IN HERE OR OUT THERE?
REMOVING THE VARNISH SERIES
Grandma died three days ago. She was 94. The whole family gathered for the
funeral. It was the first time since Grandpa died ten years ago that the whole family was
in one place at one time.
The funeral is over. By mutual agreement, it was a celebration. A celebration
was the only appropriate way to remember Grandma. She was a loving, kind, godly
woman who used life well. She was a blessing to her family, to the church, to her
neighbors, and to the community. The way she used her life to bless others earned her
a reputation that anyone would be honored to have.
Until the last two weeks of her life she lived in the home that she and Grandpa
built the year after they married. All their children grew up in that home. It was filled
with a lifetime of furnishings and memories. It had a huge attic.
After the funeral, the whole family gathered at Grandma's house. It just sort of
happened that all the brothers and sisters and all the adult grandchildren found
themselves together in the attic taking mental strolls down memory lane.
Sitting against a far wall in the attic was an old, old table. At first no one noticed
it. Finally someone asked, "Does anyone remember that old table?" It looked awful, but
it was sturdy and in good repair. As they examined it closely they could tell that it had
been heavily varnished and several coats of paint had been placed on top of the
varnish. Slowly, they began to remember. The oldest could remember when it was just
varnished. Others began to recall when it was white, or yellow, or black.
Someone wondered if it was worth anything. Someone said perhaps they need
to throw it out with all the rest of the junk. But the oldest brother decided he would take
it and strip all the paint and varnish off to see what was underneath.
It took a lot of work, a lot of patience, and a long time, but finally he got to the
wood. He could hardly believe what he found. It was handmade by an excellent
craftsman. And it was made of such fine walnut that such wood is not even available
today. The combination of craftsmanship and quality wood made it a magnificent piece
of furniture that would grace the finest home with its elegance. It was worthy of any food
that could be served on any occasion.
But this magnificent table would have been discarded as junk unless someone
successfully removed the paint and varnish.
- The church is like that table.
- To anyone who looks at in its present condition without bias and with honest
eyes, it looks terrible.
- Because of its appearance, it is valued only by members of the family.
- The church is sturdy and well built, but it is ugly to all who do not love it.
- Those who love it value the church more for their past memories than for
its present function.
- If those who love it were to say what they think in their hearts, they would
admit that sometimes they wonder if the church is a junk piece.
- The majority of the people in a state or in the nation would not have it.
- When they look at it, they find it ugly and offensive.
- They do not see any need for it--it is just something that sits around and
gets in the way.
- Those who love the church and value it are a minority.
- They look at it through different eyes.
- They see it "in a light" and with an affection that few others can.
- Most people think that they would not like to be served in any way at any time
by the church.
- Just looking at it turns them off; the sight of it causes them to lose their
- It looks downright unsanitary to them.
- They see the fighting and arguing about concerns that make no sense
- They see bickering, resentments, and ill will among members.
- They witness the obvious power struggles as people grasp for power
- And they see and hear what they regard to be downright arrogance.
- The church has been varnished and painted so many times that it looks like
something out of the past that is useless in the world today.
- When the people who have belonged to it for years talk about it, they often
begin by saying, "I remember when . . ."
- It has been painted so many times that most people can't tell what it really is.
- In the 1800s there was a lot of concern over the denominational concept
of church, so it was varnished with undenominational varnish.
- In the 1900s issues were constantly arising, and with each new issue, it
was painted again.
- Each debate over issues such as paid preachers, premillennialism,
congregational cooperation, and worship issues resulted in it receiving
a new coat of paint.
- Most recently it has been painted striped--white stripes were applied
with conservative paint; gray stripes with progressive paint; and black
stripes with liberal paint.
- The magnificence, the beauty, and the value of what God brought into existence
will never be seen unless we carefully and lovingly strip away all the paint and the
- If we take the time, the patience, and do the necessary hard work to get all
the way down to the original table, we will discover a magnificent piece of
spiritual furniture hand-crafted by Jesus Christ.
- And it is the most unique piece of furniture that has ever existed--there has
never, never been anything like it, and there never will be anything to
- This one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted piece of furniture is not only made by the
hands of Jesus Christ, but made from Jesus Christ!
- Jesus is both the craftsman and the spiritual material--that is why there will
never be anything else like it.
- When we strip all the paint and varnish off and get down to Jesus Christ, this
is what you see.
- You see acceptance of any person who accepts Christ no matter what his
or her past is, no matter what he or she is or has been.
- You see love as it exists no where else.
- You see kindness as it exists nowhere else.
- You see compassion that surpasses all other expressions of compassion.
- You see mercy and forgiveness.
- You see joy, and hope, and gladness of heart, and purpose in living.
- And you see power, a most unusual power.
- Then and only then will the world see the magnificence and the value of the
- But how do we identify the paint and the varnish to be removed?
- We identify the paint and the varnish by allowing the scripture to advance our
education instead of assuming we already know everything.
- We identify the paint and varnish by holding our basic concepts up to the full
light of Jesus Christ.
- We identify the paint and the varnish by carefully going all the way back to
Christ 's teachings.
- Let's begin that process tonight by asking the question, "Did Christ build the
church to have an 'in here' focus or an 'out there' focus?
- As we are studying in the Wednesday night auditorium class, before the church
existed, Jesus gave those who would open his kingdom both an "in here" and
"out there" focus.
- Christians as God's family are basically committed to evangelism.
- We understand that we are to share our Savior and his good news with all
people in all nations, and that most assuredly includes all people within our
- We are to go to all nations to make disciples who follow Jesus as Matthew
28:19 encourages us to do.
- Christians as God's family are basically committed to nurturing.
- The basic purpose of each New Testament epistle was nurturing.
- The epistles were not evangelistic in design or intent.
- They were written to help nurture and mature Christians.
- We must be just as committed to teaching the baptized to "observe all
things" that Jesus commanded as we are to evangelism--that is Jesus'
specific instruction in Matthew 28:20.
- I must confess that personally I fear that our discussions of evangelism and
edification tend to be more theoretical than practical, more theological
idealism than spiritual realism.
- Let's ask the question in a way that reveals a layer of the varnish that has been
painted on the church: Which does God love the most:
- The church, which is nothing more than those people who have accepted
salvation in Jesus Christ?
- Or the ungodly world, those people who have not accepted salvation in Jesus
- The answer to that question reveals an important answer to many questions.
- For example, should the church have the "defend the fort" mentality or the
"yeast in the world" mentality?
- What is the "defend the fort" mentality?
- This is the thought that Christ intended Christians as the church to isolate
themselves from all ungodliness in every place and every form.
- We gather up the saved within the church, and we do all that we can to
isolate ourselves from the "real world."
- Christians protect the church and each other by creating their isolated
community and confining all possible meaningful contact to each other.
- We are to be friends only with each other, we are to spend meaningful
time only with each other, we listen only to each other, and as best we
can we restrict life to Christian contacts.
- We keep the church "in here" and we keep the world "out there" and we
search for ways to force the world "out there" to conform to our standards
and principles whether they believe in Christ or not.
- What is the "yeast in the world" mentality?
- In Matthew 13:33 Jesus said:
The kingdom of heaven is like leaven (yeast), which a woman took,
and hid in three pecks of meal, until it was all leavened.
- The woman took a small amount of yeast and put it in a huge ball of
dough, and in time the whole ball of dough rose.
- The yeast mentality says, "I cannot have a positive influence on people
who do not know or have not accepted Christ by refusing to have any
contact with them."
- "Jesus has placed me on this earth as a Christian for me to have contact
with unchristian society."
- "They need to see Christ living in me."
- "That is the only way they will understand the value of being a Christian."
- "They need to see the kind of life and relationships built by belonging to
- "They will never look at the church differently unless they are touched by
the lives of those who live in Christ."
- "Therefore, I will have meaningful fellowship with Christians, but I will also
have meaningful interaction with people who do not even understand
- The "defending the fort" mentality has been very popular since the 1950s.
- We painted the church with a thick coat of that varnish.
- We made the varnish with a very special blend:
- "Evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33,
King James translation)--what was our message to Christians?
- "Abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22, King
James translation)--what was our message to Christians?
- A strong, reasoned teaching on never doing anything that would give
anyone else a wrong idea.
- That made a thick, durable varnish, and we put a heavy coat of it on
- Jesus said:
- We are to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).
- He said "we" are the light of the world--not our preacher, not our sermons,
not our printed material, not our radio broadcast, not our television
lessons, but "we."
- All of those teaching approaches are desperately needed and very
important--I have used and will use all of them.
- But our teaching is believable only if "we" are the light as "we" live in
the darkness of the world.
- If we confine the light to inside the fort, how will the world ever see it?
- Jesus said we put the light up high like a city on a hill where all can see it.
- If we are not going to be light in the darkness, what is the point of being
- We are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13).
- Again, he said "we."
- If we put all the salt in the fort, how will the salt preserve the rotting world?
- Again, the salt is not what we teach; it is what we are in our lives, our
actions, our relationships.
- So we return to our original question: Does God love the church more than he
loves the ungodly world?
- If we give our reaction answer, we say, "He loves the church more than the
- "He loved the church enough to die for it" (Ephesians 5:25).
- "He loved the church enough to purchase it with his own blood" (Acts
- "He loved the church enough to call it his body on earth" (Ephesians
- But Jesus himself said:
- "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son" (John
- "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32).
- "Come unto me all you who are burdened and weary, and I will give your
souls rest" (Matthew 11:28-30).
- There is not one single person in the ungodly world that he does not want
as a part of his body (2 Peter 3:9).
- And what did Jesus himself do?
- He ate with tax collectors and sinners, and was criticized for it (Matthew
- He forgave and encouraged the religious outcasts of his day.
- Among those he selected to be his special disciples were some pretty
- He even died between two thieves (Matthew 27:38).
- Jesus was light in the world; the light did not merely come from what he
taught; it came from what he was, what he did, and how he interacted with
the ungodly world.
Why did we apply the varnish of our fort mentality? Because we were and are
afraid. For at least the last 40 years, the church's mentality has been formed more from
our fears than from our faith. Fear builds forts. Faith is yeast, and light, and salt.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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