We live in a day when there’s more Bible teaching than you could ever consume available through radio, television, and the Internet etc, why should it matter where and how you’re taking in God’s truth? What’s wrong with virtual, web-based congregations for the digital-age church? Why wouldn’t you want your iPod to be your worship leader, your IPAD tablet be your pastor, and your Facebook friends your fellowship and accountability?
The answer is simple: that’s not the way God designed it.
I thank God for the technology we have available to us. Yet there is no substitute for interacting with actual people. I appreciate that if you are house bound due to illness for example this technology can be a lifeline.
The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes the importance of the local church. It was the pattern of Paul’s ministry to establish local congregations in the cities where he preached the gospel. Hebrews 10:24-25 commands every believer to be a part of such a local body and reveals why this is necessary:
‘Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.’
I attended a memorial service in honor of a “Great Man Of God” yesterday and as I was being bathed in the word and soothed by the worship I looked beside me and all of a sudden I saw “A piece of Heaven” sitting next to me on that pew. My spirit was so enlighten. There are many reasons for my love of the church, but the main one is that “He” lives and we have His deposit within us that leads, comforts and reveals His love that has been shed abroad in our hearts.
Another reason from Scripture why I love the church is that it is like heaven on earth. I don’t mean that the church is perfect, or that it offers some kind of utopian escape from the realities of a sinful world. But I mean that the church is the one place where all that occurs in heaven can also occur on earth.
Christ instructed us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). In what sphere is that most likely to occur? Is it likely to occur in the House of Parliament or House of Lords? Unlikely. In the Law courts? Unlikely. In the Universities? Unlikely. Town Hall – local council? Unlikely. Where is God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven? It is not that we don’t want it to happen in these places, we would dearly love for it to be so.
But surely the place it is most likely to happen is in the church.
Let me pose a question. If all the activities of heaven were to be brought to earth, what activities would dominate?
First of all, worship. In every biblical description where people of God had visions of heaven, the one thing that stands out most is worship. Praise, adoration, thanksgiving, and devotion are constantly being offered to God in heaven. We see it in Isaiah 6:1-3, and we can read more about it in Revelation 4:8-11. In other words, every creature in heaven is continually engaged in worship.
Worship is also one of the main activities of the church. In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul describes what took place in a typical meeting in the early church:
“When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
There he describes activities whose design is both to worship God and to edify the worshipers. And if an unbeliever came into the meeting, this was the desired response:
“The secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you”. (v. 25)
A second activity of heaven is the adoration of Christ. Having finished His earthly work, Christ is now seated at the Father’s right in glory in pure exaltation (Acts 5:31). God Himself has exalted His Son, and given Him a name above every name (Phil. 2:9). Christ is “exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:27). And throughout all eternity we will be occupied exalting His name (Rev. 5:11-14). The church is the one sphere on earth where Christ’s name is truly and genuinely exalted.
A third activity that takes place in heaven is the maintenance of purity and holiness. Heaven is a holy place. Revelation 22:14-15 underscores the perfect purity of heaven’s inhabitants:
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.”
No one is admitted to heaven who is not holy (Heb. 12:14). The church on earth is charged with preserving purity within her own midst. Matthew 18:15-20 lays out a process of discipline by which the church is to keep herself pure, if necessary through putting people out of fellowship. It’s not necessary in this context to outline the whole discipline process, but take note of the promise Christ makes in verse 18:
“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
Binding and loosing were rabbinical expressions that spoke of dealing with people’s guilt. An unrepentant person was said to be bound to his sin, and a repentant person was loosed. Here Jesus suggests that when a church on earth follows the proper procedure for discipline, they in effect mediate heaven’s verdict in the earthly church. Heaven is in agreement with their decision. When the church on earth puts out of fellowship an unrepentant member, the elders of that church are simply declaring what heaven has already said.
Church discipline is therefore an earthly expression of heaven’s holiness.
Another activity of heaven that occurs in the church is the fellowship of the saints. Our fellowship in the church on earth is a foretaste of the perfect communion we will enjoy in heaven. The church, then, is like an earthly expression of heaven. That might be hard for us to grasp or even except.
The church is the closest we can get to heaven on earth.
There’s a lot of talk these days about ‘user-friendly’ churches. Church growth experts counsel church leaders to try to provide an atmosphere in which ‘unchurched’ people can feel comfortable and at home. That strikes me a little odd, whilst I appreciate their approach we should want ‘unchurched’ people who come into our fellowship to leave saying to themselves, ‘I have never seen anything like this on earth!’ We want them to experience the love of God and yet dare I say be convicted of their need of Christ. When people come to our services or spend time with us it should be like they are experiencing a little bit of heaven.
I read an article about a large mega church in Texas where they invest tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars each year in promoting seeker friendly services. The article reviewed their attempt and concluded that they were very successful in being seeker friendly, but that they failed dramatically in making disciples.
More than any other institution on earth, the church is where the truth of God is upheld. The church is called to proclaim the truth and hold it high. (1 Tim. 3:15). Employing the truth as a weapon, we are to smash the ideological fortresses of Satan’s lies (2 Cor. 10:3-5). And it is in the pursuit of that goal that the church will ultimately realize her greatest triumph.
What if the Church is an earthly expression of Heaven?