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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 14, 1999
A Vision for a New Church
Welcome to Grace Bible Church! As of this past week, all legal work has been completed including changing over our bank accounts. There are still a few minor things to change from Faith Bible to Grace Bible, like the hymn book, but everything important has now been changed.
As we begin to operate as Grace Bible Church I want us to make sure that the changes that have taken place are real and substantial. If the only thing that changed was our name, then we have not only wasted our time, but we are deceiving ourselves. This morning I want to explain both the reasons that brought about our change in name and to place before you a vision for this church’s future.
For the benefit of those that are new to our church, let me give a very brief history of what has occurred here last year. At the end of 1997 and beginning of 1998 several issues were reaching a critical point among the then existing leadership of Faith Bible Church. In March of last year I had already been asked to candidate at another Church and was planning to do so when the true nature of what was behind the issues came to light. I was asked by several of the leaders in the church to stay and help them change things here or start another church. I agreed to do so since I believed I was responsible for helping to clean up the existing mess. The issues were brought before the congregation and the Elders were removed from office. Tragically, three of the Elders proved the true nature of their character by sending a letter full of lies and slander against me to the congregation, and then refusing to meet with me about the letter. Eventually all three were placed under church discipline and dis-fellowshipped.
It was during the events of last Spring that we also found out two other significant facts. First, the reputation of Faith Bible Church in our community was not what we had thought it to be. Second, we found out that the church did not originally form for the reasons or in the manner in which we had been told by several of the founders. The idea of changing our name was first proposed in part to distance ourselves from a negative reputation and history. A reputation I might add that no longer fits our church and a history that is opposite of why we now exist. The non-Biblical legalism that was the reason for the formation of Faith Bible Church is the reason Grace Bible Church now exists when that same legalism was weeded out.
The other reason for the change in our name is to signify the changes that have taken place here and to allow us to build a new reputation in our community. Please look at the Invitation Brochure included in the Bulletin. I included it for two reasons. First, so that I can go over the section entitled “Our Church” with you this morning. Second, so that you can give it to someone and invite them to Grace Bible Church.
Notice that in the section, “Our Church,” that our name does describe who we are and what we believe. When someone asks you about Grace Bible Church you can use our name to describe us.
Grace defines this church. Grace is what God extended to us in granting us salvation from sin through faith in Christ Jesus and not be works (Eph. 2:8,9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast). The true Christian is to grow in the Lord’s grace (2 Peter 3:18 – 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him [be] the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen). The true Christian is to stand firm in grace (1 Peter 5:12 – Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard [him]), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!). The true Christian is to extend that grace to others even in how we speak to others (Eph. 4:29 – Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such [a word] as is good for edification according to the need [of the moment,] that it may give grace to those who hear.
The second word and the center of our name is Bible. The Bible is central to all that we believe and all that we do here. We are committed to the true and living God who had revealed Himself in the Bible. He is briefly described in the brochure as the Creator of the heavens and the earth, eternal, infinite, almighty, all knowing, sovereign, holy, loving, gracious, merciful, true unchanging and triune – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe that the Holy Scriptures are the plenary and verbally inspired Word of God and that they are inerrant in the original writings, infallible and God’s only special revelation to man. In saying this we reject all theories that reduce the Holy Scriptures to the mere writings of men, as mythological, or allow a person to pick and choose what they want to believe from the Bible. The Bible is true in every aspect on every subject it addresses including matters of history and science. It is the sufficient and final authority for faith, life and godliness. In other words, we do not need to add anything to the Bible in order to successfully live the Christian life and we reject secular philosophies and man’s various religions for they have no eternal value. While the Creation tells us of God’s existence, His eternal power and divine nature, it is only the Bible that reveals His other attributes including His love, plan of salvation and manner in which we should live.
Church is the last word in our name and it describes the relationship we have with God and one another. We are those God has called out for Himself to be His people (1 Peter 2:9-10 – But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy). God has called us to worship Him (John 4:23,24 – “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth”). He has called us to tell others about Him (Mark 16:15 – And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”). And God has called us to help one another live for Him (Eph. 4:11-16). True Christians are the adopted children of God (1 John 3:1), fellow heirs of Christ (Romans 8:17) and are therefore brothers and sisters in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:15, etc.).
Let me further expand on this last word in our name, for it is the word, church, that when understood Biblically, will give us our vision for the future and therefore the direction we are to head. There are many groups that use the name, “church,” but they are not a church. They may be a social organization, a religious organization, a business organization, a political organization or some combination of them all, but they are not what God in the Bible calls a “church.”
There are many metaphors used in Scripture to describe the church. Let me go over some of them with you.
1. THE TEMPLE OF GOD. This analogy describes our purpose. Ephesians 2:19-22 says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
The Church is seen as the TEMPLE of God. A building has a foundation, and the foundation of the Church is Christ (1 Cor 3:10,11). Ephesians 2 describes the Apostles and Prophets are the foundation. Why? Because they are the ones that communicated to the Church the teachings of Christ. A building can not be built without a foundation and the building itself can only be as strong as its foundation. In addition to the foundation, Jesus is seen here as being the “cornerstone.” Unlike a foundation stone which is not seen, the cornerstone is visible and controls the design of the building. It is the primary stone of the building.
Now we are also said to be “living stones” in 1 Pet. 2:5. It is significant that the word used here for “stones” is “lithos” which is the usual word for “worked” stone. Those are stones that have been chiseled to a certain shape to fulfill a certain purpose. In the Ephesians passage we are seen as being “fitted together,” which corresponds to what Peter said. We are not just any old stones taken haphazadly and piled on top of each other. We were carefully chosen and crafted to be joined to other stones to fulfill a specific purpose. We are part of a growing building.
The purpose of this building according to Ephesians 2 is to be a “holy temple in the Lord,” “being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” We exist to bring glory and honor to God. We exist to serve Him, not ourselves. When people look at us, His church, they should see it as a place where the Spirit of God dwells. That is what people should see when they look at us, Grace Bible Church, they should see the Spirit of God dwelling in us. We should attract people come into our midst to worship the Lord with us.
#2. A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD – This analogy also deals with our purpose.
The metaphor that we are a royal priesthood flows out of the metaphor that we are the Temple of God. 1 Peter 2:4,5 says, “And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” A few verses later (v. 9), Peter adds, “But you are a ‘chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
This is the specific reason God called us to Himself in salvation. He did not save us so that we escape hell and live happily ever after. Escape of hell is a by-product of salvation, not its purpose. God saved us from sin so that we would be His own people. People who by His mercy had been given light to receive God’s own excellencies. True Christians are God’s own people. Though we come from every race we are made into one people, God’s own people. Just as Israel was chosen and set apart from among all the nations to be His own, and they still are, we also are chosen out from within all nations to be grafted in (Rom 11) as God’s own people. Our purpose is to be a “holy nation,” and a “royal priesthood.” It is incumbent on us then to be holy and His priests for that is why He chose us.
What is the function of a priest? First, to worship God. Verse 5 says we are to “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Rom. 12:1 says we are to be “living sacrifices.” The other function of a priest is to be a mediator between man and God. We are to bring those who are still in the darkness into the light and proclaim the Lord to them. This is also our purpose as a church. When people look at us, Grace Bible Church, they should see that we are serious about being holy, that we are serious about the worship of God and that we are serious about proclaiming God to those around us.
3. THE BRIDE OF CHRIST. This analogy deals with our relationship to Christ.
This metaphor is referred to in several different passages in several different manners. In Rev. 19:7-10 the account is given of the marriage of the Lamb and the Bride (Christ and the Church) held just prior to Christ’s second coming. Other passages also infer the Bridal analogy. Eph. 5 tells us about the relationship the husband and wife are to have with each other by using the example of Christ and the Church. Paul says in v 25-27. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless…” Paul adds in v. 32 “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” The Bride’s response is found in vs 24 “But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their husbands in everything.” That is the response we are have to Christ. We are subject to Him, and that subjection is easy because we know that He loves us and is looking out for our best interest. When people look at us, Grace Bible Church, they should see our respect and love for Christ as well as our loving submission to Him. We love Him because He first loved us.
4. MISCELLANEOUS METAPHORS.
There are several other metaphors used of the church. In John 15 we are branches which draw our lives from the vine. In Romans 11 we are wild olive branches grafted into the cultivated Olive tree of Israel. We draw our lives from Christ. Without Him we perish. If you are feeling shriveled up as a Christian, then maybe you had better check to make sure you are drawing you life from Christ and not some other source.
In several places God’s people are referred to as His flock, or Christ’s flock (1 Pet 5:2). The shepherd analogy is also used a lot. These metaphors give some understanding of the nature of believers as sheep, as well as the relationship the church has with its leaders. Shepherds lead, feed, guard and protect. Paul charged the Elders at Ephesus to shepherd the flock that “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,” (Acts 20:28). 1 Pet. 5:2 calls on them to “shepherd the flock of God among you.” The term “pastor” (Eph 4:11) is simply the latin word for “shepherd.” The church is seen as sheep who need shepherds. Christ is the chief shepherd (Jn 10:4), and He has given the flock undershepherds, the Elders, to carry out His work among the sheep.
Let me now draw your attention to what I believe is the most significant metaphor for the church. It describes the relationship of individuals within the church to one another and how they all work together.
5. THE BODY OF CHRIST.
This analogy is used by the Apostle Paul in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 1 & 4, and Colossians 1 & 2. In Colossians 1:18, Paul simply points out that Jesus Christ is “head of the body, the church.” In Col. 2:19 he adds that it is the head that supplies what the body needs for it to grow, and that growth is from God. Interesting to footnote that even in biology, the hormone that stimulates growth comes from the pituitary gland which is located in the head!
In Romans 12:4,5 Paul says, “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” A body is made up of many individual parts that all fit together. In the same way, the body of Christ is made up of many different parts which all fit together. Paul goes on in Rom 12 to describe some of the spiritual gifts which fit together to make up the body of Christ.
In 1 Cor 12, Paul states his body analogy more forcefully. He starts in 1-7 stating that all spiritual gifts are given according to God’s own will. Verse 4, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” There are different gifts given to different people. Verse 5, “there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord.” God will use those varieties of gifts in different types of ministries. Verse 6, “there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all.” The effectiveness of those different gifts used in different ministries will also be different ACCORDING TO GOD. The bottom line is that God has gifted you to serve Him, but the gift given, the ministry that gift(s) are used in, and the effectiveness of the gift are up to Him, not you. Verse 11 says, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”
In verses 8-11, Paul describes some of the gifts given by the Spirit. Then, in 12:12 through chapter 14, Paul shows the necessity for the gifts to work together.
Look at vs 12-20 “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one members, but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body…”
Paul goes on to say that one part of the body can not say it has no need of another part. For the body to function properly every member of it must do its part. In fact it is those parts which are not given the honor, those humble ministries, that are most vital to the bodies function. We take glory in our body parts that are outward in appearance, our hair, our eyes, our general looks, etc., yet none of those are critical for life. We do not take glory in things like our liver or kidneys, yet both of those are critical to life. The gift of every Christian is needed within the body.
In chapter 13 Paul talks about the necessity of love for the body to function together properly. And in chapter 14 he talks about the need for each member of the body to use its gift for the good of the whole body, not one’s individual pleasure.
This is a vital concept for us to hold on to if Grace Bible Church is going to fulfill God’s purpose and have a significant impact in our community. Each and every Christian has been uniquely gifted by God to serve Him. If you are not using your gift, whatever that gift may be, then your leaving this church lame, crippled, handicapped and best and perhaps critically ill. The pastor is not the church, nor are the other church ministry leaders they church. All of us together make up the church. Each of us need to fulfill our individual roles in order for us to be an effective church.
Turn to Ephesians 4:11 to see one last critical passage describing the nature of the church. In specific how we are to work together. “And He (Christ) gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers…” Note the purpose of the pastors and teachers. Is it to do the work of the ministry? NO! It is, 4:12 “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” The pastor is at a church to teach, train, equip the people of that church so that they, the people, can do the ministry (work of service). To hire a pastor so that he does all the ministry is unbiblical. A pastor is to equip you to do the ministry. Why? 4:13f “until we all (not just the pastor and church leaders, but everyone) attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
Some severe problems develop if the people are not using their gifts. 1. IF the pastor is doing the ministry instead of the people, then of necessity it means that the ministry he is supposed to do is not getting done. Result: immature people tossed about by every wind of doctrine, and joints that do not hold the body together. 2. If the pastor is doing the ministry instead of the people, then that means the people will not be using their spiritual gifts or be stretched by God into maturity. Result: immature people tossed about by every wind of doctrine, and joints that do not hold the body together.
If Grace Bible Church is to be what God has called her to be, then all of us must be using our gifts and fulfilling our God given roles. Grace Bible Church is not an organization. It is an organism. It is living. We are not an institution either. We are a local manifestation of the body of Christ, and every member of it must fulfill its part in making the body function.
As a church, God has called us to be His priests, mediators between Himself and sinful man. We much fulfill our commission and Communicate New Life in Christ through Evangelism of those still lost in their sins. My vision is that Grace Bible Church will be a local body of believers who fulfill the Great Commission of Matt 28 to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”
As a church, God has called us to be the Body of Christ. We are to grow in Christ and become a strong body. We are to Culitvate New Life in Christ through Edification, the building up, of one another. My vision is that Grace Bible Church will be a local body of believers that is maturing in Christ and becoming “conformed to the image of His son” (Rom 8:29).
As a church, God has called us to be His own flock. We are His sheep. We are to Care for New Life in Christ through true Fellowship with one another. My vision is that Grace Bible Church will be a local body of believers where each member uses his/her spiritual gifts and practices the “one anothers” of true Christian fellowship.
As a church, God has called us to be His Temple and a center of praise to His name. We are to Celebrate New Life in Christ through Worship of our gracious God. My vision is that Grace Bible Church will be a local body of believers that worships God from their hearts.
Sometime in the future I will expand on those four purposes of the church, but for now please understand what we are as Grace Bible Church. We are God’s church, centered on the Bible and characterized by Grace. I am confident that as we fulfill our God given roles and become what God has called us to be, we will see Grace Bible Church make a significant impact on our community. We will see new ministries added, we will see additional facilities built on this property, and we will see new churches planted in surrounding communities.
The only question that remains is your own commitment. If your plan is to sort of watch and see what will happen, then frankly, I can recommend some other churches where the show will be better and less intrusive into your life. Grace Bible Church is looking for those who are serious about growing in the Lord, who are serious about knowing God’s Word, who are serious about working for Christ, and who are serious about seeing something significant done for God in our community. Even those that physically cannot not do much else are vitally important because they can pray, and there will need to be a lot of prayer going into what will be happening here. Expect changes to continue to occur. Expect to be moved out of your comfort zone. Expect new people, including non-Christians, to start attending. Expect God to do great things.
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