and mission which He assigned it?
Now at this time, please allow me to transition to the "worship" of the church today. Jesus told a certain woman, "You worship that which you know not: we (the Jewish nation) worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such doth the Father seek to be His worshipers. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:22-24). It is important to notice first that God does not require man's worship -- He seeks it. Paul spoke before a heathen audience in Athens and said, "The God that made the world and all things therein, He, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is He served by men's hands, as though He needed anything, seeing He Himself giveth to all life and breath, and all things" (Acts 17:24-25). Please consider the appropriate remarks of the late Dr. Joseph Parker. He said, "God does not need our money as a beggar by the wayside may need it; yet He receives it, and pours out a blessing in return for it. God does not need our help, for He wields all power; yet men have been 'cursed' for not going up to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty. The little child cannot help you carry your burden, yet when it puts out its tiny hand in your assistance, your heart is filled with a more confident courage. God does not need our patronage. What candle can patronize the sun? What little ceiling of man's making can offer patronage to the firmament which holds all the stars? But God receives our love, our prayers, our gifts, our acknowledgments of His sovereignty, and in return He pours upon us a plentiful rain of grace and joy" (Studies In Texts, Volume IV, page 174). Those whose worship is both sought and accepted by the Almighty are blessed indeed.
But now friends, consider where God seeks worship. Does He seek it from all religions, all confessions of man's faith, or all of the various "religious" orders men have created? Read with me from one of Paul's great letters. "Unto Him (God Almighty) be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen" (Ephesians 3:21). In the church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever God seeks and accepts the worship of mankind. Those who wish to participate in the adoration and worship of God, must be members of the church Jesus promised to build. And please remember Peter's inspired statement. "You also as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:5). His house today is not made of inanimate stone -- but of baptized believers who are called "living stones." As God did not accept collective worship outside of the divine precincts of His appointment in the Old Testament temple, He accepts worship today only from His spiritual temple, the church Jesus built.
From Paul's affirmation at Athens we learn quickly that the temples men construct cannot be God's place of abode, nor can the things men devise by which to show God veneration avail anything. This eliminates idols, artifacts, relics, and other objects of worship. It is in the church and in Christ Jesus alone that God accepts the praise and worship to His unfathomable glory.
Worship offered to God must be offered by those who are members of this church Jesus established. The Samaritan woman was told that her worship was not acceptable. Jesus linked true worship with the source of salvation. "Salvation," He said, "is from the Jews." The Jewish nation was formed by the Almighty to be His own special people, called out of the ancient world to provide the world a Savior, Jesus Christ. Salvation has come to this world only through Jesus Christ. When Jesus came, He fulfilled the one and only purpose the Jewish nation was ever intended to serve. Then He promised a new order. "I will build My church," He promised. Remember, this is that church in which God both seeks and accepts worship. And, if that church exists, it must continue in the same purpose God has assigned for it. The worship it offers must be completely acceptable to Him.
Worship, in order to be acceptable, must be offered "in spirit and truth." Jesus told the Samaritan woman that any other worship is not true worship. In fact, He affirmed that just worship is not necessarily acceptable to God. Worship, according to our Lord, must be offered "in spirit and truth." But what is involved in worship offered to God "in spirit and truth?" Jesus said that God is a Spirit, and then based His next thought on that point. As a Spirit, God must be worshiped in spirit and truth. Adam Clarke, a well known Bible scholar, gives an excellent comment on this idea. Please consider it. "This is one of the first, the greatest, the most sublime, and necessary truths in the compass of nature! There is a God, the cause of all things -- the fountain of all perfection -- without parts or dimensions, for He is ETERNAL -- fillingthe heavens and the earth -- pervading, governing, and upholding all things: for He is an infinite Spirit! This God can be pleased only with that which resembles Himself: therefore He must hate sin andsinfulness; and can delight in those only who are made partakers of His own Divine nature. As all creatures were made by Him, so all owe Him obedience and reverence; but, to be acceptable to this infinite Spirit, the worship must be of a spiritual nature -- must spring from the heart, through the influence of the Holy Spirit: and it must be in TRUTH, not only in sincerity, but performed according to that Divine revelationwhich He has given men of Himself." (Clarke's Commentary, Volume V, page 541).
Dr. Clarke's comment shows that the expression "worship Him in spirit" means worship under the influence of His Holy Spirit. A human spirit being influenced by the Divine Spirit is one that has been instructed by the revelation of God's will. The Holy Spirit has made this possible. When our spirits are in complete union with the divine revelation, our worship is sincere and from the heart. But Clarke also shows us that worship must be "performed according to that Divine revelation which He has given men of Himself." The only revelation God has ever given mankind is the Bible. That is why, the church Jesus built, in worship, insists on confining the performance of worship to that which one finds in the Book of God. In the case of the New Testament church, the New Testament is the sole source of divine revelation by which to determine that worship will be acceptable to God.
Let us look at the church Jesus built and learn how they offered God acceptable worship. First, turn to Acts 2:42. This is
the first day of the church's existence here on earth. Luke tells us that those freshly converted people "continued stedfastly
in the apostle's teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers." The church offered worship in
accordance with the teaching they received from the apostles. That included fellowship, participation with the apostles, as
the body of Jesus Christ. They broke bread together; they prayed together. The breaking of bread on the Lord's Day was a
sacred memorial of the death and suffering of Christ. Later, in the narrative in Acts, Luke reports that Paul and some
brethren waited seven days in Troas and then, "Upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break
bread, Paul discoursed with them." The Lord's Supper and the Lord's day are always inseparably related in the New
Testament. There is no other day on which this sacred act of worship may be acceptably performed by the church Jesus built.
There is some question as to how often this memorial should be observed. Some say, "The Bible does not say to partake of it every first day of the week, therefore we can set our own frequency of observance." The church Jesus built maintained that "the (singular) first day of the (singular) week" necessarily implies every first day of every week. The people of God in the Old Testament understood "Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy" as an obligation to be done every Sabbath Day. Students in college, who make up their schedules, understand that if a class they enroll in meets on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday,every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is meant, unless they are specifically told that the class will not meet. It does seem that we should use as much common sense in observing the most sacred feast of all as we would enrolling in college classes. But many do not.
Collective prayers were offered by the church. Prayer is one of the means humans may use to express the thoughts of the heart to the Almighty. It is through Christ, our intercessor, that our prayers come before the throne of God Almighty. Later, Paul wrote of another expression of congregational worship. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God" (Colossians 3:16). This is another way God allows us to express our worship to Him. The Hebrew writer said, "Through Him (Jesus), let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to His name" (Hebrews 13:15). The church Jesus built offers up the identical sacrifices of lips. Singing praises to God is the only kind of music the Lord, or any of the writers of the New Testament, ever mention in connection with worship. Choirs, organs, orchestras, and other kinds of mechanical instruments of music are never mentioned. The New Testament church, the one Jesus built, never used anything to praise God in music other than singing.
There is also an opportunity made for God's people to give of their financial ability. Paul wrote, "Upon the first day of the week, let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come" (I Corinthians 16:1-2). Paul intended for all the churches of the first century to regularly lay by in store, into a common treasury. His purpose was that he and others were traveling through the land, acting as messengers of the churches, to take the combined contribution of the churches to Jerusalem for the relief of the needy saints there. The contribution by each member of the local church is the only way the New Testament teaches the church to have a treasury. Churches did not enter the business markets to make money, nor did they put on cake sales, car washes, and other such enterprises. The church Jesus built did quite well by the contributions of the saints on the first day of every week.
That, dear friends is what the New Testament teaches about the work and worship of the church Jesus built. It is simple. There is nothing ornate or ritualistic about it. And, it is the truth. It is the truth because it can be fully documented by book, chapter, and verse from the New Testament. It is hoped that, by this survey, those of you who study this will be impressed to first become a member of that church, for remember, it is the one place God seeks and accepts congregational worship today. And that once you become a member, you will worship faithfully, in spirit and truth, as you join with other saints in the wonderful experience of offering up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Christ.
If you have a question about this, or any other Bible topic that has been discussed on this program, I want to encourage you to let us know by writing or calling us at the Clarksville church of Christ. Our address is 407 W. Hwy 131, Clarksville, IN 47129 or you may call 944-2305. Please tell your friends about this program when you get the chance.
This is Richie Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ thanking each of you for listening to this morning's broadcast and invite you to listen again next Sunday morning at 8:30 A.M. for another presentation of "What Is Truth?"