2013-08-08:Do Christians Need to Go to Church?

The World: Love It or Hate It?

2013-08-08: Do Christians Need to Go to Church?

When a person becomes a Christian, he doesn't just join a local church because it's a good habit for growing in spiritual maturity. He joins a local church because it's the expression of what Christ has made him - a member of the body of Christ. Being united to Christ means being united to every Christian. But that universal union must be given a living, breathing existence in a local church.

Sometimes theologians refer to a distinction between the universal church (all Christians everywhere throughout history) and the local church (those people who meet down the street from you to hear the Word preached and to practice baptism and the Lord's Supper). Other than a few references to the universal church (such as Matthew 16:18 and the bulk of Ephesians 1), most references to the church in the New Testament are to local churches, as when Paul writes, "To the church of God in Corinth" or "To the churches in Galatia."

Now what follows is a little intense, but it's important. The relationship between our membership in the universal church and our membership in the local church is a lot like the relationship between the righteousness God gives us through faith and the actual practice of righteousness in our daily lives. When we become Christians by faith, God declares us righteous. Yet we are still called to actively be righteous. A person who happily goes on living in unrighteousness calls into question whether he ever possessed Christ's righteousness in the first place (see Romans 6:1-18; Romans 8:5-14; James 2:14-15). So, too, it is with those who refuse to commit themselves to a local church. Committing to a local body is the natural outcome - it confirms what Christ has done. If you have no interest in actually committing yourself to an actual group of gospel-believing, Bible-teaching Christians, you might question whether you belong to the body of Christ at all.

2013-08-07: The World: Love It or Hate It?

Have you ever wondered why the Bible seems to be guilty of double-talk when speaking of "the world"? John 3:16 tells us that God the Father loves the world so much that he sent God the Son to fix it. But we're told in 1 John 2:15-17 not to love the world, and James tells us that "a friend of the world" is "an enemy of God" (James 4:4). We have Paul telling us in 2 Corinthians 6:17 to be separate from the world and to "go out from" unbelievers, while Jesus, in Mark 16:15 commands his disciples to "go into all the world."

What's going on? Is the world good or bad? Are we to love it or hate it? Enter it or exit it?

The answer: it all depends on which sense of the word world you mean.

As scholars point out, the word world has three basic meanings in the Bible. It can refer to (1) the created order, (2) the human community, and (3) the sinful ways of humanity, or cultural godlessness. It's this third meaning, for instance, that Paul identifies when he tells us, "Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Romans 12:2). He's not telling us to avoid the created order or other human beings. It's actually worldliness that Paul is warning against.

Furthermore, when it comes to the world, it's necessary to differentiate between "structure" and "direction." It's the difference between what there is and how we use what there is. The world as structure refers to the people (such as my next-door neighbor), places (such as Miami), and things (such as art or music) of the created order. "Direction" refers to the ethical use or misuse of God's created goods. As the Bible teaches, God created all things good (structure). But our sin has broken and corrupted every good thing God created, "directing" it away from him. Everything in the created order (every person, place, and thing) has been twisted out of shape by our sin.