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February 14, 2015

The Church is Meant for the Saved

By Anthony Wade

This may be difficult for many to hear but the church was not intended for the lost...


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And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awecame upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. - Acts 2: 42-47 (ESV)

Sometimes there are subjects I shy away from. Things that might make me uncomfortable to write about because they brush back against many good teachers of the Word. Remember beloved no one is perfect. Everyone sins and is flawed. I have consistently written that it is only the pure arrogance of man that can think he has figured all of an infinite God out. Yet despite my personal unease, God eventually makes plain when I have ducked the subject for too long and this is one of those moments. This is one of those devotionals I hope makes people think. I mean really think. Consider how we do church and how God intended for us to do church. To consider the possibility that one of the underpinnings of the modern church is flawed. I do not even mean the apostate church. I mean nearly every church. I sometimes joke about "today's deep theology" when the point is not very deep at all but today it is. Beloved, the church is not meant for the lost.

Now calm down for a minute. I know all of the quaint theologies and trite sayings. I know all about the concept that we are a "hospital for the sinner." I know all about how the church is a "triage unit" for those going to hell. How the church is not supposed to be a "museum for the saints." I have heard it all. I believed it all. Yet whenever I read the Bible on these matters the Holy Spirit kept leading me to a different conclusion. A more truthful conclusion. It probably started by observing the false churches that preach false gospels. They market so heavily towards the world that the true sheep of God are starving to death. The purpose driven model is unashamedly about the lost. Granted they distort the Gospel so bad that few actually get saved but you cannot argue that everything is geared towards the unsaved (even if Rick Warren now refers to them as unchurched). These revelations however led me to examine even the churches that are preaching the true Gospel and even there they share this notion that the church is somehow in the business of rescuing the lost. I think when one abandons how they were raised to believe and simply lets Scripture be their guide, you must conclude that this premise is inaccurate. Let us start with understanding who are the lost:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. - 1Corinthians 2: 14 (ESV)

Beloved there is no question that the Bible teaches us that the things of God are utter foolishness to those who are lost. While we might know that I think we abandon it too easily. Quoting Bible verses to the lost is like speaking Chinese to someone who only speaks English. Discussing biblical principles with the lost is equally silly. They might understand them from an academic perspective. Possibly even a secular moral perspective. They can appreciate the beauty of the poetry of the Psalms for example but without the Holy Spirit indwelt to lead them into all truth that will not see it from the perspective of God. So in some ways, the seeker friendly, purpose driven model is actually accurate to spend their Sundays preaching about nonsense because at least those they are marketing to might understand it. That does not however mean it is as God intended. The world is walking in darkness. That is why they do not understand what we believe. Now that we have established who they are - who are we?

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. - Hebrews 5: 11-14 (ESV)

The Bible makes plain that when we come to salvation in Christ we are born again. We are in fact, babes in Christ. We must grow into maturity. Think for a minute about the utter insanity then of the purpose driven model. Newly "saved" people are baptized as quickly as possible and plugged into ministry. I personally know people who were made leaders when they were still living in sin. When they were not even reading the Bible. When they in fact were not even saved. True growth takes time beloved. It takes time to learn the Word of God. To understand spiritual warfare. To learn true discernment. Look at these verses! Sometimes we need to be taught the basic principle of the oracles of God. We learn at the beginning on milk and eventually grow enough to start being fed spiritual meat - the deeper things of God. Where is this supposed to happen? Life groups? Give me a break. It is supposed to happen in church. Not occasionally either but all the time. The sad truth today is we have entire congregations completely unskilled in the word of righteousness coming to church every week and being abandoned. Instead of hearing the Gospel by which they can grow they hear seven steps to a better you and how to improve your marriage. It is no wonder that the average time someone spends in a church these days is less than three years. By that point you have heard all the self help and motivation you can stomach. You have seen the rank hypocrisy and realize that what you see in church you can get in the world without having to get up early on a Sunday. The model however does not care about this. Rick Warren teaches young pastors the concept of "blessed subtraction"; where it is OK to encourage people to leave your church. You just got to find someone to replace them come offering time. Believe me beloved, you can build a church that way but it will have absolutely nothing to do with building the kingdom of God.

So let us turn to the key verses today from the early church in the Book of Acts. This is the first time we see the fellowship of believers after the first sermon ever by Peter that saw 3000 saved. The church was beginning. What do we see? What can we learn about how the early church operated in relation to who the lost and saved are? The first thing we see is they devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and the fellowship. Now, this does not mean fellowshipping as we think of it today where we go out to the diner after church. It means to each other. To the community of believers. They were devoted to each other because they were unified in Christ and his teachings. You see it all starts with teaching. It always starts with doctrine. That is the unifying principle of our faith. Well who are we talking about here? We are talking about the saved! You cannot start with the apostles teachings with the unsaved because they are foolishness to them. Not only that but the text here says they devoted themselves to this. You cannot expect that kind of commitment from someone who does not even understand what is being taught spiritually. The sad truth is this level of devotion is sorely lacking in most churches because of this flawed notion that they are there to cater to the lost. While we are on the subject. What were they teaching? Was it life principles? How to be more confident at the temple? How to be prosperous in the fishing trade? No. It was the Scriptures and the teachings of the Apostles! It was not catered to the lost but to the saved. There was also a devotion to the breaking of bread and to prayer. These are not things for the lost either.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. - 1Corinthians 11: 27-32 (ESV)

Take a look at these verses. Does this look unimportant to God? Holy communion is supposed to be a sacred ordinance established by God Himself at the last supper? Partaking in an unworthy manner makes one guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord! One can actually drink temporal judgment upon oneself! Can these verses really be meant for unbelievers? Of course not! They do not even pretend to understand communion conceptually, let alone the gravity of it. Even as these verses end Paul makes a clear delineation between the saved and the world, who already stands condemned. Why is this important? Again these verses are dealing with what the early church looked like. Teaching, prayer, communion. These are things for the saved beloved; not the lost. The collective awe that is supposed to come over every believer when signs and wonders accompany the preaching of the Word. Not these cheap parlor trick knock offs we see blamed on the Holy Ghost today. As if God is going to cheapen Himself to become some dime store magician to impress the unsaved. No beloved. The Gospel is what changes hearts. What does the very next verse say?

And all who believed were together and had all things in common.

Yes they even sold all of their goods for the common good. No one who shared in the fellowship lacked for any needs. That is the design of God. All who believed were together. They had all things in common. They went to service together. They broke bread in fellowship in their homes together. They praised God and had His favor. Then we come to the most important part of the key verses. The part that exposes the purpose driven church for the lie that it is. The part that exposes the seeker friendly theologies for the frauds they are. You see, pastors today are taught that they are responsible for the horizontal growth of their church. That church growth is a product of secular leadership principles, vision casting, and treating the bride of Christ as if it were just another business venture. Here is the deep theology for today - pastors are not responsible for the horizontal growth of their churches. It says so right in the key verses:

And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Do you get that today? The LORD added to their number day by day those who were being saved. No cheap gimmicky church growth schemes. No leadership seminars. Pastors are responsible for the vertical growth of the sheep entrusted to them. They are responsible for their care, discipleship and development. If one pastor has been given 200 sheep and the vast majority end up in heaven then he will get "well done my good and faithful servant." Not so for the man with 50,000 goats who have been lied to about their own conversion. Their blood will be on his head:

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. - Acts 20: 26-27 (ESV)

This is Paul saying goodbye to the elders at Ephesus. What is the clear implication? That had he not preached the whole Gospel their blood would have been on his head. Had he watered it down, sweetened it up, tried to make it relevant and hip or otherwise altered the life saving Gospel of Jesus Christ then he would be guilty for the consequences on the hearers. Look what happened just a chapter earlier in Ephesus:

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. - Acts 19: 8-10 (ESV)

Did Paul cater his message to those who did not believe? Absolutely not. In fact when they became obstinate he left. He took his disciples, those who were already saved, and left. By changing his location and not appealing to the lost, everyone in the region got to hear the Word of the Lord. That is supposed to be the goal beloved. Preach the Gospel. When the saved come together in fellowship each week and hear the Gospel they will grow together in unity of doctrine. They will go from spiritual milk to spiritual meat. The pastor is therefore tending to his flock.

But Preacher, what about the lost? What about them? They need to hear the Gospel as well. They need to hear it preached. When they come to the church and they hear the Word of God they will be drawn. The Bible says only those that the Father draws may come. They will either respond to that drawing or they will not. The cold hard reality is far too many preachers today have no faith in the Gospel. They think they have to entertain the goats. They think they have to use smoke machines and strobe lights. They think that sermons need to be short and related to the lives the lost lead. Are you kidding me? Jesus message was repent for the kingdom of God is at hand! The lost do not need tips on how to improve the life that is consigning them to hell. They need to hear that they must give it up:

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. - Matthew 16: 24-27 (ESV)

You will not hear these verses in many churches today because they would not be deemed seeker friendly. Yet they are truth. When the truth is no longer considered "seeker friendly" then you must realize that what is being sought is a lie and you are a willing liar. At the core of these problems though is the overall faulty premise that the church is for the lost. Not if you read the Bible. Yes there is the Great Commission but that is us going into the world, not us inviting the world into our community. Beloved let me be clear. I am all for the lost coming to church if the Gospel is really being preached. The Gospel that has the words of eternal life. The Gospel that can save their lives eternally and forgive their sin sick souls. If they are coming however to hear a rocking band, witness a grand stage show, and hear three sermon points about relevance and a cloud of dust I would just as soon see them stay home.

I know this rubs against the grain of how we were raised to believe in our faith. I know from a carnal humanistic perspective it makes more sense to go after the people who need the salvation of God. The way God operates however is above our ways. Here is what is really going on. When we target the lost with our marketing schemes, relevant sermons, and entertainment we are thinking we can save them. We cannot beloved. Only God can. Only the Gospel can. The entertainment distracts them from God. The sermons relevant to their lives focus them on things that cannot save them. The marketing schemes are as empty as the promises they will hear. They need to see the community of believers who are unified by correct doctrine. What would be the benefit if churches started to correctly cater to the saved? First of all we would have a more mature body. There would be more on spiritual meat than milk. You cannot argue that the current state of the body of Christ is beyond malnourished. We are raising a generation of biblically illiterate churchgoers. Besides a more mature body we would have a stronger unity based upon correct doctrine. As God intended. You think you have unity at your church? Try leaving it and see how woefully thin those relationships are. The purpose driven model is designed to build the individual church building, not the kingdom of God. Thirdly, we would have far less false teaching. It simply would not be tolerated because the unified mature believers would have better discernment and would not allow it. It is staggering to look out across Christendom and see what Christians fall for. Gem stones, glory clouds, holy laughter, drunk and stoned in the spirit, gold dust, false signs and lying wonders, clairvoyance and ESP passed off as prophecy. Is it any wonder? When they hear every Sunday about six life principles for how to be more significant instead of hearing the Gospel that will help them grow in Christ? Lastly, we would see more real conversions for Christ. The fastest growing mission field in the world is in the pews of America. Because false gospels preached by deceived men result in sham altar calls without any true understanding of sin and repentance. Millions of people walking the broad path while thinking their darkness is actually light. Preaching the real Gospel however will lead to genuine conversions.

So, pastors - feed your sheep! They have been entrusted to you from mighty God! Feed them the Gospel every single week. Do not use the pulpit of God for politics, cultural nonsense, or the outrage of the week. Remember the church is supposed to be different. Teach your sheep how to be that difference. Do not worry if there are unsaved visitors in the pews. It is the preached Gospel that saves them! Not you! God will add to your number as He sees fit! I know this is a hard lesson but the church, your church, is meant for the saved.

Reverend Anthony Wade - February 14, 2015

Authors Bio:
Credentialed Minister of the Gospel for the Assemblies of God. Owner and founder of 828 ministries. Vice President for Goodwill Industries. Always remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.