It seems as though everyone these days is looking for the perfect church. Some years ago Our Daily Bread published the following account: A man reportedly came to the British pastor, Charles H. Spurgeon, looking for the perfect church. The famous preacher told him he had many saintly people in his congregation, but a “Judas” could also be among them. After all, even Jesus had a traitor in the company of His apostles. He went on to say that some might be walking disobediently, as had been the case among the believers at Rome, Corinth, and Galatia.
“My church is not the one you’re looking for,” said Spurgeon. “But if you should happen to find such a church, I beg you not to join it, for you would spoil the whole thing.”
The local church will never be perfect on this side of glory, simply because disobedience and carnality are always in attendance with grace and love. If you have ever attended a congregational meeting where opposing sides were having a heated discussion over a thorny issue, you probably tried to leave early to avoid being tarred and feathered. Attending these types of congregational meetings is not for the faint of heart. It reminds us of the old saying, “To dwell above with saints we love, oh that will sure be glory. But to dwell below with saints we know, well, that’s another story!” Interestingly, this statement touches the very heart of the matter. In fact, it’s why the local church is so essential to the plans and purposes of God, as we will see…
I have had the privilege, by the grace of God, to pastor three grace churches. The experience was invaluable, and as I look back, while I didn’t realize it at the time, the Lord was preparing me for the position I presently hold at the Berean Bible Society. During those years of my pulpit ministry, I learned the importance of patterning my ministry after the Apostle Paul. Essentially I sought to emulate what the apostle did when he planted a local church. In fact, did he not instruct us along these lines to do this very thing?
“Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Phil. 4:9).
What have we “learned” from Paul? If we carefully study his three apostolic journeys, we find that Paul’s proclamation of the Word of God was the basis for both the establishment and growth of the local church. Everywhere the apostle went he opened the Scriptures to the people, and they responded with grateful hearts. We’ll allow the biblical record to speak for itself:
First Apostolic Journey, Antioch in Pisidia: “And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the Word of God” (Acts 13:44). Iconium: “Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the Word of His grace” (Acts 14:3). Lystra and Derbe: “And there they preached the gospel” (Acts 14:7).
Second Apostolic Journey, Thessalonica: “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ” (Acts 17:2,3). Corinth: “And he [Paul] continued there a year and six months, teaching the Word of God among them” (Acts 18:11).
Third Apostolic Journey, Ephesus: “And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). Troas: “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7).
Today, the sound preaching of the Word has been replaced in most local assemblies with alternative worship services and marketing schemes to build a popular church that everyone wants to attend. There is rarely a month that goes by that I don’t have a colorful brochure come across my desk on Church Growth Programs. Sadly, the church growth movement has relegated the Word of God to a secondary role in favor of song services, skits, films, and testimonials. This concept is merely an attempt to draw larger audiences with the idea that “bigger is better.” If they provide more social functions and innovative programs, they’ll be better equipped to meet the needs of the community. It’s a lofty goal, but a flawed concept.
The problem here is this: when the church across town announces they’re building a new gym or they plan to have a contemporary worship service with gifted musicians, probably before long many of your people will be going to this new venue. It wouldn’t be the first time a local assembly was left with a small handful of people and a large mortgage. Unfortunately, all of this is at the expense of the Word of God, which is the very thing that will minister to the needs of the people.
The temptation is very real for local churches to go along with the trends of the day, but is it our desire to please men or God? Many church boards are fearful that if Paul’s apostleship and message are proclaimed in their fullness, it may upset someone and drive them away! I remember several years ago I was on the platform with a young Grace pastor who spent the first ten minutes of his message apologizing for Paul’s apostleship. He felt we made too much of Paul and that we need to tone it down in the Grace Movement or we were going to offend people. I’m sure most of his comments were for my benefit, but he was speaking to the wrong person. I came out of the confusion of denominationalism years ago, and I have no intention of returning, as this young man was suggesting. I thank God without ceasing that I’ve been set free from the bondage of tradition, and I’m going to tell anyone who’s willing to listen that they, too, can be delivered if they acknowledge Paul’s gospel.
Beloved ones, Paul is God’s spokesman for the Church today; thus, to speak disparagingly of God’s apostle is to reject the counsel of God itself. Paul’s epistles reveal the mind and will of God for the Body of Christ during this dispensation. Shall we apologize for the Word of God that has been delivered to us by our apostle? I think not!! While we should speak the truth in love, the truth is offensive (Gal. 5:11 cf. Eph. 4:15). I recall the first time someone told me I was a hell-deserving sinner—I was offended by that statement! But I thank God that I was offended, because through the process I got saved. We must be very careful not to remove the “offense of the Cross” by sugarcoating our words with flowery platitudes, which can condemn men to perdition.
One of the purposes of the local church is to provide an atmosphere where the Word of God can be received with thanksgiving. The preaching of the Word must be the centerpiece of our worship of Almighty God. True worship begins with God being glorified in the teaching of His Word. It is then enhanced by the singing of hymns, spiritual songs, prayer, and testimonials. For the most part, this order has been reversed in our churches today, which has left the Lord’s people floundering spiritually in their Christian lives.
When we speak here of preaching the Word, we are not referring to a 12-minute devotional message on Sunday morning, which has little profit. Rather, whenever we gather around the Word to worship, the preferable way to open the Scriptures is to do a verse-by-verse exposition of a particular book, such as the Book of Romans. We believe this is the most profitable and effective way to teach the Scriptures. Remember, Paul reasoned with his hearers, he alleged, he taught them the Word of life. Whatever format you use, “preach the Word,” and the Lord’s people will respond as those at Thessalonica did to Paul’s preaching.