What is the Church's Calling? (Membership Class #2)
In this second of the five-part membership class we observe that the Church can be defined along two axes. As the “body of Christ” the Church’s identity is defined vertically. As the “fellowship of believers” the Church may also be defined horizontally. But the vertical relationship is foundational to the horizontal and is its fountainhead. The focus of this session is to understand the Church's calling in light of Church’s vertical relationship.
The Church is Called to Worship
What is the Church? For some people the church is a support group for a variety of niche, special interest groups. Hence the existence of bible studies for the elderly, the divorced, the singles, the youth, the newly married, the young career types, the retired, the recovering addicts (of whatever variety), the artistic, the musicians, the outdoors type, the studious, and etc. In fact, these things will often be the deciding factor for many people trying to find a church. Now, to be sure, a typical church is, and ought to be, made up with people from various walks of life, and certain needs faced by these people may be a legitimate focus of the church’s ministry. But one will search the Scriptures in vain to find the church described in such horizontal and man–centered ways.
The problem, of course, is that the horizontal is tangible. We see it all around us, and we are keenly aware of their affects on us. But the Church is first and foremost defined not by its horizontal features, as important as they may be, but by its vertical dimension. The Church is, first and foremost, a community brought into existence to worship.
We sometimes people say, “I worship God everywhere and at all time. My whole life is a worship to God.” But the true vertical dimension of our relationship with God is not maintained in terms of the feelings and attitudes (however profound or superficial they may be) we have as we carry out our daily and this–worldly activities. The vertical dimension of our faith is maintained properly when we set ourselves apart from the this–worldly activities (no matter how noble and necessary they may be), and ceasing from our ordinary habits of life, we present ourselves before God with our mind and body totally set apart, and devoted to be concerned with nothing but the worship of God in body and soul.
We have been taught and learned to think of worship as that which enables us to successfully live throughout the week. We come to worship, in other words, to be blessed, encouraged, and equipped at church that we may go out into the world and do what is really important, to be better husbands, wives, parents, neighbors throughout the week. But notice once again these are all horizontal things.
This is putting the cart before the horse. Worship is not a means to an end. It is the end, the goal, the highest aim of the redeemed life. We don’t come to worship in order that we may go out into the world and do what is really important. We do everything we do in the world Monday through Saturday that we may present ourselves rightly before the holy God who reigns in majesty. The regular cycle of week from one Lord’s Day to the next is thus meant to instill in us this clear life conviction. We long for heaven’s glory where we will finally be what we were created to be, worshippers who are eternally and completely set apart to God.
Do not think lightly of worship. Do not think of absence from worship lightly. The Church’s highest calling is to worship. The Christian’s highest calling is worship.
The Ministry of the Means of Grace
Eph 1:3-14, 2:17; Rom 10:14
If we thus define the church not primarily along its horizontal axis but the vertical, then the implications are many and profound. Perhaps the most profound implication is how the vertical dimension effects the both the on-going ministry of the church as well as what happens every time the believers gather together. In a horizontally tilted church, the life of the church will tend to emphasize the horizontal aspects of life, influencing everything from the format of the worship service, use/abuse of humor, how the minister dresses, to what to do with the children during worship service.
In a vertically oriented church, while the horizontal is not forgotten, the primary emphasis will be placed on the meeting of the gracious God and the needy believers. In other words, the church’s ministry will be focused around the ministry of the means of grace.
The means of grace are what God has appointed and commanded the church to do that he may provide for his needy children. All Spiritual blessings come to us from, and because of, Christ. Thus the means of grace are the means appointed by God to draw us to Christ in faith, such as the preaching and hearing of God’s word, our participation in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer.
We live in a world of hype, and we despise the ordinary provision of God’s grace. Thus we are told, if we are to grow spiritually, that word, sacraments, and prayer are not enough. But they are enough. Not only are they enough, they are the only things that can make us grow because they have been appointed by God for that purpose.
We, therefore, make choices to give preference and weight to the ordained means of grace, and will not promote, encourage, or condone anything that detracts us from its means of grace ministry.
Holiness to the Lord
Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2; Eph 4:1
This is an obvious point that hardly needs to be stated. The Church is a community of redeemed believers growing in the image of Christ. We teach, pray for, and expect that all believers are growing in holiness. This means we are biblically dealing with all known sins in our lives. It means we strive to become a credit to the Lord’s name. It means we reject what is flashy, trendy, and superficial, and instead focus on the development of Christian character.
How does God develop our character? He develops our character through trials and suffering. The church is a suffering community. If we are faithful to God in this world, we can expect to be persecuted. And where the Spirit is working in the hearts of God’s people, we expect to see suffering people in the church. Thus as a community of suffering we seek to minister to the suffering.