“…and gave Him as head over all things to the church.” Eph. 1:22b
Most Christians are familiar with Peter’s impassioned proclamation about Jesus Christ, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. To which Jesus responded; “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven… and on this rock I will build My church.” (Matt. 16:16b, 17b-18b). The “rock” being Peter’s verbal affirmation of Christ’s deity. After Jesus was crucified, died, buried, resurrected, and appeared to over five hundred witnesses; He ascended up to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. From heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to bear witness of Him, to convict the world of sin, and to commence the building of His church (Jn. 15:26, 16:7, 8-11, Acts 2:1-4). It is through the Holy Spirit’s power the church continues to advance, and that advancement will continue even at Jesus Christ’s second advent.
It is clearly indicated in Scripture that Jesus Christ is the Head of the church. (Eph. 1:22-23, 5:23). Having its foundation laid by the prophets and Apostles, the church continues to increase as a holy temple in the Lord. (Eph. 2:20-21). The church is not a “material” building, but rather people themselves; spiritual bodies each indwelt by the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It is redeemed people predestined and chosen in Jesus Christ, to receive God’s special saving love and, preserved for glory. (Eph. 2:19-22, Rom. 8:29, Eph. 1:4, Titus 3:4-6, Rom. 8:30). The definition of “church” is the “called” or “called out ones” (ekklasia)–anyone who believes and worships Jesus Christ as Lord (Rom. 10:9-10, 13).
Throughout the world, there are many sects or denominations of the church which gather to worship on the first day of the week, also known as the Lord’s day. Even though the called may meet in various types of buildings, they are still considered one spiritual organism or the universal church. Those buildings or locations where they meet, are typically referred to as “churches”. Nonetheless, the church is still an invisible conglomeration of believers united by the blood of Jesus Christ. The fortunate few who are “called”, God blesses by bestowing upon them with the grace and faith to believe in the Head of the church. (Matt. 20:16, 22:14, Eph. 2:8). It is utterly amazing to ponder that God would grant unworthy, undeserving, and sinful creatures, His divine mercy and infinite love. O how blessed and eternally privileged the called of God truly are!
Therefore, it is tragic, perilous and I believe offensive to God, when Christians speak or conduct anything inside a church, that is outside of God’s will. Jesus declared; “And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment.” (Matt. 12:36). And how can one know what is within God’s will? The will of God is for His redeemed children to know and walk in holiness. (Rom. 12:2, 1 Thess. 4:3a). J.C. Ryle rightly defines holiness as; (1) “Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find his mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment—hating what He hates, loving what He loves—and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His word. He who most entirely agrees with God, he is the most holy man.” Ryle also wrote; (2) “There is no time, no, not a day, in which a man ought to be holy.”
Incidentally, “holiness” is not an option that we can choose to accept or not, it is a commandment from God, revealed throughout the entire Bible. (Heb. 12:14, 1 Pet: 1:15-16). Holiness can be obtained by juxtaposing all things to Scripture and then emulating and abiding, in the only One who is perfect, Jesus Christ. (2 Tim. 3:16-17, 1 Jn. 2:17, 3:24, 2 Jn. 9). Therefore, doing the will of God is a striving after holiness. But, in objection you might say, “This or that is not specified in the Bible, how can I know if it sinful?” To that I say; the particular species of a weed might not be found in Scripture, but it’s root is. In other words, all sin in its foundational form can be located in the Bible. For it is a timeless and comprehensive book, and perfect in its anthropology. Moreover, God has given us the Holy Spirit whom not only teaches us all things, but also imparts wisdom, especially when we ask. (Jn. 14:26, 15:26, 16:13, 1 Jn. 2:27, 1 Cor. 2:13, 12:8, Jas. 1:5).
Throughout the years, I have visited many church worship services, and sadly have noticed an increasing departure from holiness, especially in contrast to the saints in the book of Acts. (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35). I believe one main reason for this lack of holiness, is that most church services today remove the fear of God from their worship services. That would include teaching and singing. The removal of godly fear from worship, eliminates one glorious way the Holy Spirit increases the church. Furthermore, teaching fear of God, is tantamount to exuding holiness; repentance, obedience, and sanctification encompass holiness. One may peruse through the book of Acts and read many instances when the Holy Spirit employed godly fear to draw more people to the church (Acts 2:43, 5:5-14, 9:31, 19:17). We erroneously assume that we know what works best for church growth. Men may tend to employ worthless strategies and gimmicks, foolishly believing they possess the answers while ignoring Scripture. Scripture clearly delineates how the church grows. In actuality, such assumptions are guilty of denying God’s absolute sovereignty in church growth. God will inevitably expand His church, in His timing, in His way, with our reverent obedience. Believers are only expected to plant and water the seed (1 Cor. 3:6-7). It is Christ’s church!
The church needs to be vigilantly prayerful for the holiness of the church. Some may think we offer God appropriate and acceptable worship, whether through music, lyrics, praise, sermons, etc. But, worship is increasingly more man-centered, rather than God-centered. Some musicians and so-called “worship leaders”appear narcissistic and theatrical rather than directing the body towards a holy awe, while singing. All too many pastors pride themselves on being philosophical, comical, and clever, rather than just letting God speak through His written word. Sadly, this behavior ultimately places man at the head of the church, instead of Jesus Christ, at great peril to the body of believers. Again I appeal to Acts; “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved”. (Acts 2:42-47).
Does this passage remotely identify your weekly worship service?
Of all the churches I have worshiped at, rarely has there been sober-mindedness, fear, and reverential awe present. Rather there is a light-hearted, audacious, and frivolous atmosphere. Casualness and apathy has become the norm, replacing formality and fervor. What is even more disturbing, is the mitigation or even denial of Scripture’s authority and supremacy in services with shorter “sermons”. The evidence is found in the daily lives of many believers.
In times past God spoke directly to the fathers and prophets and then spoke to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. (Heb. 1:1-2). However, today God speaks to us through the Bible, His written word; “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction…” (Rom. 15:4). The saints of the Old Testament understood and embraced God’s authority. Furthermore, they acknowledged God, adhered to every detail and demanded strict observance to His commandments. God requires His children to obey every letter; all things His Son, Jesus Christ commanded (Matt. 28:20). We must strive to learn and benefit from the Scriptures and realize we are not at liberty to disobey His commandments (Deut. 6:17, 11:1, 13, 1 Cor. 7:19, 1 Jn. 2:3-4) .
For example, God gave Moses explicit instructions on how to construct the Tabernacle; its contents, the Ark of the Covenant, and even the garb the priests were to don when offering sacrifices. (Ex. 25-30). When the Ark of the Covenant was to be transported, God instructed that it was only to be manipulated by Levite priests. Under no circumstance could the Ark to be physically touched, according to Levitical Law. (Deut. 10:8, Num. 4:15). Unfortunately, when Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark, because the oxen had stumbled, God immediately struck him dead (2 Sam. 6:6-7). You may think God’s judgment was severe but, Uzzah clearly disobeyed the command of God.
In the New Testament, we read of how God instantly and fatally judged Ananias and Sapphira, for lying to the Holy Spirit. (Acts 5:1-11). Interestingly, the swift and severe judgment which fell upon the two, was administered in the church. Perhaps as a future lesson for others not to test the Lord. What I find most intriguing regarding this account of God’s judgment is, “…great fear came over the church and all who heard of it”. Then, multitudes of men and women joined the church! (Acts 5:14) This brings one to think about the possible consequences for disobeying God. Besides, as mere creatures ought we ever question God as He chooses to exercise His perfect will (Jer. 18:6, Rom. 9:20-21). It is Christ’s church!
Another example is when Jesus saw the irreverent business dealings being conducted by merchants in the temple. He responded by physically and violently cleansing the temple. He exclaimed to the merchants; “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (Jn. 2:14-16-emphasis added). Jesus was righteously angered by the lack of holiness and irreverence being conducted in God’s house. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.” (Matt. 21:13).
The MacArthur Study Bible, commenting on Jn. 2:16, explains; (3) “Do not make: The force of the Greek imperative should better be translated, “stop making”, indicating Jesus’ demand that they stop their current practice. God’s holiness demands holiness in worship. House of merchandise: …The word ‘merchandise’ pictures a trading house filled with traders.”
The interpretation of these verses, indicate the holiness God expects as we worship our Triune God (Heb. 12:14). God desires the focus to be unadulterated and upon Him alone, while worshipping Him; from the moment one enters a house of God, to moment he exits. Business, merchandise sales, sports games and scores, restaurants, vacations, etc, should be saved for another time. Additionally, Scripture sternly instructs us that God is a jealous God. (Deut. 4:24, 5:9, 6:15, 32:21).
On a particular Lord’s day, I recall a vivid illustration when we had a visiting pastor. For the first thirty minutes, he proceeded to promote his books and videos that he had published about Christianity. He even had a “power point” presentation to accompany his sales pitch. To make matters worse, he indicated his resources were for sale on a table in the back. I could not help contemplating Jesus’ cleansing of the temple as He exclaimed; “ you are making it a robbers’ den!” Although his wares were exalting Jesus Christ, he neglected to preach God’s word. The predominant reason Jesus cleansed the temple was the irreverence towards God, in the house of God. Therefore, the house of God, especially on the Lord’s day, is Christ’s church!
Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones wrote; (4) “It is not our service; the people do not come here to see us or please us. It is not like inviting people into our home as it were; it is not our service at all. They, and we, are there to worship God, and to meet with God.” We are to have a sense of gravity and seriousness when we corporately gather to worship God.
Recently, I observed a well-known pastor who spoke at a bible conference and from the outset of his sermon, he employed stand-up comedian-type humor. For forty minutes of his sixty minute sermon his Bible remained closed! Martyn Lloyd Jones stressed that when we gather to worship our Triune God, we are to be seriously and solely focused on our Savior through the Scriptures, with joy which comes from worshipping Him rightly.
God commands to be worshiped with a pure heart (Phil 4:8, 2 Tim. 2:22), Jesus demanded holiness in the house of God (Matt. 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, Jn. 2:14-16), and holiness as one worships was exemplified by Jesus’ disciples at the nascent of the church as they gathered daily (Acts 2:42-47).
In a recent sermon, Pastor John MacArthur, expressed concern over the unbiblical conduct of many churches and exhorted repentance. His text was taken from Revelation 2 and 3. To set the stage, the Apostle John was cruelly and unjustly banished to the island of Patmos by the Romans. It was on that island that John saw a vision of the Lord, and was instructed to write down everything he had seen. In those two chapters, Jesus commanded five of the seven churches, to repent from various transgressions made against God’s holiness. MacArthur stated. (5)”I think most people who go to a church – and I would probably ascertain that most pastors – think the church is about the safest place you could be when it comes to threats from Christ. But that’s not true. Very strong, very direct threats are made against churches, and they’re found in this section. That is not something that is very often discussed. It’s not acknowledged, but it’s critically important. You have only this passage where Christ actually addresses specific churches and calls them to repent and reform…Have you ever been part of a church that repented, that looked at itself and recognized its collective and congregational transgressions, and openly, genuinely, with sadness and brokenness for its sins against its head, the Lord Jesus Christ, came together in a full act of repentance?”
Frightfully, the Lord promised devastating judgments upon the disobedient churches, unless they repented-“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.” (Rev. 3:19). An honest evaluation ought to be conducted within most American churches, to assess if they have strayed from the biblical paradigm set forth in Scripture. Salvation to those who are in Christ, does not mean the church is exempt from the Lord’s judgment. In fact, judgment begins with the house of God. (1 Pet. 4:17). We hold in our hands that which holds the key to every believers holiness, the Bible; the sacred Scripture. It ostensibly reveals what the Lord commands for His children to obey. And it contains serious warnings with severe and eternal consequences, to those who worship disobediently. For example, the abuse of Lord’s table; “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” (1 Cor. 11:27-30).
In closing, all churches are admonished throughout Scripture to be holy, and we can turn to the eschatological writings to heed God’s warnings (Rev. chaps. 2-3). Something to ponder: Does not the Lord’s threat of removing the churches’ lampstands from their place of service, arouse fear of God in you? Let us pray for the universal church to repent and return to reverent holiness. It is Christ’s church! Amen!
(1) J.C. Ryle, Holiness, Its nature, Hindrance, difficulties, & Roots, Charles Nolan Publishers, 2001, pg. 42
(2) J.C. Ryle, Holiness, Its nature, Hindrance, difficulties, & Roots, Charles Nolan Publishers, 2001, pg. 41
(3) John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Publishing, 1997, pg. 1579
(4) Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Preaching & Preachers, Zondervan Publishing, 1971, pg. 262
(5) John MacArthur, calling the church to repent,