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Watch 2022 online sermons » Dr. Charles Stanley » Charles Stanley - The Church: What Is It All About?

Charles Stanley - The Church: What Is It All About?


Charles Stanley - The Church: What Is It All About?
TOPICS: Church

Why would anybody want to join a church? In fact, if you look around, there are lots and lots of buildings. Some of them are large, some of them are small. And the question is, what goes on in these buildings? What's it all about? Why do people do what they do? And besides that, who started it anyway? And not only that, is it necessary to belong to a church to be a godly person, to walk in holiness before God? Does God say that it's absolutely important to be a member of the church in order to go to heaven? Well, that's a good question. Let me ask you this question. Are you a supporter of the church or are you a critic?

More than likely, if you're a critic, you've had a bad experience somewhere along the way in some church. Or it just may be that you've listened to other people complain and moan and groan about the church, and so the truth is you don't have any idea what goes on. Or if maybe all you know is some of the criticism that you've seen in the media and so forth, but have you ever personally become a part of a local body of believers and understood what it's all about? What we do, why we do it, and what the message and the mission of the church is all about? Maybe if not, you oughta listen very carefully to this message, because you should not make a judgment about all churches based on maybe a bad experience you've had. And secondly, how would you even know which church to join? What kind of criteria would you go by?

So, I think if you will listen carefully to this message, you'll be able to make up your own mind, listening to God and knowing the truth about what the church is all about. So, I want you to turn, if you will, to Matthew chapter sixteen. This is a very important time in the life of Jesus, because up until this time, He has not talked about His suffering and what He's going to face on the cross, though certainly He knew all about that. And it's interesting what happens in this passage, to give you a little background, He's asking His disciples who people say He is. Then He asks them, who do they say He is? And then He turns right around and talks about a little later, he talks about suffering and dying.

So, it almost sounds like a little bit of confusion here. How would you start something and then at the same time, almost the next breath, talking about the fact that you're gonna lose your life? So, beginning in verse thirteen: "Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, 'Who do people say the Son of Man is?'" Notice, He identified Himself. "Who do they say the Son of Man is"? And He was indeed identifying Himself. "They said, 'Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You're the Christ, the Son of the living God.'"

What a wonderful answer. "And Jesus said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hell will not overpower it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.' Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ". Well, think about this. He said to them, "Who do you think I am"? They said, Peter said, "You're the Christ, the Son of the living God". Then Jesus said, "Peter, you didn't come up with this yourself. This was revealed to you by My heavenly Father".

Now, this eighteenth verse is a verse that's been so misinterpreted and so controversial because there are people who believe that when Jesus said, "I say to you that you're Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell will not overpower it," that because the word Peter, "Petros," is the same word for rock, many people believe that Jesus meant that He was gonna build His church upon a person, Peter. Well, that's totally unscriptural to begin with. And certainly, it is not like the ways of God at all that He would build His church upon a man. What He's referring to, He's building His church upon "this," upon what? Upon this confession of His faith, "Christ is the Son of the living God". That is the truth upon which our Lord built His church.

Now the question is, what is this thing we call a church to begin with? Well, let's think about it this way. There's a Greek word, "ecclesia". "Ec," out of; "clesia," called. The church is composed of those people who have trusted Jesus Christ as their savior, and as He says, called, "the called ones," called out of the world's system in order to unite together to live a godly life as a godly community. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a godly community of people who have chosen to receive Jesus Christ as their savior and live unlike the world system, but live unto God a godly life. Only those who are children of God belong to the church. Now, as you look in the scripture, the Bible says, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God". He says we are, he says, "Old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new".

We are the new creations in Christ. When you trusted Jesus Christ as your savior, you became a new person. New destiny, new interest. Listen, God began to give you spiritual gifts. He began to make known to you what He wants to do in your life. Whole different perspective. Belonging to a church is not belonging to some civic club. It isn't like some other club. This is a whole new spiritual relationship. Those who belong to the church, to a local church, to the great body of church, the universal church, are those who've trusted Christ as their savior. Otherwise, you shouldn't join.

Now, let's go to one step further. There are people who belong to local churches who have never been saved, never trusted Jesus Christ as their savior, do not even understand what salvation is about, but they have been convinced by, persuaded by, or their parents, their grandparents say, "Well, you oughta join the church". And they got you in a church early in life, maybe as a kid, and you joined, and that's why a lot of people got in so early. They don't know what it's about, nobody ever instructed them to what it's about, and so before long they leave the church and quit coming, quit going to church. So there's another group of people involved here, and that is those who are deceived. That is, they joined the church, never trusted Christ as their savior. Brought in while they were children, sprinkled, poured on, as we talked about in baptism, and made members of a local church, never having trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

Now, listen carefully. If you're listening, say amen. Whose fault is that? Is it the guy who sits in the pew? Or is it the man who stands behind the pulpit? The fault lies primarily right here, because if a man of God stands in the pulpit and says, "The only way to get to heaven is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and entrance into this local fellowship". You joined this church because you have been saved. You joined, you may walk a church aisle or whatever it might be, trusting Jesus Christ as your savior. You become a member of this church after you're saved. You don't, listen, you don't join a church to get saved. You receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and then you become a member of a fellowship.

Whose responsibility is that? It is the responsibility of the pastor to make it very, very clear that the church of Jesus Christ is made up of the head, who is Christ, and the saints, who are those whose lives have been changed by the grace of God through faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ at Calvary. Tragedy of tragedy is the millions of people who sit in church week after week, don't even know what the church is about, don't even know why they're there, they just been going since they were a kid. And they're gonna say, "Well, you know, I've been a member of the church all my life. 'Trusted Jesus as your savior,' what's that mean? 'Been born again,' nobody ever explained that to me. I was brought in when I was a kid, brought in when I was a baby, joined when I was in Bible School. Nobody ever sat me down and explained to me what it meant to trust Jesus Christ as my savior".

That's what, listen, we wonder why the church is weak. The reason the church is so weak is because there's so many people in the church, listen, who are not committed to Jesus Christ, who are not living a godly life. Nobody's ever explained to them what the church is all about, what its mission is, what its message in, and why we do what we do. Where does most of the fault lie? It lies right here at the pulpit. Not all the fault, because once a person's heard the gospel, then it's time to get right with God. You say, "Well, suppose I belong to a church. And even I've even been baptized, but I all of a sudden realize I've never been saved. What should I do"?

Here's what you should do. You should go to your pastor and say, "You know, I realized I'd never trusted Jesus Christ. I've been a member of this church ten years, twenty years, forty years, ten days, two weeks. I've never trusted Christ, but I trusted Jesus Christ as my savior this week. I want to be baptized scripturally now that I am saved, and I want to join this church as a saint, as a child of the living God. Now I'm ready to join this church". And you know what, you'd settle a lot of things in life that need to be settled. And so, when we talk about who makes up the church, who makes up the church are those who've trusted Jesus Christ as our Savior.

Now, what's the message of the church? Simply this: the sinful condition, the sinful, lost, helpless condition of mankind without Christ. Message number one, he needs a Savior. Message number two, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life". The love of God. Message number three, man is accountable to God for His life. So, let me give you some scriptures so you can jot them down. So we said, first of all, that message is three-fold. The sinful condition of man, Romans three twenty-three, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God". The Bible says our sins have separated us from God. He says, "Many will say unto me that day on, 'Lord, Lord.' I will say to them, 'I never knew you. Depart from Me, ye that worketh iniquity.'"

The sinful, hopeless, helpless condition of mankind, message number one. Second message: the love of God. "For by grace ye are saved through faith, that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast". The love of God, that is a part of the message. Turn, if you will, to Romans, and look, if you will, in this fourteenth chapter. This is the third part of the message, and that is man's accountability to God. Verse ten says, "But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt"? We all, listen, "For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.' So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God".

What's the message of the church? Listen, it is not social reform. It is not politics. It is not the environment. All of those things are important. The message of the church is the lost condition of mankind. The message of the church is the redemption that is, listen, provided through the cross of Jesus Christ. When men get saved, they will make a difference in every aspect of life. The message of the church is the accountability, the personal accountability of every single one of us to God. That's the message of the church. So, when churches become issue-oriented, and all they do is talk about this issue and that issue and the other issue, you know what suffers? The propagation of the gospel. And I've seen it over and over and over again.

When somebody gets issue oriented, it's this issue today, that issue tomorrow, this issue over here, this issue over here. What happens is less and less gospel, less and less power, and what happens? It sort of disintegrates into something other than a biblical New Testament church. When God, listen, when people are instructed in the ways of God and they begin to live a holy life, they will make a difference, they will make an impact. They will be like salt and like light in their community. They will make a difference. But the message must never change, and it must never sway to something other than, listen, the sinful condition of man, love of Almighty God for sinful man and His provision at the cross, and the accountability of man. Those three things must never, never be set apart and set aside and substituted by anything else. That's the message of the church.

Now, there are many aspects of those messages, but in essence, that's the message of the church. Now, one last thing, and this is the most important. Somebody says, all right, I've heard every bit of that, and I'm gonna join a church. And I live over here in Washington State or Massachusetts or Miami or California or wherever it might be, and I don't know anything about the churches around here. And so I want to join a church; how am I gonna know what kind of church to join? Can you give me some kind of test that says, "I want to join a church. I want to join the right kind of church. How am I gonna know what kind of church to join"?

All right, get ready, because there's a three-fold test I believe that'll help you join the right kind of church, because every single person oughta belong to a local body of believers. That's where we exercise our gift. That's where we become involved in evangelism and missions. That's where we worship God together. "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, which is the manner of some". But God brings us together to do what? He brings us together, listen, to worship Him. We are encouraged by seeing so many other people week after week. We're encouraged by seeing people coming from every part of the world. We're encouraged by being together, loving each other, and sensing the presence and power of God. We love that. What is the, there's a three-fold test.

Now, you need to get these down. And if you're not a member of a church, I would encourage you to write these down, ask yourself the question, "Is this the kind of church I want to belong to"? So, first of all, there is a doctrinal test. Jot it down, a doctrinal test, test number one. That is the most important test. In other words, if they don't believe right, then you don't want to be a part of, because they're gonna indoctrinate you in some fashion or the other and certainly gonna get to your kids.

All right, doctrinal test. Jot these down, number one: the Bible. Do they believe that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God? That is, it is without mixture of error. Do they believe that the Bible has errors in it? Do they believe that the first eleven chapters of Genesis is a myth? Do they believe that all of Revelation is just symbolism and not reality? Do they question the fact of whether Peter wrote Peter or Mark wrote Mark? In other words, is there questions about this part of the scripture should be removed? You believe this part and ignore that part? Then, my friend, test number one: failure. Believing that the Bible is the infallible and inerrant Word of God.

Second doctrinal test, the deity of Christ, that Jesus Christ is not only the Son of God, He is God. If you, listen, if a church does not believe that Jesus Christ is God, then, my friend, you don't want to belong to it, why? Because if He's not God, we have no hope of salvation. If He's not God, He's a man. And if He was a man, He was a sinner. And if He's a sinner, He can't die for my sins. That means that leaves only me to die for my sin, in my sin, and to be lost and separated from God forever. The deity of Christ, and there are folks out there who do not believe that He's God. Deity of Christ, absolute essential.

Number three, that Jesus Christ was virgin-born. Well, say, well, I, you know, I can't handle that part. The Bible says He was. Then, you see, what you have to ask is, "Am I gonna believe this book or am I not"? To believe that Jesus Christ was virgin-born, He is the, listen, the Bible says the Holy Spirit conceived Him in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Either the Bible is true or it's not true. If it's not true there, maybe it's not true over here. If it's not true over here, maybe it's not true over there. If it's not true over there, probably not true over here. And so what do you say to your children are growing up, and you say, "Well, here's a Bible. Part of this is God's Word and part of it's not". What would your son or your daughter say to you? "Well, why am I supposed to believe some part of it's, which part's right and which is not right? What part's true and what's not true"?

And so, there's no answers to that. So we believe, first of all, that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God, Jesus Christ is deity, He's born of a virgin, and that He, listen, He bodily resurrected. This wasn't some spirit out there floating around somewhere. That Jesus's body disappeared, because Jesus resurrected body as well as spirit. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not only that, that church ought to believe that not only was He bodily resurrected, but He is, listen, He is going to return. Jesus Christ is coming again. The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether you want to call it the second coming or His return, whatever you call it, but that you believe that Jesus Christ is coming again.

Not only that, but if you believe that there is going to be a judgment, there is a judgment. There's gonna be a time when man stands before Almighty God and gives an account for His life. And if somebody says, "Well, you know, I believe in the love of God and I believe those things". But Jesus Christ is coming again. There's going to be a judgment. Not only that, that they believe that there is a heaven and a hell. That doctrinal statement ought to say that there is a heaven and a hell.

Now, I've left the last thing to last, not because it is last but because it's the most important one of all. If in that doctrinal statement, listen, they must believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, went to the cross and died, listen, and died a sacrificial atoning death, which means that His death was not just the death of another man, but He died a death in which God the Father placed all of our sin upon Him, punished Him for our sin, and made it possible now that by faith we can accept Him as our personal savior and be saved and eternally secure. That is the atoning. Listen, the sacrificial atoning death of Jesus Christ must be a part of that doctrinal statement.

Now, you go to a church and they don't believe those things, then, my friend, for God's sake and for your sake and the sake of your family, depart. Because if it's not grounded upon the Word of God, then what is it? I'm not being critical, I'm just saying you owe it to your children. You owe it to your children to raise them in a church where somebody believes this book, because they're gonna, listen, they're gonna face a world of sensuality, idolatry, all kinds of sexual sins, and they're gonna want to know, "What do I do next"? If they have a Bible that's partly true and not true, you know what they're gonna do? They're gonna do what comes natural. They're gonna choose the part they believe that doesn't bother them, and choose the part that they don't believe which bothers them, and that's the way they're gonna live. That's just as natural as it can be.

And my friend, listen, if what I have said bothers you, there's a reason it bothers you. It may be that you've already seen that. It may be that you've sorta felt some of that already. It may be that all of a sudden, you're saying, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, ho, ho, ho, ho. My grandfather, my grandparents or my grandfather was a pastor of this church, and my folks have always lived here, and I've been a member of this church for thirty years, and you're telling to me that I'm wrong"? No, I didn't say you were wrong. I said a biblical test for joining a church ought to be what they believe.

What is their doctrine? Second test is this: Is that church building your faith? Is that church strengthening your relationship to God? Is that church enabling you to understand the scripture? Is that church teaching you the principles of scripture? Are they encouraging you to live a holy life? Are they giving you guidance, whether it's in the worship service or the Sunday school or whatever they're doing? Are they teaching your children the Word of God? Are they, listen, are they grounding you and your family in the truths of the Word of God? Are they equipping your kids to go to college and defend their truth and defend their faith? Are they equipping you as parents when you face difficulties and hardships and troubles? Are they equipping you to face the storms of life and the trials of life and the disappointments of life and the discouragements of life with confidence and assurance and boldness? Are they teaching you that God is in absolute control and that you can trust Him in every circumstance, that we're not victims of our life? We are the sons and daughters of God living in an evil world, and our God is sufficient to care for us.

Third test, does that church have a ministry to the world? Is that church concerned about not only poor people and poverty-stricken people around them, but are they concerned about people around the world who have never heard the gospel? Are there missionary emphases? Are there evangelism emphases? Are you encouraged to share your faith? Are you taught how to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in your life? You take those three tests, and my friend, it will guide you to a biblical church, one where you will grow, one where you can worship God, one where you can fellowship with godly people, one where you'll be loved and where you can love in return and where you can rejoice.

Listen, it is a great delight and an awesome pleasure to be a part of a local group of people who are doctrinally grounded in the Word of God, who love to be edified in the Word of God, and who are concerned about a world who does not know their God. Now, what's the church about? It is about the most important business in the world. Who is it made up of? The Lord Jesus Christ and the saints of the living God, who are eternally secure in Him. And what are we up to in life? We're up to, listen, we're up to worship, edification, and evangelizing the world.

What did Jesus say? "I will build My church, and the gates of hell, no matter how often they'd rattle the bars, it'll never work". Because the church, we'll not only survive, we will conquer ultimately because we already have the account in the book of the Revelation. Satan is a defeated foe. He's gonna be cast into the eternal pit where he is going to be forever and ever and ever, and all of his angelic beings, fallen angels, all of his demonic powers are gonna be there, while we're in heaven enjoying glory forever and ever and ever. The tragedy is there will be those there who have rejected Jesus Christ as their savior, and that's the one thing you do not want to do.

So, think about it. If you've never trusted Christ as your savior, what assurance do you have? You're not a member of a local body of believers? You're missing out on the worship and the edification among God's people, and being involved in missions and evangelism around the world. Do you know what the major cause, the major problem is? Selfishness, self-centeredness. "I want what I want. Don't disturb me. Don't get me up on Sunday morning to go to church. Don't tell me I gotta listen to sermons. Don't tell me I gotta give money. Don't tell me this, that, and the other".

You know what that is? That's pure selfishness. Should a person belong to a local church? Absolutely. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, indeed, why? Because it was founded by Jesus, and He didn't found something that He just left it up to us to decide how we felt about it. Listen, this is His church, and we have His mission and His power to fulfill it. And all the rewards the Bible talks about is just what comes back as a result of our being obedient to Him. I challenge you, if you're not a church member, find a church that matches what we just described. Join it, get involved, and let your life count around the world.
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