The Church In the World

"Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
"What is it you want
?" he asked.

She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."

"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?"

"We can," they answered.

Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.
These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father
."

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.
Jesus called them together and said,
"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials
exercise authority over them.
Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many
."

Matthew 20: 20-28

Three texts — three images.
A trilogy of texts, a trilogy of truths which suggest the authentic influence of the church in the world
-- salt, light, servant.

Salt
Matthew 5:13: "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost its taste,
how shall its saltiness be restored?
It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot of men
."

Here Jesus suggests the possibility of the good man who is good for nothing -- good, but useless.
The man who is so "heavenly minded he is no earthly good."
He is salt without savor.
Salt dissolves and disappears when it is serving its purpose.
It is useless as long as it retains its identity in the saltshaker.

Light
Matthew 5:14: "You are the light of the world . . .
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father who is in heaven
" (v. 16).

Light is not for its own sake but to illuminate something else.
One is most conscious of light when it is poor.
When it illuminates properly, one is least aware of it.
You do not look at light normally!

The ego which is the root of sin in individual man tends to be compounded in collective man.
The ego which is such a problem to us as individual Christians tends to be a greater problem
to our Christian institutions.

The humility which ought to characterize the Christian ought to be true of his institutions as well.
Think of the things that remain unfinished because somewhere along the line the initiator discovered
he was not getting the recognition he felt he deserved, or the good things done which have been nullified
because the doer demanded his reward.

Paul, in describing the delicate interdependence of the church, wrote,
"If one suffers— all suffer; if one is honored, all rejoice" (1 Corinthians 12:26).

We have this turned around: we suffer when another is honored, and rejoice when he suffers.
We need to learn to thank God when we do not get the credit for something we have done;
or better still, to thank God when somebody else gets the credit for what we have done.

The church is suffering in the world today because of this institutional ego.
She is demanding recognition.
She is falsely preoccupied with her corporate image in society.
She is being intimidated by the wisdom and the ways of men — suffering from an inferiority complex
because she is being told that she has failed contemporary man.

If she has failed, it is because she has abandoned the message and the ministry left her by Jesus Christ.
She is embarrassed by her apostolic legacy, and in her lust for relevance has turned
to the wisdom of this world to fight the sins of this world.

She is jumping on the bandwagon of humanistic movements, trying to put in her "two-cents worth;"
and thereby tragically failing to be the unique redemptive force in history that God intended.
There is a basic sense in which the church, if she is true to herself, will never receive
and ought not to expect recognition from the world.
The world simply cannot begin to comprehend, let alone give the church credit commensurate
with her value to the world.

The Head of the church has never received this recognition.
Why should we?
The world crucified Him!
What right have we to expect anything different?

We need to be committed to the ministry of anonymity!
We need to have the mind of Christ as Paul describes it in Philippians 2:5-8.

The true influence of the true church cannot be measured.
It is immeasurable!
It is not monolithic or massive.
The maximum influence of the church is the aggregate of Spirit-filled, Christ-loving men and women,
gathering for worship, instruction, fellowship and prayer — then dissolving into the society
around them, as what William James called, "benevolent infection."

In nautical terms, there is a difference between a binnacle and a barnacle.
The binnacle houses the light, the barnacle is an intruder — a foreign substance which attaches itself
to the hull and becomes a burden.
It must be removed sporadically.

Our institutions ought to be binnacles, not barnacles.
Some generous, hospitable friend invites you to a good steak dinner.
You salt the steak and enjoy it.
And when you have finished you think to yourself, and may remark to your fellow diners,
"What a delicious steak."

But you most certainly do not say, "My, wasn't that fine salt!"

Servant — Matthew 20:26-28:
This ego, which is so prolific, expresses itself quite commonly in the desire to be served.
(Which is probably the explanation for the indignation of the ten in the narrative, v.24).

In the conventional local structure of the church, a congregation calls a pastor to "serve" them.
And they resent it — and are usually frank to let it be known — when the pastor does not so oblige.

"Why didn't you call on me?" etc., etc., etc.
There is a sense, of course, in which a pastor is a servant to servants,
and he must never forget this — must never forget that humiliating experience of the disciples
when their Lord girded Himself with a towel and washed their feet.
But neither must the pastor forget that he is called to serve Christ, and is to equip and lead the people
he serves to serve Christ.

The extrovert God of John 3:16 does not beget an introvert people.
There is a terrible tendency to make the gospel serve us, to use it as a protection
against the realities of life as though Christ died to preserve the status quo — or to make us more comfortable
— or just to make the world a better place in which to live.

We must resist, with all the wisdom and strength that God gives us, the diabolical temptation
to force the gospel to identify with some human system -- to make Christ the servant of some vested interest!

"God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on him
should not perish but have everlasting life
."
If this God is in His church, this love will be manifest, and the church will be constrained by this love
to go out to that world, in love, with the message and the ministry of love.
This is the work of the church -- the work she has been left in the world to fulfill.

Unfortunately, though we have loudly professed our loyalty to His mandate,
we have been inclined to deny it by our conventional practices.

Richard C. Halverson illustrates this from his experience as he states:
"When I began the ministry twenty-three years ago I had very strong convictions in this regard.
Very strong, and very wrong!
I believed in mission with a vengeance.
But I planned and labored as though the work of the church consisted in the maintenance
and prosperity of the establishment — and, incidentally, my personal success.
(I would never have put it in those words then. I just operated on that basis.)
The work of the church was what we did in the building and for the institution.

In short, the work of the church was the PROGRAM!
In those days I had one simple criterion for a good church member and it was his involvement
with the establishment: his attendance at stated meetings; his work for the building and the program.

Obviously one who attended Sunday School, morning worship, Sunday evening groups,
evening service and midweek prayer meeting was five times the Christian than the one
who came only Sunday morning was.
I actually resented all competition with community and civic organizations and, above all, other churches.
(Of course, I tried my best to conceal this.)

Everything outside MY church, including other Christian organizations, constituted a threat to my success.
If P.T.A. met Wednesday evening it was understood that prayer meeting
would be the choice of the "dedicated" Christian.
It was unthinkable that a good member would let Rotary or Chamber of Commerce or a union meeting
or a school function interfere with his proper "commitment."


Let's examine the result of this kind of thinking and practice?

The church succeeds in pulling Christians out of the world, out of society, out of community and civic affairs.
It has become a little island of irrelevant piety surrounded by an ocean of need.
And our preoccupation with the establishment is so complete that we cannot even see the ocean
— except, of course, as there is somebody out there that we covet for the program.

The congregation has become an exclusive little system of satellites orbiting around the program
— or perhaps it would be more accurate and honest to say, orbiting around the pastor.

Meanwhile, as the church has defaulted, those "secular" institutions out there in the community,
lacking leadership which takes God seriously, have turned themselves over to those
who have no interest or time for the church.

We have failed!
Yet somehow we have managed to blame other organizations and justify our own passion to be served.
Now we bemoan the fact that labor unions, service clubs, chambers of commerce, school systems,
and government itself are so thoroughly secularized that the church is on the outside,
leaving the others without an influence.

The sheer absurdity of that happens in the work of the church becomes evident when we notice
how busy some pastors become trying to "find jobs" for members,
and the best they can do is to challenge them to "come down to the church Tuesday evening
and paint the walls in the adult classroom.
Ministers became personnel managers or employment agents with the impossible and irrelevant task
of trying to get everyone "busy" in the establishment.

We need to see committed Christians involved in their community.
Think what it would mean if the school teachers and business leaders, and our local, state,
and national government were led by Christians who are servants of the Lord Jesus Christ!

The false thinking of sacred and secular is a great hindrance to Christian influence.
And we must cast aside the idea that the business of the church is sacred.
but business downtown is secular.
That teaching the Bible is sacred, but teaching in public schools is secular.
That worship is sacred, work is secular — except as it is done in the church.

Think about Jesus Himself/
He was a carpenter's apprentice and master carpenter for at least half of His lifetime.
Were only three years spent in sacred pursuits?
The answer is obvious!

Everything Jesus did was sacred.
All He did was for the Father's sake and to the Father's glory.
He had come to do the Father's will and He made it clear, even at twelve years of age,
that He must be "about my Father's business."

Then remember how the Apostle Paul put it: "Whatsoever you do, whether you eat or drink,
do all to the glory of God
" (1 Corinthians 10:31).

The work of the the church is outside the church building.
The work of the church is outside In the world.
And it takes every member to do it!

Nowhere in the Bible is the world exhorted to "come to church."
But the church's mandate is clear -- the church must go to the world.

All that happens inside the institution is in order that the church may do her work outside.
The measure of what takes place inside the sanctuary on Sunday is the measure of what happens
when the sanctuary is empty Monday through Saturday, and the church is scattered,
infiltrating all the social structures of the world.

The work of the ministry belongs to the christian in the pew, not only the one in the pulpit
(see Ephesians 4:7,8,11,12), and it is the holy obligation of every member of the Body
— wherever she is, whatever he is doing.
He or she is called of God to be a witness for Christ in all of life.
However we make our living -- our vocation is Christ's mission.

Two simple questions with conventional and correct answers will illustrate this
1. Where is your church?
And you will give the address where your church building is located.

2. What does your church do?
And we will probably answer that we are very busy.
We have a program with services on Sunday, and we have a Sunday School for all ages.
Then on Sunday evening, groups for all ages meet.
We have midweek prayer meetings; and we have a very active youth program.
We have some outstanding choirs.
We have faithful officers and committees.
We have groups for women and men.
We are busy and very active

Did you hear that the conventional answers indicating almost total preoccupation with the institution.

So what should the answers to be?
1. Where is your church?
The answer is that the church is all over our city and county.
Our church is found several hundred homes and apartments, in schools and clubs and and offices.
Our church in in our local, state, and national government.

2. What does your church do?
the answer is so many things -- she keeps house; raises children; teaches school; attends college;
sells groceries and hardware, clothing and cars, insurance and appliances.
She practices law and medicine and dentistry.
She makes laws and serves in the military.
She constructs highways and buildings, serves our government overseas in embassies,
Peace Corps and Foreign Aid programs.
She is everywhere, in everything, doing everything that needs doing
for the sake of Christ, and for the glory of God.

What an incredible privilege the pastor has facing such a congregation every Sunday!
If he is faithful to his calling, he "equips the saints for the work of ministry,"
The he sends them out to the world, into all its institutions and structures as faithful ambassadors for Christ.
This is his task.
This is the challenge.
This is the immeasurable opportunity incumbent upon every Christian.

This sermon was adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White