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January 20, 2013

In this issue: Churches...God-Centered or Man-Centered? by Sewell Hall | Where Is Our Sanctuary? by Roy Davison

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Church Entertainment versus orderly assembly

by Sewell Hall

Religion by its very definition would seem to involve God. The word godly means God-centered. However, there are those who practice a religion that is all about man rather than God. To say that such religion is ungodly is not to say that it is wicked, but simply that it is not centered in God.

Jesus described such people in his day in the words of Isaiah: "These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:8-9). Paul writes of those who are "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" while at the same time "holding a form of godliness" (2 Timothy 3:4-5). Jude describes some who are in the church, but are "ungodly men, who turn the grace of God into licentiousness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 4).

Why would ungodly individuals continue to profess religion? Some do so, "supposing that godliness is a way of gain" (1 Timothy 6:5). Others, like Diotrophes (3 John 9), love the preeminence that they have attained in the church. Or, like the rulers of John 12:43, they may love "the praise of men more than the praise of God."

Contrasting Churches

Local churches may be led either by godly or by ungodly men — that is, by men who are most concerned for God and things of the Spirit or by men whose concerns are primarily human and temporal. Such churches can be distinguished by the following:

Goals: Godly leaders have as their goal "the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things unto Him who is the head — Christ" (Ephesians 4:12-15). Men whose thinking is not dominated by God have as their primary goal increasing numbers — a big church. They consider numerical growth proof of God's approval.

Doctrine: Godly leaders are determined to abide in the doctrine of Christ and not to go beyond it (2 John 9). Not godly men, knowing that most of the public "will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4), provide the teachers that will tickle their ears.

Discipline: Godly leaders will insist that, in harmony with God's instructions, the church "withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly" (2 Thessalonians 3:6). Ungodly leaders advertise: "Come as you are" and boast that they are not judgmental, receiving everyone regardless of lifestyle.

Worship: Godly leaders insist that God be worshipped "acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28) while ungodly men place great emphasis on "worship" that pleases the public and they seem concerned only that everyone leave "feeling good about themselves" and eager to return.

Preachers: Godly leaders are not nearly as concerned with excellence of speech or of wisdom as that preachers be "determined not to know anything…save Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Ungodly leaders insist that preachers be entertaining and personally popular, even with the world.

Activities: Godly leaders test every proposed action by all the scriptures, determined to "do all in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17), while ungodly leaders offer whatever people want — sports, entertainment, education, feasts, travel - with little apparent concern for what God wants.

Testing Ourselves

The Bible blesses those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Matthew 5:6). By contrast it condemns those who have "pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:12). Our taste in churches will help us determine which we are.

How will a person who has "pleasure in unrighteousness" feel about a church whose goal above all other things is to remake him into the image of Christ, whose doctrine is "the apostles' teaching," a church where he is put on notice that he must live a godly life or be disfellowshipped, where worship is designed exclusively to please God, where preachers preach only the word of God — reproving, rebuking and exhorting — where activities are altogether spiritual?

On the other hand, how will one who is hungry and thirsty for righteousness feel about a church he visits where he receives nothing but entertainment, where the "sermons" are little more than jokes and pop psychology, where sin is never rebuked, sinners never convicted or exhorted, and where activities are the same as those offered at a public school, theater or country club.

What kind of church are you seeking — the church of your choice or the church of God's choice? A godly church or an ungodly church? ~

Where Is Our Sanctuary?

The word 'sanctuary' means a holy place. Under the New Covenant of Christ, no buildings or places are holy. Thus, a Christian place of assembly should never be called a sanctuary.

In accordance with Old Testament usage, the temple at Jerusalem is called 'the sanctuary' or 'the holy place' by New Testament writers: "For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp" (Hebrews 13:11). See also Matthew 24:15 and Acts 6:13.

It is made clear, however, that the temple at Jerusalem was only an earthly shadow of a heavenly reality. It is "an earthly sanctuary" (Hebrews 9:1). The true holy place is in heaven (Hebrews 9:11). "For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Hebrews 9:24).

By the grace of God, followers of Christ may also enter the sanctuary where Christ has already gone: "Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (Hebrews 10:19-22). Our hope in Christ is an anchor which reaches into the heavenly sanctuary! "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:19,20).

The place where Christians meet is never called a sanctuary in the New Testament because our only sanctuary is in heaven. Christians can call on the name of the Lord and pray "in every place" (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Timothy 2:8). Their prayers ascend to the throne of God in the heavenly sanctuary. The attitude of heart determines whether prayers are heard, not the place they are uttered.

Jesus explained this to the woman at the well after she said: "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship" (John 4:20). Jesus told her: "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:21-24).

As Stephen told the Jews: "The Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands" (Acts 7:48).

One writer, attempting to justify calling a church building a sanctuary, made the amazing assertion that a Christian place of worship is never called a sanctuary in the Bible because Christians had no special place to worship until after the last New Testament book was written! This is wrong on two counts.

In the letter of James, which is among the earlier books of the New Testament, mention is made of 'your synagogue' (James 2:2). The Greek word rendered here as 'assembly' in some translations is actually 'synagogue' which means a 'place of assembly'. Do not be confused by commentators who say this refers to a Jewish synagogue. James is writing to Christians (James 2:1) who had their own separate assemblies from the beginning (Acts 2:42) and who would have little to say as to where someone sat in a Jewish synagogue!

New Testament writers never emphasized the place of assembly because the true sanctuary is in heaven. Whether a meeting hall was rented, belonged to one of the brethren, or was owned by the congregation is not considered worthy of mention. In Acts 4:31 we do read of "the place where they were assembled together." The church at Troas met in "an upper room" (Acts 20:8). The church at Corinth came together at some central location where the Lord's supper was eaten, for any who were hungry were to eat 'at home' (1 Corinthians 11:34).

James' use of the word 'synagogue' indicates that Christians viewed their meeting places as similar to Jewish synagogues. Jews considered the temple to be the sanctuary. They did not classify their synagogues as 'holy places'.

Our only sanctuary is in heaven where the prayers of the saints rise up as incense before the throne of God (Revelation 5:8; 8:3,4). ~

Roy Davison

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