What am I Supposed to Get Out of the Sacraments?
Series: Why Church?
Speaker: Tommy Keene
Some of us have been at Christ the King since the day it was planted. Others of us have joined the body more recently (and are thus confused when older members start talking about “the fire-house era).” Still others are visiting for the first time. And yet I bet all of us have at some point hit on some version of the question “why do we [fill in the blank]?”
Why do we worship in such an ancient-looking building? What’s this “First Wednesday” prayer meeting I keep hearing about (and should I come this time)? Why do we sing mostly hymns in worship? What’s the difference between a benediction and an ascription? How can I get my kid to the bathroom without making a scene in front of all these people? Important stuff!
Over the Summer Eric and I will be preaching through a new series that we are calling “Why Church?” Over the course of this series we want to see what Scriptures says about the nature and work of the church, and also look at how each of us can be more fruitful within the body. Those are important issues that deserve our attention. After all, each of us, upon joining the church, vowed “to study its purity and peace.” If only there was a study guide! Or better yet, an FAQ for members of Christ’s Church! Well, good news, that’s precisely how we’ve designed our summer series.
We’ll look first at some of the most basic and fundamental questions. Underlying everything is that nagging question reflected in the title above: why church at all? Why church rather than no church? We have recently moved into an age in which “no church” seems to be the majority report; I don’t know about you, but Sunday seems to be the only day when I don’t hit traffic in Philly.
But skepticism toward church isn’t just from “the world,” it exists in the church itself. Is the church really all that important? How many Sunday mornings have you or your spouse or your kids asked “do we have to go to church today?” Yeah, I’m ashamed of the number too, but behind that very concrete question is a more theological one: Is church significant? Will it really help? Do I need it?
Most Christians seem to believe that church is a kind of “bonus” for Christians, an added extra that’s generally a good idea but, on the whole, not altogether necessary. After all, you don’t have to go to church to be saved, right? That would be legalistic. Yet the Westminster Confession gives Christ’s Church much more significance, calling it “the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (WCF 25.2). Isn’t that overstating it a bit? Is church really that significant?
Then there’s a whole set of other questions. The questions above relate to the necessity of the church, but what about its nature? What is Church? Most of us live with some version of “I’m not sure, but I know it when I see it,” but the question can get pretty tricky pretty quickly. Is the church kind of like a Christian club--a group of people united around a common interest or ideology? Is it a charitable institution? Should it be involved in political realities or should it stay away from such worldly concerns? The Bible actually has pretty specific and concrete answers to those questions!
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in alL. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Yet a lot of our questions about church are less philosophical, and we will turn to these next. How should we do church? What should happen when we gather as the church? Again, there are a lot of competing voices out there, and a lot of confusion. Some church leaders argue that for Christ’s Church to survive in post-Christian America we need to find a new way of doing church. Others argue exactly the opposite--the church must stand firm on the tried and tested forms that stretch back to Christ’s Apostles. That may sound philosophical to you, but it gets practical very quickly. What music should we sing? How long should the sermon be and what should it be about? Should the church focus outward on gathering the lost, or inward on discipling the sheep?
A lot of those questions focus on worship. Maybe you’ve wondered why we worship the way we do. Or maybe a particular element of our worship has never really “moved” you. Why is our worship service structured the way it is? What am I supposed to be feeling when I confess the faith? Should I bow my head during the benediction, or raise my hands, or just stand there? Sometimes the elements of worship can feel like a pile of Ikea parts: you can tell that they all go together, you’re just not sure how (or what you’re even building). One of our goals is to demystify what we do on Sunday with the hope that our worship would be more rewarding, more fruitful, and most of all, more honoring to God.
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:11).
Any good manual or FAQ needs a “Troubleshooting” section. The church is not a problem-free institution. How could it be? It’s full of sinners! Indeed, whole books in our Bible are written to address problems that arise in the church (1 Corinthians, 1 John). In our last section we will look at common problems that arise and how to address them. How can I be more connected to people in the body? What should I do when conflict arises? What if I just don’t feel like worshipping? What if my kids don’t like coming to church? It’s important for us to be honest about the difficulties that arise in the church this side of glory and to seek the wisdom of Christ as we work through them!
The Bride of Christ
To study the purity and peace of the Church! It’s an intimidating prospect, but also a delightful one. After all we are studying the bride of Christ! And one day she will be presented glorious and holy before the throne room of God.