As an ordained minister in REACH SA (Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa) I was invited to our clergy conference from 13-16 April 2015. We had the privilege of having Phillip Jensen from Australia as our speaker. Phillip’s expositions in 2 Corinthians about the church and ministry were very helpful and encouraging. Below is a summary of some things I learnt.
Jesus called the church “my church”. In the New Testament local churches are called “the church of God” and “the body of Christ”. Therefore my or your church may be small and seemingly insignificant and dishevelled, but your church is in fact the church of God and massively important. Your small church is a demonstration to the demonic heavenly powers that Jesus has defeated them and their doom is secured (cf. Ephesians 3:10).
Phillip said (and I loosely quote), “To say I’m going to church to worship, is like saying that I’m going to church to breathe. Of course we breathe in church, but that’s not the primary purpose we go to church. How you drive your car to church is your worship.”
The Church in the New Testament is not equivalent to the temple in the Old Testament. We gather as God’s people to hear his word, to teach each other with songs, to pray and to have fellowship with each other. According to Romans 12:1-2 our entire lives – lived in obedience to Christ – is our worship. We do not go to church to worship. Jesus is the only worship leader, definitely not the guy in skinny jeans strumming the guitar and selling his CDs.
The gospel matters
The word gospel means momentous news. In ancient times and today there were and are many gospels. The gospel the Bible refers to is the momentous news or gospel of God. The gospel of God is the news that God has established Jesus as Lord. Jesus’ death for sins delivers us from the wrath to come and enables us to be part of God’s kingdom. Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates that Jesus death achieved all it meant to. This gospel is the power of God at work in the world. Because the gospel is news it must be proclaimed with words. You can’t live the gospel, you can only proclaim it. The gospel is the message we are called to live for and, if necessary, die for.
The church is does not exist for the sake of its non-members, as popular Missional theology teaches. The church is the gathering of the saved to hear God’s word and respond in service to one another. The church is:
- The gathering of believers
- Unbelievers may and do attend
- The purpose is to edify
- At church we proclaim the gospel because the gospel that coverts is the same gospel that grows. If we don’t believe this we move towards legalism.
- A mature congregation is welcoming to new, young Christians and is tolerant of differences.
- The church must be committed to evangelism and mission, like Jesus.
- The gospel grows the church.
- Gospel growth is more important that church growth.
- Corporate evangelism is not the same as church, these kinds of meetings are not the gathering of Christ’s people. They are useful, but they are not church.
- Evangelism is more important than church planting or church growth.
We as ministers and Christians do not lose heart because our heart is in the gospel. We rely on the plain statement of the gospel, not the latest trick or silver bullet, to win people for Christ. We are all called to evangelise.
The Bible teaches, among others, two great doctrines:
- The priesthood of all believers
- The ministry of all Christians
Jesus is building his church and using humans to do his building work. Gifts do not equal spirituality. The Bible must tell us what spirituality is. The Bible must be our standard and guide. We do not interpret the Bible, the Bible interprets us. According to John 3, where Jesus speaks to Nicodemus; spirituality is not about miracles, but rebirth. The greater works in John’s gospel (cf. John 14:12) is the bringing of forgiveness of sins through the proclaiming of the gospel – which not even Jesus could do as he had not died for sins yet. This is the heart of ministry.
Gifts do not necessarily indicate spiritually. The Corinthian church was a gifted church, but not a holy or mature church. Spirituality has more to do with the use of our diversity in unity for the common good. The “spiritual” church does not need miracles (cf. John 2:23), but points people to Jesus and wields the sword of the Spirit. Emotions have nothing to do with spirituality, emotions are neutral. Spirituality is very cerebral (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:20), not mindless. One of the great jobs of the Spirit is that he opens our minds to understand the scriptures, leading towards holiness. Therefore, modern day “spirituality” that many claim to have is plainly false as it is irrational and amoral.
“The Call” matters
The “call” in the Bible is the call to become a Christian and all Christians are called to serve and be slaves of Christ. Sunday school teachers and I do the exact same thing: we teach the Bible and point people to Jesus. The only difference is that I am paid for what I do so that I can spend more time in preparation. We are all saved to serve.
Your work matters
The reason for work is to eat and to provide for your family (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). Work is not to provide fulfilment or satisfaction. You may find some level of satisfaction from your job, but that just fortunate – most people don’t. One of the reasons we work is to also to be able to do ministry, like teach our Sunday School class. We also work to make money to serve other people. Proclaiming Christ is the primary task all Christians are called to. Our work should simply be a means to that end. One day we will all stand before Christ and we shall have to give an account of our labour for Christ. Of course we will be saved, but we will still give account (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10).
Left the conference having thoroughly enjoyed and benefitted from the fellowship and teaching. I was greatly challenged to labour hard, with God’s strength, at gospel proclamation and a consistent Christian lifestyle. I was rebuked for my lack of evangelistic zeal and for, at times, presuming to know what the Bible says without carefully studying the relevant text in the Bible.