Pastor's Corner: Your church homeBy Daniel Ausbun, First Baptist Church Moreland
This past Tuesday and Wednesday in New Orleans was the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting.
Fred Luter, the black pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, was elected president of the SBC. He is the first black president in the SBC’s 167-year history.
All these years, even through a hurricane, Luter remained committed to his church home. He shared after Katrina, he had numerous offers to pastor elsewhere, but God has called him and he was committed to the rebuilding of Franklin Avenue.
Stories of commitment such as Luter’s used to be standard, but have now become the exception. The average American Christian today will be a member of seven different churches for an average of seven years at each church.
This means either Americans change addresses frequently, or they no longer see the importance of having a church home.
What is the difference between joining a church and joining a town’s historical society? After all, there are probably Christians in the historical society, and they bless the food before they eat. Why join a church and give all your time and money when there are so many other options? How a Christian answers this question affects everything about their Christianity and what a true Christian life is really about. It is not possible for a Christian to proclaim, “I love Jesus, but hate the church.”
If you hate church, you hate Jesus. He established, is the head, and died for the church (Matthew 16:18; 18:17; Colossians 1:18).
The word, “church” does not mean a building, a boring sermon – or a fun place for kids to play. Anyone can lie in bed on Sunday mornings – watching TV preachers, praying, reading the Bible, tithing online, singing songs and worshipping God.
As great as that seems, it’s not church. “Church” means a group of Christians who meet together to fulfill three main functions. These functions are what set the church apart from historical societies or worshipping God in your car while driving to work. Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church discipline all draw a clear, bright line that says to the world, “Here are the people of God.”
Jesus desired the church to gather. He declared after discussing church discipline, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20).
Baptism is the initiation into the Christian faith. The Lord’s Supper is the remembrance of Jesus’ blood and body on the cross, and submitting to church discipline prevents sin and nominalism from creeping into a church.
The health of the whole church would be radically improved in many congregations by excommunicating those members who are committed to sins like nonattendance, divisiveness, adultery or fornication more than they are committed to God’s glory. The action of excluding the unrepentant enables the church to give a clear witness of the gospel to the world.
Many Christians seem to treat their church as one more thing to help out their Christian life, perhaps along with this Bible study, that music, those authors, this retreat and keeping a journal. A Christian conceives of his or her spiritual life as fundamentally one’s own business, managed by selecting among various helps. Having a church home gives you a benefit and blessing no other organization or club provides.
Fred Luter said, “The church is supposed to be salt in a low sodium, saltless society. I truly believe in my heart that God wants the church in the midst of this craziness, in the midst of this chaos, in the midst of this crisis, to stand up and be the church.”