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.

  1. The church is like that table.
    1. To anyone who looks at in its present condition without bias and with honest eyes, it looks terrible.
      1. Because of its appearance, it is valued only by members of the family.
        1. The church is sturdy and well built, but it is ugly to all who do not love it.
        2. Those who love it value the church more for their past memories than for its present function.
        3. 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.
      2. The majority of the people in a state or in the nation would not have it.
        1. When they look at it, they find it ugly and offensive.
        2. They do not see any need for it--it is just something that sits around and gets in the way.
      3. Those who love the church and value it are a minority.
        1. They look at it through different eyes.
        2. They see it "in a light" and with an affection that few others can.
      4. Most people think that they would not like to be served in any way at any time by the church.
        1. Just looking at it turns them off; the sight of it causes them to lose their appetites.
        2. It looks downright unsanitary to them.
          1. They see the fighting and arguing about concerns that make no sense to them.
          2. They see bickering, resentments, and ill will among members.
          3. They witness the obvious power struggles as people grasp for power and control.
          4. And they see and hear what they regard to be downright arrogance.
    2. 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.
      1. When the people who have belonged to it for years talk about it, they often begin by saying, "I remember when . . ."
      2. It has been painted so many times that most people can't tell what it really is.
        1. In the 1800s there was a lot of concern over the denominational concept of church, so it was varnished with undenominational varnish.
        2. In the 1900s issues were constantly arising, and with each new issue, it was painted again.
          1. Each debate over issues such as paid preachers, premillennialism, congregational cooperation, and worship issues resulted in it receiving a new coat of paint.
          2. 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.
    3. 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 varnish.
      1. 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.
        1. 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 equal it.
        2. 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!
        3. Jesus is both the craftsman and the spiritual material--that is why there will never be anything else like it.
      2. When we strip all the paint and varnish off and get down to Jesus Christ, this is what you see.
        1. 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.
        2. You see love as it exists no where else.
        3. You see kindness as it exists nowhere else.
        4. You see compassion that surpasses all other expressions of compassion.
        5. You see mercy and forgiveness.
        6. You see joy, and hope, and gladness of heart, and purpose in living.
        7. And you see power, a most unusual power.
      3. Then and only then will the world see the magnificence and the value of the church.
    4. But how do we identify the paint and the varnish to be removed?
      1. We identify the paint and the varnish by allowing the scripture to advance our education instead of assuming we already know everything.
      2. We identify the paint and varnish by holding our basic concepts up to the full light of Jesus Christ.
      3. We identify the paint and the varnish by carefully going all the way back to Christ 's teachings.

  2. 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?
    1. 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.
      1. Christians as God's family are basically committed to evangelism.
        1. 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 own nation.
        2. We are to go to all nations to make disciples who follow Jesus as Matthew 28:19 encourages us to do.
      2. Christians as God's family are basically committed to nurturing.
        1. The basic purpose of each New Testament epistle was nurturing.
        2. The epistles were not evangelistic in design or intent.
        3. They were written to help nurture and mature Christians.
        4. 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.
      3. 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.
    2. 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:
      1. The church, which is nothing more than those people who have accepted salvation in Jesus Christ?
      2. Or the ungodly world, those people who have not accepted salvation in Jesus Christ?
    3. The answer to that question reveals an important answer to many questions.
      1. For example, should the church have the "defend the fort" mentality or the "yeast in the world" mentality?
      2. What is the "defend the fort" mentality?
        1. This is the thought that Christ intended Christians as the church to isolate themselves from all ungodliness in every place and every form.
        2. We gather up the saved within the church, and we do all that we can to isolate ourselves from the "real world."
        3. Christians protect the church and each other by creating their isolated community and confining all possible meaningful contact to each other.
        4. 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.
        5. 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.
      3. What is the "yeast in the world" mentality?
        1. 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.
        2. 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.
        3. 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."
        4. "Jesus has placed me on this earth as a Christian for me to have contact with unchristian society."
        5. "They need to see Christ living in me."
        6. "That is the only way they will understand the value of being a Christian."
        7. "They need to see the kind of life and relationships built by belonging to Christ."
        8. "They will never look at the church differently unless they are touched by the lives of those who live in Christ."
        9. "Therefore, I will have meaningful fellowship with Christians, but I will also have meaningful interaction with people who do not even understand Christianity."
      4. The "defending the fort" mentality has been very popular since the 1950s.
        1. We painted the church with a thick coat of that varnish.
        2. We made the varnish with a very special blend:
          1. "Evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33, King James translation)--what was our message to Christians?
          2. "Abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22, King James translation)--what was our message to Christians?
          3. A strong, reasoned teaching on never doing anything that would give anyone else a wrong idea.
          4. That made a thick, durable varnish, and we put a heavy coat of it on the church.
    4. Jesus said:
      1. We are to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).
        1. 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."
          1. All of those teaching approaches are desperately needed and very important--I have used and will use all of them.
          2. But our teaching is believable only if "we" are the light as "we" live in the darkness of the world.
        2. If we confine the light to inside the fort, how will the world ever see it?
        3. Jesus said we put the light up high like a city on a hill where all can see it.
        4. If we are not going to be light in the darkness, what is the point of being light?
      2. We are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13).
        1. Again, he said "we."
        2. If we put all the salt in the fort, how will the salt preserve the rotting world?
        3. Again, the salt is not what we teach; it is what we are in our lives, our actions, our relationships.
    5. So we return to our original question: Does God love the church more than he loves the ungodly world?
      1. If we give our reaction answer, we say, "He loves the church more than the world."
        1. "He loved the church enough to die for it" (Ephesians 5:25).
        2. "He loved the church enough to purchase it with his own blood" (Acts 20:28).
        3. "He loved the church enough to call it his body on earth" (Ephesians 1:22, 23).
      2. But Jesus himself said:
        1. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son" (John 3:16).
        2. "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32).
        3. "Come unto me all you who are burdened and weary, and I will give your souls rest" (Matthew 11:28-30).
        4. 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).
      3. And what did Jesus himself do?
        1. He ate with tax collectors and sinners, and was criticized for it (Matthew 9:10,11).
        2. He forgave and encouraged the religious outcasts of his day.
        3. Among those he selected to be his special disciples were some pretty rough fellows.
        4. He even died between two thieves (Matthew 27:38).
        5. 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.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 2 March 1997
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