Allen Jackson - The Essential Church - Part 1
It's an honor to be with you again. Our topic today's "America: The Essential Church". It was during covid that somebody, some politician somewhere declared that the church was non-essential; they closed our buildings and told us to stay home and we said, "Okay". You know what they forgot? Jesus is the head of the church and until he tells us to stay home, we're still in business. I don't think Jesus decided that his church was non-essential. We've got to recalibrate a little bit. I'm for public health and public safety, we want to be wise and prudent in how we gather so that we don't put people unnecessarily at risk, but we do not want to forfeit our assignment to be salt and light in the middle of the darkness. Grab your Bible and get a notepad, let's open our hearts and understand Jesus is the head of the church.
We've been working on this little series around America and acknowledging the role that God has had in the unfolding story of our nation, and the story is still unfolding. It's not sufficient to say that God was a part of our founding, which he was, or that he was a part of our story before we were a nation, which he was, or that our legal system was derived from a biblical worldview, which it is, or that our educational system was founded upon a biblical worldview and a set of Judeo-Christian principles, which it has been, or that more than, you know, out of the, what? A hundred and, of the first 110, I think it is, universities, 106 were uniquely Christian. I mean, it's just you can't separate our story from a Judeo-Christian worldview.
But the question is, what will our generation do with that? And it's what we've been trying to understand and unpack a little bit and see what the meaning of that was so that we're not just consuming the blessings of the sacrifices that others have made but that we'll stand for truth in a way so that the generations coming behind us will have even greater liberty and freedom that we have known. It's not automatic; if we don't stand for biblical principles and biblical truth, if we don't stand against ungodliness and say it's ungodly, we will lose our freedom. We have adopted the 11th commandment for too long, "Thou shalt be kind".
Now I don't want you to be angry or belligerent, that's not the target, but we haven't been called to be kind to evil, we've been called to overcome evil. And that requires sometimes a more assertive response than just a passive nod because it's awkward to say, "I don't believe that's right". You'll lose some friends, you'll lose some relationships, you'll lose some business deals, there'll be times you'll be ostracized or excluded. It's worth it. Jesus said if we will not acknowledge him before the Father in Heaven, he wouldn't acknowledge us. We have to acknowledge him before men in order to be acknowledged in the halls of heaven, so let's get after it. I want to be well-known for good things in heaven. You just can't tell our story apart from the Christian faith, it's impossible, you have to be disingenuous with the history, dishonest in the way you would tell it if you left out the impact of the Christian faith on our nation. It's been understood for centuries, decade upon decade. I know, there's a tremendous attempt right now to erase that or to say that our nation isn't worthy of celebrating, and we have not nor are we currently doing everything right.
You know, I don't agree with everything that's happening in our nation today but I still think it's a wonderful place, I would defend it with my life. Now I'm not confused, God's not an American, please don't misunderstand, this is not some form of crude nationalism. The church of Jesus Christ is composed of people of every nation, race, language and tribe, and if I held a citizenship in another nation I would be salt and light in that nation but this is where God chose to plant me so that's a part of my assignment. We carry dual citizenship; a nation, a temporary assignment to one of the nations in this present world order, but you're citizens of an eternal kingdom, a spiritual kingdom, either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness. And if you're not sure about your citizenship in eternity, I would strongly encourage you to get it sorted out. We've talked about it multiple times through this series, it's important.
And if you work with people and live near people and you care about people and they don't have that eternal citizenship thing sorted out yet, it needs to be a burden on your heart. It's far more important than any physical suffering we would endure in time. Having said that, our focus in this series has been this nation. And I want to talk to you in this session about "The Essential Church," because the church is essential to the continuing story of our nation. If we will continue to be strong, and a place of liberty and freedom, and a place where opportunities come to people irregardless of the status of our birth or the educational formats from which we began, if we're gonna be a land of opportunity, which we have been, it will not happen apart from a living, vibrant church. The church is essential.
Now our world changed about 18 months ago. It was introduced to us, the change was really broke into the open with the announcement of the covid virus and the quarantines, those two weeks we were going to go home so 2 million of us wouldn't die, and in 14 days, we could come back out and be normal. Well they were a little off, and I suspect that the professional virologists knew that. Nevertheless, it was an effective strategy. And we thought we could go home for a couple of weeks and step back to normal, but when we were home for two weeks, normal moved. And it's okay with me, I don't really want to go back, I don't think we were in a healthy place, I think the church was flailing. But as a part of that whole experience of quarantine and being limited in our movements, churches all across our nation were closed, all across the world were closed, but we heard for the first time churches labeled non-essential. And when that was said, the predominant response was, "Okay. Okay, we'll find another way, we'll find another way".
I did a couple of interviews this week, one with a Christian leader in Boston, and one in Pittsburgh, and in both of those settings they said the churches have been, the influence of the church has been drastically reduced since the beginning of 2020, in participation and influence, in people looking to the church for guidance, that there's been a tremendous diminishment in those regions. And that was the point of the dialogue and the discussion, and what to do with that and how to influence that. But when we were told that the church was non-essential we said, pretty much, "Okay". I was on some phone calls with government leaders and, you know, they said some businesses are essential and some aren't. "Home Depot" was essential, I'm okay with that. Liquor stores were essential, that one bugged me a little bit. They said, "Well if we close them, folks will break in to get what they need, but churches not so much".
And I disagree, I think churches are essential, I think, I don't really wanna quibble about public health and safety, that's above my pay grade, but in the event of true threats, I believe Christians would be called to serve the people that are at risk, not to go huddle in place. And I think we misunderstood our role, we didn't want to be reckless, and the Lord has sustained us through that and we have walked that out. But I want to take the time that we have and talk about the essential nature of the church, why I think it's so important and why I think it's so essential that we understand that so that we're not easily put off. It's more than about worship and sermons, it's more than about the causes of doing right, the church is the center, in many respects, of truth. And we don't always get that right, I'm not arguing that we're always perfect, but the church in culture, in a community, is the place to hold up the truth.
See, all truth is not subjective, it's not opinion, it's not about your truth and my truth, there is some truth that's objective, that it is, "The truth". In the way that we believe gravity is real, it's not like you have gravity at your house but I don't have it at mine. Or that the sun rises in the east. Well, you know, at your house it doesn't come up in the west. There are some things that are greater than your opinion or your perspective, some things. We can argue about which baseball team is better or who makes the best apple pie but there is truth that is objective, and the church has an assignment to hold up the truth about God in the world. And I think we have fallen prey to this notion that we're not that important. I don't mean I'm important or sermons are important or this congregation is uniquely important, but the church, healthy, effective and vital, is important.
When we say, "Church," I'm not talking about a denomination or an organization or an architectural style or a translation of the Bible. The church is comprised of people of every race, nation, language and tribe who have chosen Jesus, who believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Messiah. They have acknowledged him as Lord and they serve him as King. If you don't have those three components in place, it's not the church, I don't care if the building or the time or the wardrobe. That we believe Jesus is the Son of God, that we have acknowledged him as Lord of our lives, the priority of our lives, and we serve him as King. If you're not serving him as King, the acknowledgment as Lord of your life is mythical.
I found a photograph online today of baptisms in Stones River, by Salem Road in 1947. They've been baptizing folks out here on Salem Road for a while. You can't tell the story of this community without talking about the churches, their vitality, their durability, the way they've shaped the culture and they've influenced thought. They're essential. So when some knucklehead says, "Oh no, things will be just fine if we declare churches non-essential," I hope there's something in you that says, "Wait a minute, based on what"? We not only follow the science, we follow the history and we follow God's truth, I don't believe they have to compete. And that can be repeated about community, about community after community after community and we just kinda take it for granted and assume it'll always be that way.
I meet people regularly now that are relocating in this nation to be affiliated with congregations. Wow. Jesus in the church, it's an important relationship to understand. I meet people a lot and they say, "Well, you know, I can love Jesus not be a part of a church". Yes, you can, but I don't believe that you can mature as a Christ follower apart from community. And the word that the Bible uses for that community is church, and it may not have all the trappings but that's how we describe that. And we're not called to be lone rangers or isolated or separate from one another, the maturing and the growing that comes is by working through life in community with one another.
Matthew 16:18, Jesus is speaking, they're in Caesarea of Philippi, Peter's just said that he's the Messiah, it's. The first public proclamation by the disciples that Jesus is the Messiah, the demons were saying it in Mark chapter 1, at the beginning of Jesus's public ministry, it took the disciples a while to catch up with the information level that the demons had at the beginning. For those of you that think you're gonna out-study evil, that's worth meditating on a little bit, that the principalities and powers and spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places have a better grip on Scripture than we do. Now I'm for studying and learning, I've given my life to it, but we need a power greater than our intellect to help us overcome evil. But Jesus followed that declaration with this statement. He said, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades won't overcome it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven".
The church's invested with tremendous spiritual authority in the earth, so our lack of awareness or our disinterest or our disengagement puts the purposes of God in a deficit position. We have to care. It's why, this ebb and flow of spiritual influence, we find it all the way through the Scripture, we find it all the way through the history of the church. I keep putting the question to us, what is our generation going to be known for? Technology, Paganism, Hedonism, renewal, awakening, spiritual fervor, sacrifice? It's up to us, it's not going to happen apart from us. What are we giving ourselves to? What's the effort of our life? What are you dreaming about? What are you longing for? What are you sacrificing for? The answer to those questions determine those outcomes and what they'll be. What do you desire for your children to grow up and become?
Ephesians 1, in verse 22, "God placed all things under his feet," Jesus, "And appointed him to be head over everything for the church". I love that. If you want to be involved, engaged in something that Jesus is the head of, the church is the name of that thing. Folks go, "You know, I don't much like church". I get that, my spiritual formation didn't take place in church. I wasn't born again in a church, I was born again in the kitchen; I wasn't baptized in the church, I was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean; I didn't receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit in a church, that happened in a neighbor's home. You know, the significant components of my spiritual formation didn't happen in a church. In fact, I had to come to value church after I sensed God inviting me to serve his people. I was willing to serve his people, I was just very reluctant to be involved in church because my memories of that weren't great and my experiences around that weren't particularly wonderful and I had to allow the Spirit of God to do a lot of change in my heart.
And I suspect he'll have to do some in yours 'cause we tend to, I don't wanna get stuck there. But if you want to be in close with Jesus, that verse in Matthew 16 changed my life, somewhere along the way that became real in me. Jesus said, "I'll build my church," and I said, "If there's anything, any way I can do to add momentum to that, to be a part of that, I want to play. Whatever that looks like, whatever I need to do, I'm in. If that's what you're interested in, if that's what you're the head of, if that's the initiative you've chosen, I would just like to be included with that group. Tell me, tell me how I can play. What do I need to learn? What would have to change? What has to be adapted? I'm interested, I like to learn".
I'm still trying to learn how to be more effective in that role. not how to preach sermons or organize meetings, but how does the church be effective? How do we be God's people more effectively? Colossians 1, verse 15, speaking of Jesus, listen to this language. "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. By him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities," I believe that's a description of the spiritual levels of authority, "Thrones and powers and rulers and authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together".
Imagine being invited to serve in that organization. "What'd you give your life to"? Well, I worked for the firstborn over all creation. "What's the holding company where you"? Well, all things created in heaven and earth belong, actually, to our parent company. Thrones and powers and authorities, all things were created by the boss. It's not some little thing. Look at verse 18, "He is the head of the body, the church, he's the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy". I don't think of the church as something beset by evil, as some minor initiative in the earth. The creator of all things says, "I'm gonna do this. Nations will come and go, kingdoms will come and go, empires will come and go, but my initiative, it'll be there". We can see that in our little community, the churches that had been planted where the people have honored God, their perseverance, their persistence.
I had a friend that was visiting England, and they were in Canterbury Cathedral. And the Archbishop of Canterbury, that's not been a particularly faith-filled place for a while. And my friend was visiting and was a very wise person, and they said they were sitting in that cathedral and thinking, "What a shame what it's become". And they relayed to me, they said they heard the Spirit of God on the inside of them say, "My Word has been read aloud in this place for hundreds of years," and I thought, "Duly noted". We bring our judgments and our criticisms, we devalue what it means to honor God, to hold up his Word, to give honor to the name of Jesus. Folks, we have been pushed off the mark, we've been a little distracted, it's why we're facing the challenges we face. Jesus and his church is something I would strongly encourage you to be invested in, I know you are. I know you are, but I know there's lots of voices and pressures that make you think, you know, you feel like you stand outside the circle.
I understand that. I was very reluctant to go into ministry because I grasped very quickly that it meant you stood outside the circle. I saw how it killed conversations and it limited invitations or how people were reluctant to let you know about aspects of things for whatever reason. And I chafed at that, particularly when I began, because our church was not something that you pointed at with great pride, and certainly not about facilities or campuses or buildings. We were meeting in a rented room and then we upgrade to a tent. You know, I watered the sanctuary from a horse trough, gratefully, but you had to know who you served. And I understand that reluctance but I'm telling you the greatest honor of our lives is to be affiliated with Jesus. There's no greater label, there's no greater affiliation, there's no greater achievement, there's no greater accomplishment. We are his people.
I think the church in Revelation highlights this for us. The book of Revelation is this amazing, majestic revelation of the end of the age and the ultimate judgment of God and the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, but the story begins with the church. Revelation chapter 1, in verse 9, John is the author of the book, he said, "I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus".
He's imprisoned because of his testimony for Jesus and his advocacy for the Word of God. If you want significant revelations from the Lord, you'll have to be willing to identify with him in spite of consequences that aren't easy. "On the Lord's Day, I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: 'Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches,'" and then it lists the cities where he wants to churches get this message: Ephesus and Smyrna, Laverne, and Antioch, and Pergamum, and Thyatira, and Sardis, and Philadelphia and Laodicea, seven specific churches and each church is addressed individually. In fact, the chapters immediately following this are the messages to the churches, each message begins to each church with a unique presentation of Jesus, captured my attention.
Revelation 2, in verse 1, it says, "To the angel of the church of Ephesus," every church has an angel attached to it. You know there are angels attached to this congregation? This isn't just a people thing, this is a God-driven initiative, and that's not unique to us. "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands". The revelation of Jesus that's attached to the church at Ephesus is this majestic vision of Jesus walking amongst his churches. It intrigues me, the book of Revelation doesn't start with a message to the leaders of the world, to those on the Forbes wealthiest list of 100, it starts with a message to the churches.
Hey, we're gonna pray before we go. But I spent my life in and around the church and far too often we're critical. We're so aware of what churches aren't, not just the one we attend but the ones we don't like. Folks, Jesus is the head of the church. If we can disagree and both still go to heaven, I will extend the hand of fellowship. Let's pray for the church.
Lord, strengthen your church, give us a compassion and a love for your church in the earth, and forgive us for when we've brought division. In Jesus's name, amen.