Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Timothy 1:1-2).
When you bring up the notion of church in our culture, a number of different responses arise—and not all of them are good responses. It seems the only time churches get mentioned on the news is due to some moral or financial failure. We know that’s not true in every case, but it sure seems true watching the 10:00 news. Some have trouble with the church because it’s the one active sector in society that does not pay taxes as a religious, non-profit organization.
But many have trouble with the church because of the claims she makes about truth. This past Thursday, four of us went to a meeting with a gathering of Denver Baptist pastors (aka, our Mile High Baptist Association) to listen to a gentleman named Hunter Beaumont speak. He’s a pastor here in Denver who is doing well in connecting with those in our city who are not connected with a church yet. His talk was about Being Church in and for Post-Christian Culture. He noted that American culture has historically been shaped by the Christian worldview. As a result, almost all Americans have values and instincts that would not be possible without the historic influence of Christianity. Today, however, most are not practicing Christian. Many even see Christianity and the Church as an obstacle to the good life they desire.
This is a tension that’s only around for unbelievers, but also believers. The predominant religion in this country is secularism, which says that you can have a good and fulfilling life without God. There was a time when home and school and church all taught the same values which were informed by a Christian worldview. Not so now. In our colleges, there’s 12 secular professors for every 1 conservative who has some tie to a Judeo-Christian ethic.
When asked which books qualify as Holy Books (Bible, Koran, Torah, Book of Mormon), the following say “None of these.”
• Elders (born before 1945): 7%
• Boomers (born from 1946-1964): 8%
• Gen-Xers (born from 1965-1983ish): 18%
• Millennials (born after 1983): 22%
We also see that those who are not religiously affiliated at all are rising. Colorado is at 29% (the highest is Vermont at 37%).
Churches are tempted to move, too. Francis Schaeffer noted, “Tell me what the world is saying today, and I’ll tell you what the church will be saying seven years from now.” Numerous articles tell of how those churches who seek to capitulate to the world are actually shrinking, and those which stick to the convictions of Scripture are actually staying steady or growing.
Why do we need to dig into 1 and 2 Timothy here and now? Because our churches need to recapture the sufficiency of Christ in His resurrected glory and saving gospel now more than ever, regardless of what our culture dictates. And because of the glory of the gospel that saves and shows us that Jesus is alive, that glory and beauty must translate into a life that draws others to Jesus.
The church submits to the authority of Christ himself.
At the very beginning, you see in verse 1, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” Epistles in that day started off with the one who is writing the letter. And given the nature of the letter, Paul reminds Timothy (and us) of what gives him the authority to write a letter of this magnitude.
Paul was sent (which is what the office of apostle means, sent to an area where no other witness is) by Christ, for Christ. In this letter, Christ is speaking through Paul. But how did this come about?
The first time we see Paul, he was referred to as Saul of Tarsus. In Acts 7, one of the deacons of the Jerusalem church named Stephen who, when arrested and brought before the authorities. In that time, Stephen recounted the entire history of the OT, then rightly pinned the blame on the killing of God’s messengers on their forefathers, and pinned the killing of their Savior, the Messiah, Jesus, on them as well. They stopped their ears, rushed him out of the city, and stoned him (that is, with actual stones). The authorities didn’t want to hear it.
Saul of Tarsus watched their cloaks while they did their work. Soon, as it says in Acts 8:3, “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,[c]blameless (Philippians 3:4b-6).
But in Acts 9, as he’s on his rampage toward the city of Damascus in modern-day Syria, Christ appeared to him! Yes, that Christ. Remember last Sunday how we celebrated Christ rising from the dead? Paul met him firsthand and saw the reality of what these folks whom he was through into prison were preaching about. The first question Jesus asks?
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” All Paul could muster was, “Who are you, Lord?” To which Christ replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what to do” (Acts 9:4-6). And it is here that Paul, immediately surrendering to Jesus’ teaching, receives instruction about the nature of the church. While there exists an institutional aspect and an organizational structure that many use as reasons to stay away from church (we shall discuss this later), ultimately and primarily, the church is the body of Jesus Christ. When anyone persecuted believers, they are persecuting Him because of our unity in Christ.
You see, Paul persecuted the church because it was so captured by the beauty of Christ and His good news, knowing that He lives in resurrected glory, that they lived out a passionate, hopeful, joyful life as disciples of Him. Even in the midst of persecution, Jesus was enough. John Stott once said, “Today, the church is not persecuted so much as ignored. Its revolutionary message has been reduced to a toothless creed for bourgeois suburbanites. Nobody opposes it any longer, because really there is nothing to oppose.” Paul says, “Christ has called us to salvation, to sanctification in our Christian walk, and to serve Him by showing in words and actions who Jesus is!” The world will take notice. Some will be repelled, some will be compelled. Some will say, “Enough of Jesus,” while others will see that we believe Jesus is enough.