Deliver Us From Community Club Religion
Most community clubs that I know of make valuable contributions to the life of the town where they reside. Some of you here today belong to community clubs. Some of you belong to the Rotary Club; some of you belong to the Horticultural Society; some of you belong to the local Fair board, and some of you belong to a local lodge.
I do not doubt that belonging to a community club can be a positive experience. And I do not doubt that these clubs can meaningfully serve the community. What I object to, however, is when churches begin to function like community clubs. It is a fine thing that you serve the community through various community organizations. Keep up the good work!
Yet, I implore you this morning, do not make the mistake of thinking that St. Andrew's/Fraser Presbyterian Church is one of your community clubs.
Yes, our church meets in a particular community. And, yes, our church serves this community. It may be true that the fellowship we enjoy in the church is similar to what we find in our community clubs. It may even be the case that there are similarities in how we run our meetings. However, it must be noted that there are some profound differences between the Church and your typical community club.
Let me give you one fundamental difference between the church and the community club. I do not know enough about each community club to tell you who ultimately heads that club, but I can tell you that the "head" of any community club is significantly different than the Head of the Church.
The Head of the Church, of course, is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Other organizations may respect Christ. Other organizations may, at times, appeal to His teachings, but there is not a community club that I know of where Christ is the authoritative figure. And I know of no other organization than the church to have been purchased by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28).
I raise this issue this morning because I fear that many churches have descended from their intended purpose, and have simply become community clubs.
The biblical examples of this are more numerous than I would like to admit to you. Both the Israelites of the old covenant and the New Testament Church were constantly fighting the temptation to function like a community club. And, if this has been an ongoing struggle for the people of God in the past, we would be foolish to think we are immune to a community club approach to Christianity in the present.
What I expect us to see in the Scriptures before us this morning is how a community club approach to Christianity is a sin. Now, that statement may not immediately ring true to you because you know that community clubs are good, and that they do good things. We may be tempted to conclude then, that even if a church descends from its original purpose, it still descends to something positive--a community club. But this is not the way God sees it.
You have heard Amos 5 read this morning. You have heard what God thinks of religion that lacks inward devotion. But perhaps you found it difficult to have your conscience pierced by a rebuke to the ancient Israelites. Let me offer you then, a paraphrase reading of Amos 5:21-24:
"Thus says the Lord of hosts . . . I hate, I despise, your Christmas festival, and I take no delight in your solemn services of worship. Even though you celebrate communion, and even though you put $20 in the collection plate, I will not accept your offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your hymns; I will not listen to the sound of your pianos. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream."
What God is saying to the Israelites, He also says to us--If we are not committed to worshipping God properly, we should not even bother. God is telling us, through the prophet Amos, that He is not interested in us going through the motions of worship. God is not interested in externals.
As we turn to Revelation, chapter 3, we see the church in Sardis engaged in a community club type of Christianity. Charles Spurgeon describes the church in Sardis by saying, "they had a vast deal of open profession, and but little of sincere religion." Of the church in Sardis, theologian, George Eldon Ladd, writes, "The problem of the church at Sardis was spiritual death."
Jesus begins, what is a rebuke to the church at Sardis, by stating, "I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead"(3:1). What shall we conclude from such a statement? "I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead"
I think it is safe to infer that "the spiritual decay in the church at Sardis was not obvious to outward observation"(Ladd). The church at Sardis, Jesus says, was alive in name only. That is to say that there were people in the pews. Their ad was in the local newspaper. They had a sign on the front lawn. They were even engaged in good deeds, Jesus says. The church at Sardis was busy with community service and the externals of religious activity, but they were devoid of spiritual life, and so Jesus says to them, "you are dead".
God forbid that this would ever describe the current state of affairs at St. Andrew's/Fraser! God forbid, that we would merely go through the motions of worship. God forbid that we would ever carry out the externals of religious activity while neglecting our relationship with Jesus Christ. God forbid that the ministry here ever be described as community club religion.
Community club religion would be so easy to fall into since many of us are so familiar with that structure. The attractiveness of community club religion is that it is a lot less demanding because it treats the church as an optional, volunteer, organization.
But we must not forget that the Head of our organization, the Lord Jesus Christ, will hold each of us accountable for how we go about the great business of worshipping Him.
Jesus calls the church at Sardis, and community club churches everywhere, to "Wake up" in verse 2. The good news in this rebuke is that, for those who have descended into a community club approach to religion, it is not too late to turn things around. It is not too late to awaken from spiritual lethargy.
It appears that the problem in Sardis was similar to the problem in Amos' day. The trouble was not so much "what" the people were doing, but "how" the people were doing it. Jesus says, "I have not found your works completed in the sight of My God"(3:2). It is not that the people of Sardis were doing the wrong things, it was that they were doing the right things in an imperfect manner.
This error, I believe, has relevance for every church and for every Christian. It is not enough for us to do the right things, if we do them in a manner that dishonours God. It is not enough for me to preach, it is not enough for us to sing and to share at the Lord's Table, it is not enough for you to serve the church, if you do so in a manner that dishonours God.
For those who have descended to a community club approach to Christianity, Jesus calls them, "Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not wakeup, I will come like a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you"(3:3).
Jesus calls them to "remember" the time when Christianity meant more than community service; when it meant more than occasional attendance at church; when it meant more than helping with a church dinner. He calls them to remember when they received the Gospel. He calls them to remember a time when seeking the kingdom of God was their first priority.
Would it not be helpful for us worshipping today to remember what "(we) have received and heard"? Would it not be helpful for us here to jealously guard the truth that Jesus is Lord of all, including our life? Jesus warns that if we do not wake up, He will come in judgment.
It would be so much easier, I think, if we approached church work in the same manner we approach our community clubs. Come and go as you please. Expect no one to hold you accountable. Help out when you have covered off the rest of your responsibilities.
I fear, however, that if we descend to this approach our church will exist in name only. I suspect this church can survive many years under a community club approach, but I doubt very much whether we can thrive in such an environment. I doubt very much that the Lord will honour and bless a church that engages only in the externals of religious activity.
But what if we do move beyond externals? What if we do "seek first the kingdom"? What if give Christ the highest priority in our life?
If we do this, God will bless us richly. To the faithful in Sardis, Jesus says, "a few (of you) have not soiled (your) garments; and (you) will walk with Me in white; for (you) are worthy"(3:4).
We often sing the hymn, "Just a closer walk with Thee, grant it Jesus is my plea". If that hymn truly describes your heart's desire, then you must abandon every trace of community club Christianity.
Seek first the kingdom of God, and you will know the joy of walking with Jesus Christ. Amen.