The American people as a nation have great confidence in the benefits of good government. Most of us realize our democratic form of government produces incredible benefits. No other form of government in any other large nation gives its people the benefits we enjoy. No one else has our kind of freedom. No one else has our guaranteed human rights. No other large nation values the individual as do we. The openness and opportunity that exists in our society is unthinkable in many other nations.

Religiously, a powerful truth exists that most people never see. They not only do not see it, but they may never realize that truth exists. The truth: what works best in a society is commonly superimposed on the church. The longer the church exists in a society, the more the church reflects the structure of that society. That is not hard to understand. What society does well must be good. When Christians accept it as good in society, they believe it will be good in the church.

  1. That is not something new; it happened in the earliest days of the church.
    1. Allow me to show you two New Testament examples (there are more than two examples).
      1. Among the early Jerusalem Christians were baptized Pharisees.
        1. They believed with all their being that the church should baptize only the people who first accepted Judaism (the Jewish religion).
        2. They believed with all their hearts God's will was obeyed by keeping strict, controlling regulations.
        3. When people who had not accepted the Jewish religion were baptized, Pharisees who were Christians declared, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the law of Moses" (Acts 15:5).
        4. The church should adopt the Pharisees' approach; that was good.
      2. Among Christians baptized in Corinth were people who had lived an idolatrous, sensual lifestyle.
        1. They declared Christians should not be condemned for satisfying their sexual desires in any way they chose (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).
        2. This was their basic argument: "When you are hungry you eat to satisfy your natural appetite. The hunger for sexual satisfaction is no different."
        3. The church should adopt sensual idolatry's approach to life. That was good.
    2. The American religious movement that resulted in the existence of the American Church of Christ began about 1800.
      1. That movement began with a double emphasis (a) on the freedom to follow only the Bible and (b) on the importance of unity.
      2. In time the emphasis shifted in a significant segment of that movement.
        1. The emphasis shifted to church structure.
        2. In that emphasis concerns focused on correct theology and correct forms.
      3. When more time passed, the emphasis shifted again in a significant part of the movement.
        1. This time the emphasis focused on worship.
        2. But the focus was on the forms in worship rather than an understanding of what worship is.
        3. The essential thing was to worship in the right way.
    3. To me, something is obvious (it may not be obvious to you, and it is certainly okay if you disagree with me.)
      1. We did what some Christians in the early church did: we superimposed our American experiences on the church.
      2. "Whatever are you talking about?"
        1. The "right" form of government produced incredible blessings in our nation.
        2. The "right" way of doing things would produce incredible blessings in the church.
      3. During the majority of my life, the congregations I worked among in the Southeastern United States focused on "correct forms."
        1. The "right form" of organization for the congregation.
        2. The "right form" of organization for the leadership.
        3. The "right form" of organization for the church's work.
        4. The "right form" of organization for worship.
    4. In a basic way, this influenced our view of God, Christ, and the church.
      1. "God is an authoritarian."
        1. "We call Him Father, but He is really a mysterious authoritarian."
        2. "When he says jump you just ask, 'How high?'"
        3. God's concern is proper government, not relationship.
      2. "Jesus is Lord."
        1. We define the concept of Lord in the terms of an authoritarian.
        2. "What Jesus became after his resurrection is completely different from what Jesus was before he died."
        3. "As a man, he was compassionate; as Lord he is authoritarian."
        4. "We call him the good shepherd, but he is actually the Lord who exercises all authority."
        5. Jesus Christ's concern is proper government, not relationship.
      3. "The church is an authoritarian institution."
        1. "The church is about the control of spiritual government."
        2. "We call the church the family of God, but the church is actually about control, not about relationship with God or His people."
        3. "The church is Christ's body."
        4. "The church was designed by God."
        5. "God and Christ are authoritarians."
        6. "So the church is an authoritarian institution."
    5. "Big deal, David! What difference does that make?"
      1. It makes a basic difference.
        1. It powerfully influences what you regard to be spiritual.
        2. It is a significant factor in our children leaving the church.
        3. It is a significant factor in the darkness and emptiness too many Christians struggle against inside themselves.
      2. "Why? I do not understand."
        1. It distorts our view of God, Christ, and the church.
        2. It creates an inadequate biblical view of God, Christ, and the church.
        3. It tempts us as Christians to place our confidence in rules and forms instead of God's love and Jesus' compassion.
      3. This is not a new problem; it is almost 2000 years old.
        Ephesians 4:17-24 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
        1. There are many wonderful things in this scripture that deserve our attention, but I want you to see one obvious fact.
        2. How were many Christians in this congregation living and behaving?
          1. They were living and behaving just like the people who did not believe in God.
          2. Paul's basic point was this: "when you understand what God did for you in Jesus Christ, you will not live like people who do not know God."
          3. "That is not what you were taught about Jesus Christ."
          4. "Let God recreate you in Jesus Christ."

  2. Every week I know and understand that the needs in this congregation are much bigger than I am.
    1. Every week I see three major needs that never end.
      1. I see the constant need to emphasize the truth of God's grace and mercy.
      2. I see the constant need to emphasize the fact that Christ's forgiveness is not a license to do evil.
      3. I see the constant need to emphasize the fact that faith in rules and forms cannot save you, but faith in Jesus Christ will save you.
      4. And it is impossible for me to address those three needs in thirty minutes on any Sunday morning.
    2. I will do something this morning I never remember doing in thirty eight years of full time work as a preacher, and I likely will never do it again.
      1. On any given week my work is quite interesting.
        1. Last Sunday a family who recently placed membership made it a point to thank me for my lessons.
        2. Several times this week I worked with people to help them understand how to use God's help as they fought major battles in their lives.
        3. Monday night I received an e-mail from Michael Cole sharing how many people read the lessons on our web site.
        4. Tuesday I received an anonymous letter.
      2. I have never before publicly discussed an anonymous letter.
        1. I will this morning for three reasons: I genuinely believe the person loves me; I am confident the person prays for me; I know the person is hurting.
        2. "I will try to be gentle. I aim to be kind. But I do have a point to make. I need to be fed from the word! I don't know how you select the topics you do, but from my seat, I go away unfulfilled, uninspired and upset..."
      3. "That must have upset you!"
        1. No, it did not upset me; I felt a deep sense of sadness for the person.
        2. I do not know who this person is, but I do know this person is a friend.
        3. The note talked about how much the person loves me and prays for me, and I believe that is the truth.
        4. It made me sad to know that someone thought that he or she could not talk to me.
        5. I never want to be the kind of person someone fears; I want to be a person who is approachable because I care.
    3. One of the things I really value in this congregation is its diversity.
      1. Some of you live in a really tough world every day of your life.
      2. Some of you live in a very opportune world every day of your life.
      3. Some of you have very limited opportunity.
      4. Some of you have incredible opportunity.
      5. No matter what happens in our personal worlds, I want us to be God's family.
        1. I want us to help people find God, depend on Jesus, and be filled with God's Spirit.
        2. I want people to come to Christ because they know they matter to God, and they matter to God's family.

[Prayer: Father, we thank you for the life and forgiveness that you provide us in Jesus. Thank you for your mercy and grace. Thank you for the privilege of being Your family. Help us place our confidence in You and Your Son without fear. Help us open our hearts and minds so You can sustain us.]

Please let me make a confession. There is nothing I can say in thirty minutes on Sunday morning to meet every need present. So let me ask you to do these things.

  1. Understand that you can never exhaust God's grace, and you never exhaust God's grace by using it. But also understand that you must never abuse God's grace. You abuse it if you frivolously take it for granted.

  2. Understand that you can never exhaust Jesus Christ's forgiveness, and you never exhaust Jesus' forgiveness by repenting and accepting it. But also understand that you must never abuse Jesus' forgiveness. You abuse it if you frivolously take it for granted.

  3. This is my plea. Do more than declare that Jesus is Lord. Let Jesus direct your life, but also let him be your good shepherd. Understand what it means to let Jesus be Christ in your life. Allow Jesus to do for you what he wanted to do when he died.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 8 October 2000

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