Introduction to Book Two – Means Of Grace
Ron Christian, Compiler
It is not difficult for one to become a Christian. It does not take very much time for an individual sincerely to pray the "sinner's prayer" to become a believer. But, after one becomes a Christian, it takes much effort and considerable time for that Christian to become strong and mature in the "Christian Way." Fortunately, God has graciously given several "means" or "channels" by which a God-follower can become a maturing believer. Just as there are several "means" by which a small child grows to maturity (such as the intake of nutritious food and plenty of fresh water and a good "dose" of vigorous physical exercise, etc.), so there are several "means" by which both younger and older believers can become more mature in the "Christian Faith."
What are some of those "means" by which a sincere believer can "grow into maturity"? Regular church attendance, warm fellowship with fellow believers, daily and personal "Quiet Times", earnest prayer, regular Bible reading and study, meditation, reverent worship (both private and corporate), participation in Holy Communion and Water Baptism, involvement as a member of a small "Christian Growth Group", fasting. Any 'spiritual activity' (private or public) which helps 'connect' you with the resources of God's power and wisdom could be called a "Means of Grace".
One of the most important (and sometimes neglected) "Means of Grace" is Church Attendance. The Bible says, "Let us not neglect our Church meetings, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming BACK A GAIN IS DRAWING NEAR." (Hebrews 10:25, Living Bible) The Christian should desire to be with those who are like himself. In the natural world animals of like kind group together. Birds Dock together, fish swim together, bees swarm together, cattle herd together, beavers work together, and ants travel together. Why should not God's highest creatures worship together? God has made us to fellowship, and what better place is there for us to fellowship than at God's House periodically?
In a secular newspaper appeared the following:
Don't wait until the hearse hauls you to Church. If you do, you will go, regardless of the weather. There will be beautiful fowers there, but you won't enjoy them. The priest may say some good things about you, but you won't be able to hear them. There will be beautiful music, but you won't enjoy it. There win be heartfelt prayers, but they will not touch your heart. There will be friends and relatives there, but you will not worship with them. You will go, no matter how many hypocrites are there. You will go, no matter how
much you are needed at home. You won't be concerned about whether to attend Church or not. You'll never get another chance. Aren't you glad to be alive and well and have the choice of whether or not to go to Church?"
Notes C.S. Lewis, "Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say, landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to Church, you are really listening into the secret wireless from our friends. That is why this enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery."
LOOKING AT PEOPLE'S FLIMSY EXCUSES!
Even professing Christians, who should know better, sometimes swallow Satan's excuses! Do any of the following excuses sound familiar to you?
"I need to relax on Sunday mornings and therefore I don't have time to attend Church services." Remember, one of the characteristics of the perilous times during the last days of history is a pleasure- obsessed society where people are "Lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God". (2 Timothy 3:4)
"I need to be with my family and relatives on Sunday. If I am enjoying my family rather than attending Church services, God will surely understand." Said Jesus, "If you love your father and mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worth of being mine." (Matthew 10:37)
"I need to work and therefore I can't come to services on Sunday." Most who work on Sundays don't need to work on Sundays. Most employers would be glad to arrange a schedule in such a way that sincere Christian employees could periodically, if not regularly, be off on Sundays.
"I need a vacation occasionally and don't have time to worship God in Church on Sundays." It is always appropriate to take a vacation away from our regular jobs, but it is never appropriate to take a vacation away from God! Prayer and worship have been proven to be the most recreating activities known to man, for through prayer and worship a new spiritual energy and vitality are gained which transfers to the physical and mental realm, raising all of life to a higher level of vitality!
"I am ill and therefore I can't go to Church." This is sometimes a valid reason rather than a flimsy excuse, but 1 am convinced that many illnesses have a psychological or spiritual basis and that many illnesses could be treated best (and perhaps even healed) within-the atmosphere of a caring fellowship of Christians in Church.
"I have business pursuits that I am involved in which take me out of town on weekends. Therefore, 1 can't come to Church." Let every businessman know that there is no business as important as God's business. God's business is inseparably connected with the Church, so attending Church regularly is doing God's business! When occasionally it is necessary for a businessman to be out of town on a weekend, he should always be in God's House worshiping – somewhere!
"I don't understand what is being said at Church, so I simply study my Bible at Home." Although there are many different levels of maturity represented within a typical congregation, all of which the minister must take into consideration when he preaches, nevertheless the Holy Spirit is the interpreter of truth and is able to apply truth to each person – regardless of the level of maturity, assuming that each believer is open and honest!
"I am discouraged because of my circumstances and therefore 1 don't feel like going to Church." The discouraged can find encouragement, the despairing can find hope, the sorrowing can find comfort – at God's House with God's people on Sunday morning and Sunday evening! The last place a discouraged person should stay away from is the sanctuary of the Lord on Sunday! Church services are never a substitute for daily healing which can be found in the daily quiet times if they are not receiving healing at the regular worship services! Don't wait until you 'feel' like going to Church. Action precedes feelings! Act in faith by going to Church and you will soon feel the comfort and encouragement which obedience brings the Church is a center for encouragement! Read Hebrews 10:25.
"I am 'trying out' several churches before I settle on attending one Church regularly." These are the legitimate words of a few people whose presence in a new community and whose sincere desire to be in God's will, allow them to search out a 'Church home'. People who use this excuse don't want to be 'tied down' to anyone Church; they don't want to be obviously visible in anyone fellowship and they reject ecclesiastical authority and personal accountability for their faithfulness in Church attendance. To be in non one's flock gives them
a sense of 'freedom', but this feeling of freedom is seldom blatantly admitted by professing Christians who resort to the following oft- repeated excuse: "I am trying to find a Church where I feel "comfortable and where I can be fed."
Those who resort to such excuses seldom 'land' and 'stay' in anyone Church for very long. (I know personally of one family who has been in at least seven different churches during the last few years! No Church quite suits them! They leave one Church only to go to another one that is 'better' and 'more spiritual'!
People who are waiting to find a 'perfect' Church will never find it! The sincere Christian who is coming new into a community does not take long to find a good Church Home, and when he finds it (after a legitimate amount of time involved in 'Church Shopping') he 'sticks with' the Church of his choice. He stays with it, through 'thick and thin'!
There can be no deep loyalty to God without deep loyalty to God's Church – visibly and locally identifiable! In the nearly twenty seven years I pastored (working with hundreds of people), I knew few, if any, couples who were successful in their Christian lives who were sporadic in Church attendance!
Rev. Sidney Laing of Dublin, Ireland, got tired of listening to the same old excuses from people who don't attend Church. At the end of his tether, he wrote the following item, titled "Ten Reasons Why I Never Wash," for his Church bulletin:
- I was made to wash as a child.
- People who wash are hypocrites. They reckon they are cleaner than other people.
- There are so many different kinds of soap, I could never decide which one was right.
- I used to wash, but it got boring so I stopped.
- I still wash on special occasions, like Easter and Christmas.
- None of my friends wash.
- I'm still young. When I'm older and have got a bit dirtier I might start washing.
- I really don't have time.
- the bathroom is never warm enough.
- people who make soap are only after your money.
(Quoted in "Holy Humor Inspirational Wit and Cartoons" by Cal and Rose Samra; p. 58)
Why should Christians meet regularly in a building and have a local organization called the Church? Because God (through Christ) established the local Church as one of the most important "Means of Grace" by which believers grow and become mature in the "Christian Faith' (i.e., by which believers develop a more intimate relationship with Almighty God). Hebrews 10:25 makes it very clear that one way by which you help another believer to grow in his personal faith in Christ is by your faithful (habitual) attendance at a local Church. Jesus Himself regularly (weekly) attended the Jewish Synagogue. "And he (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and as his custom (habit) was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read." (Luke 4:16)
Notes Clark Pennock, "One can view the Church from several angles. On the one hand it is an institution. The Church is an organization. It has an address, it is a place where people can be welcomed and introduced to Christ through many activities. The Church as institution involves buildings, ceremonies, officers, and rituals. It is set up to facilitate in personal relationships in the context of the praise of God. What makes it special is its goal to be a structure that mediates the grace of God to people. It does so in all sorts of ways, through sermons, by baptisms, in the Eucharist, in fellowship, singing, Christian education, and through group prayer. All of these activities are means of grace that can transmit life-giving reality to those who come into contact with it. The Church as an institution is likely the chief way in which people are confronted with Christ and come to participate in the renewing work of the Spirit.
"But the Church is a community as well as an institution. It would be in trouble if it were not. It is also an organism in which people are built up and gifted by the Spirit. This is in fact the goal of the Church as an institution, to bring people into a saving relationship with Christ and involve them in the renewing work of the Spirit. The institution is a means of creating a community, which is the body of Christ, that can grow and develop.
"Finally, the Church is also a bridge that stretches out its arms to the world, which God wants to reconcile as well. It is not meant to be the circle of the saved but rather the first fruits of the new creation, which portends the harvest of all nations. It is the light meant to lighten the world. This ought to be a major orientation, to reach the nations with the gospel and to disciple the peoples of the world. The Church exercises a priestly mediation between Christ and a lost world. If the goal of the Church as an institution is to create community, then the goal of the Church as a community is to gather in the nations. As God's servant people, the Church exists for the sake of the world. It is a function of God's mission in the world. By being new community in the midst of the world, the Church impacts the old order as salt and light and by reaching out in word and deed, through prophecy and prayer fulfills its own calling to be apostolic.
"The Church is not always what it ought to be. It often exists as mere institution with very little life or mission. It is frequently not all God means for it to be. Therefore, it needs to be revitalized, to become alive and vital as in the beginning. It needs to receive afresh the gift of Pentecost in order to become experientially vital again; to be-filled with praise and joy, mediating the kingdom of God in the power of the Spirit; for the grace of God again to become a personal possession; not for its own sake but for the sake of the world. As the Psalmist prayed, 'May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving power upon all nations' (Psalms 67:1-2, RSV)." (Theological Crossfire; Clark Pinnock and Delwin Brown; pg. 199,200)
It is doubtful that a vital relationship with God can long be maintained without regular attendance at the public worship services. I noticed, after working with many scores of young believers for more than 20 years (as a local pastor), that those young believers who became committed to regular Church attendance were the same ones who generally grew into spiritual maturity. The opposite was also true: those young believers (or, for that matter, older believers) who 'dropped out' of Church attendance also 'dropped out' of vital relationship with God. Such persons became lukewarm Christians and sometimes back slid completely. Church attendance (as a "Means of Grace") alone is not sufficient to maintain a vital relationship with God, but it is almost impossible to enjoy a relationship with God without commitment to consistent Church attendance. I have never yet met a mature Christian who does not habitually attend public Church services.
We are living at a time in history when we need to reaffirm our confidence in and declare our love for the local Church! The Church is most precious to Christ! The Church is the Bride of Christ! Christ loved the Church so much that He died for the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27). The Early Church followed the example of Jesus: "After Jesus returned to heaven, "they (the disciples of Jesus) returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and spent all their time in the temple praising God." (Luke 24:52-53, New English Bible) Is it any wonder why the believers in the first century of the Christian Church grew so fast and were so effective in their witness? They availed themselves of the God- given "Means of Grace"! "Growing a Godly Life" today still depends upon a Christian's conscientious involvement in those "Means"!
LOVE FOR ZION
I love thy kingdom, Lord, The house of thine abode, The Church our blest Redeemer saved With his own precious blood. I love thy Church, 0 God! Her walls before thee stand, Dear as the apple of thine eye, And graven on thy hand. For her my tears shall fall: For her my prayers ascend; To her my cares and toils be given. Till toils and cares shall end. Beyond my highest joy I prize her heavenly ways; Her sweet Communion, solemn vows, Her hymns of love and praise. Sure as thy truth shall last, To Zion shall be given The brightest glories earth can yield, And brighter bliss of heaven.