THE GRACE BASED CHURCH - UNAPOLOGETICALLY CHRISTOCENTRIC
by Pastor Mike Fortune
October 9, 2010
- In witnessing [Philippians 1:12-14; Matthew 5:14]
- In motives [Philippians 1:15-18; Romans 12:9]
- In doctrine of end times [Philippians 1:19; Romans 13:11]
According to the 1990 and 2000 monumental studies of Adventist youth entitled ValueGenesis, meaningful Bible study and worship, active ordinary outreach, and a grace based church are three of the most influential factors contributing to a positive outlook about God and lasting interest of our young people in the church. Interestingly, these three factors can also be found among fifteen others most helpful in reaching the largest growing mission field in America—the unchurched. At least that’s what the Christian researcher Thom Rainer says in his book Surprising Insights to the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them. If you hang out here for even a short period of time, you’ll quickly realize that we think meaningful Bible study and worship in the 21st century includes showing video clips and reading large portions of Scriptures without skipping around a lot because many of us are visual learners and want to know what these words written really meant to its audience and to us today.
If you return tomorrow for the 4th Annual Kidz Crazy Car Show, you’ll better understand what we mean by “active ordinary outreach” as well. Matthew 10:42 says, “If you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” Luke 6:35 adds, “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid.”
But undoubtedly when I refer to these three key factors that shape why we do what we do, the question I get asked the most is “What is a grace-based church?” People of all ages ask me this question. As if there really is a Biblical alternative. As if we could be anything but a grace based church! But sadly, there is. Dr. Sandra Wilson in Appendix E of her fantastic little book Hurt People Hurt People which we’re discussing with the community on Wednesday nights [see me after if you don’t have a copy yet], elaborates on what a “shame-full church family” looks like and how the “some-grace theology” effects the lives of the people bound by it. She compares that group with another called the “grace-full church family” that depends on a Biblical “grace-based” theology. Which is where I got the term to describe this 3rd key factor.
Certainly part of the answer to becoming a “grace-based” church is found in the first two key factors. A grace based church has meaningful Bible study and worship in addition to active ordinary outreach. But I think there’s more to it than that. And the book of Philippians does a fantastic job of clarifying this third factor that research inside and outside the Adventist church says will help us keep our kids and reach others. So that’s what we’re going to be looking for and studying together this fall as we continue our series on the book of Philippians I’ve entitled: The Grace Based Church. Last time, we discovered from Philippians 1:1-11 that the Grace Based Church prays with joy for faithful friends, for God’s salvation, and for God’s sanctification. Today, we’ll notice that the Grace Based Church is unapologetically Christocentric in its witnessing, motives, and doctrines—even of the end times. So let’s dig in.
Philippians 1:12-19 says, “12And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.13For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.14And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God's message without fear. 15It's true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives.16They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News.17Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me.18But that doesn't matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. 19For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.”
Some of you may recall that Philippi was originally known as Krenides or “the place of small fountains”, but that the city was rebuilt in 356 BC by Philip of Macedon—the father of Alexander the Great—and named Phillipi in his honor. A few hundred years later, In 49 or 50 AD, the city was visited by the apostle Paul during his second missionary journey. And several years after that, on his way back to Jerusalem form his 3rd missionary journey, Acts 20:6 says Paul returned to Phippi for Passover where he undoubtedly enjoyed the company of this little grace based group of believers that included faithful friends such as Lydia and her family and the jailer whose life and job Paul and Silas saved in Acts 16.
But the reason I think the Grace Based Church is unapologetically Christocentric in its witnessing is because of verses 12-14 in chapter one. Paul says that everything that has happened to him has helped him spread the Good News about Christ. And what has happened to him most recently? After returning to Jerusalem by way of Troas and Miletus [cf. Acts 20:6, 13-16], Acts 21:27-30 says the Jews mobbed Paul because they thought he had desecrated the temple by bringing a Gentile into it. Roman soldiers came to Paul's rescue and took him into their custody [cf. Acts 21:31-33]. Paul then became entangled in the Roman judicial system. He was taken to the Roman governor Felix in the provincial capital of Caesarea. Acts 24:24-27 says Felix kept Paul imprisoned there for two years hoping that he might receive a bribe from Paul for his freedom. But that never happened and after Festus succeeded Felix as governor, Paul resorted to his right as a Roman citizen and appealed his case to Caesar in Rome [cf. Acts 25:9-11]. En route, Acts 27 and 28 describes how his ship was wrecked in a storm off the island of Malta.
Paul finally arrived in Rome around 60AD and Acts 28:16 says, “When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier.” Though he was under house arrest, Paul was able to conduct a limited ministry. He was able to receive visitors, such as the Jewish leaders of the synagogue in Rome. Acts 28:23 says, “So a time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul's lodging. He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening.”
Now, I’m not going to do that today. Although I could! Because the pages in this book are all about Christ. You can pick any place you want and end up with Christ. Which is why I say we should be unapologetically all about Christ! In our witnessing. In our motives. In our doctrines. Paul wrote his letters to the Colossians, to Philemon, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians while under this house arrest in Rome between 61 and 63AD. But notice, his chains in verse 13 don’t stop him from freely witnessing about Christ. So neither should anything else that binds us either.
That shop teacher in a public school from our video clip earlier has found a way to witness about Christ in public school. We’re very fortunate to have Toledo Junior Academy here where 60 students can learn more about Jesus every day in every class without having to be so careful that what they say about Jesus could be controversial. Three of the four classrooms are full and kindergarten has a wait list. We need more classroom space. In addition to a gymnasium so these kids can run and play during the winter months. Please consider finding donors to this fund or adding the gymnasium into your will. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.” And kids understand this. And they take this witnessing responsibility seriously. Just this last week, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a hand written note in my box from our very own Allen Gustrowsky. With his permission, I’d like to read it to you: “Dear Paster Mike, Thank you for your preaching. I like listening to you. You will find two dollars folded in here. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality Romans 12:13. From Allen Gustrowsky.”
BIG thank you and WTG to you Allen. Allen’s note really picked me up this week. Some of you know my mom was hospitalized again with mini-strokes so I spent a couple days with her in the hospital. She’s doing better now after a bunch of tests. Thank you for your continued prayers. But what his note reminded me of is that kids get point number one: The grace based church is unapolgetically Christocentric in our witnessing. Like Paul, we do this despite the chains that bind us or drag us down so that more and more people will know the Good News about Christ. And when kids witness about Christ, through bells or choirs or hand written notes, people pay more attention. Am I right or am I right? You guys will probably forget everything else I say today, but you’ll remember Allen’s note. Christocentric witnessing works.
Moving on, it’s important to do this for the right reasons though. Philippians 1:15 says, “15It's true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives.” Did you know its possible to preach without being Christ centered? Who knew? But apparently, it is possible. It was happening in Paul’s day.
The apostle does not mention the cause of this rivalry. It would seem, however, that even in Rome there was a party that was jealous of Paul and supposed that his imprisonment was a good opportunity to diminish his influence and to strengthen their own standing. While he was under house arrest, they had access to the mass of people. And they could preach Christ while attacking Paul for “not making it more difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” [cf. Acts 15:19 NIV].
But Paul, consistent with the Good News of grace, responds gracefully. That, by the way, is the easiest way to see if you’re part of a grace based church. Do the people in it, especially those in leadership, respond gracefully? Especially to people who are falsely accusing them? If they don’t, then that’s a big red flag for you.
But real leaders of Jesus and true followers of His are unapologetically Christocentric in their motives as well. They witness and share because of their love for each other and for Christ [cf. Philippians 1:16]. They preach sincerely. Not with selfish ambition [cf. Philippians 1:17]. They don’t have to have the last word because they know it’s Christ who builds the church not them. Isn’t that what Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:18? “Upon this rock I will build my church.”
No doubt, when asked, we should have something to say.1 Peter 3:15 says “If someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.” Paul did that. Paul told Felix and Festus and Agrippa the same thing over and over. His motives were pure. Romans 12:9 adds, “Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.”
Point number two: The grace based church is unapologetically Christocentric in its motives. And then lastly, look at verse 19. “For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.” Yes, as we discovered last time in Philippians 1:4-5, the grace based church is a praying church. In addition, as we’re discovering today, it is a Christocentric church in witness and motive. But where it has to be especially unapologetic is in point number three: The grace based church is unapologetically Christocentric in doctrine of end times.
I say so because growing up in a Christian home, going to Christian schools, and now leading in a Christian environment, there are times when I sense that we are not Christocentric when it comes to doctrines of end times. I’ll give you an example. Every few months or so, something happens in the news and more Muslims get blamed. Periodically, I’ll receive an email about the latest thing the pope or the president is up to and they get blamed. A catastrophic thing will occur and insurance companies will tell us that God gets the blame.
Now I don’t know what the motives are behind some of these websites and emails and conclusions people reach about these things. But I suspect there’s more to it than we think. Because all too often, the overwhelmingly number of things that are reported are negative or scary. Whether or not its entirely true is not as important as whether or not it sells a paper or gets forwarded. Gossip these days is spread more quickly through cyber space than from your face. And much of it, regardless of topic, ends with this request: “If you really love Jesus, you’ll forward this to everyone you know.” After watching or reading what precedes some of these sincere requests, I’m often dumbfounded into speechlessness. Really? If I love Jesus, you want me to actually share this other people? Respectfully, I disagree. And as mid-term elections near, we should continue to do so.
Recently, I received an email from a pastor friend who was forwarding it to me from another pastor friend [yes, we pastors have difficulty with this teaching too], and inside it was all about the latest accusations of the emerging church and the conference on innovation. Which always confuse me because 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 says the church has always been emerging and will continue to do so since now we know in part...later we’ll know in full. But right now, we’re like a poor reflection in a mirror. So I could try to give you a definition of the emerging church, but from what I understand of the term, the definition of it includes the conclusion that there is no definition of it—simply because it hasn’t emerged yet! So it’s a catch-all term to describe what we think the church could look like as the 21st century proceeds. And because methods to reach the rapidly changing world rapidly change, there is fear that the message of the Gospel will be lost or compromised. That the church we grew up in will be different.
And the fear mongers are right about that. A grace based church intent on keeping our kids and reaching others must look different in its worship and service and feel than the one we had before. Because we are perfectly organized to get the results we’re already getting. If we want to reach others in a different time and place, things must change. It’s like Pastor Nathan says, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”
But that doesn’t mean the message or the significant truths about the church change with it. A group of us just returned from the 4th Annual Conference on Innovation in Columbus, Ohio. It’s a 3 day spiritual retreat full of thought provoking speakers. We can only take about 8 people each year so if you want to come next time, please let me know. But its at events like these where I feel most fully recharged and motivated to continue doing what research inside and outside the Adventist church has encouraged us to do. I don’t return feeling depressed and discouraged and cynical about the end times in which we live. I feel encouraged and empowered.
So why don’t we spend twice as much time documenting how God is at work in the church and world instead of digging up dirt on the devil and what he might be doing next? Don’t you think this is a much more productive use of our time and energy? As 2 Corinthians 10:17-18 says, “If you want to boast, boast only about the LORD” [my paraphrase]. Yes, the devil is “roaring lion seeking to destroy” so we must assume he will be actively trying to do so. But last time I checked, Jesus said “Greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world” [John 16:33 NIV].
That means that as sobering and scary and very possible is the devil’s dirty work in the end times, even greater is the inspiring and loving and also very possible work of the Lord. It’s why Steve Case summarizes the 3rd angel’s message of Revelation 14 with these two words: “Love wins.” Matthew 24:8 says a bunch of bad stuff will happen. But Matthew 24:13-14 adds, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”
That’s good news! My pastor friend Samir says it this way. “In the end, it’s eventually going to be good. So if it’s not good now, it’s not the end.” Another friend of mine, Chuck, when asked about what he would do if he was working in the capital building shortly after 9/11 when the threat of anthrax was a possibility, he replied, “Breathe deep.” Paul says in Philippians 1:19, “For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.” Paul could breathe deep because he knew that deliverance is good news. He knew that the Gospel going to the whole world is good news—even if he was still in chains. He wasn’t overwhelmed in a sea of negativity and conspiracy theory even though he actually had a right to be!
So yes, pay attention. Be aware. But not so we can forward fear. Pay attention so we can build up Christ! And if we do, Christ has promised that He will build up His church [cf. Matthew 16:18]. Romans 13:11 says it this way: “This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”
A grace based church is unapologetically Christocentric in its witnessing, in its motives, and in its doctrines of the end time. It’s always been about Christ and what God has done and is doing and will do. At Toledo Junior Academy and everywhere else, let’s keep it that way. To God be all the headlines and the glory. Amen.