The Church at its Best

Some people are disappointed in the institutional church, and not without reason. Church life can be messy, with denominational differences, power struggles, theological compromise, misplaced priorities, and leadership scandals. There are as many faults in churches as there are sinners in churches, and we are all sinners in need of God’s grace. Churches are as imperfect as the people in them.

A friend once told me he had given up on organized religion. I asked him if he preferred disorganized religion!

It would be easy to get discouraged if it were not for the fact that Jesus Christ is the head of the universal church, which is his spiritual body. If local churches are unfaithful, or divided, or unwelcoming, or hurtful, the remedy is to remember that the true church is the body of Christ. Local churches are at their best when they are centered on him. They can descend into disfunction if they ignore or forget the headship of Christ.

When Paul wrote to the church at Colossae, he emphasized this fact. “He (Jesus) is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). A body without a head is powerless, grotesque and dead. William Barclay wrote, “Jesus Christ is the guiding spirit of the church; it is at his bidding the church must live and move.”

Some practical implications are spelled out in Colossians chapter 3. Jesus is to be central to everything in the life of the church. That is why the letter to the Colossians is filled with references to Jesus. Believers have been raised from spiritual death with Christ (3:1). Our lives are hidden with Christ in God (3:3). Christ is our life (3:4).

“Christ is all and in all” (3:11). Because the Spirit of Christ indwells all believers, there is no place in the church for division, discord, rivalry, and cultural, racial, or social barriers. When the head controls the body, it will be what it was designed to be. That is why Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (3:15). He added, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (3:17).

The author Rita Snowden wrote about her visit to a small town near Dover, England. She was having tea in the late afternoon, when she became aware of an overwhelmingly pleasant aroma filling the air. She asked the waiter about the source of the scent, and she was told that it came from the people passing by. He explained that those people worked in a perfume factory down the street and were on their way home. When they left the factory, they carried the fragrance that had permeated their clothing during the day’s work.

That is an illustration of what the church could be like when it is centered on Christ. We church members should be people who allow ourselves to be permeated with the attributes of Christ. Then when we go out into the world, the fragrance of the Lord goes with us. When the church gathers for worship, everyone will sense the aroma of his presence.

That is the church at its best.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

Memories of Mom

Mother’s Day found me remembering my mom, Magdalene Amstutz Faulkner. She was fine musician and a college music teacher. She had high standards for herself and she held her students to those same standards. “Trifles make perfection,” she would say, “and perfection is no trifle.”

Many were the nights I went to bed as a boy hearing her playing the piano, the music of the world’s great composers. She sought to achieve excellence in piano performance in the same way as her hero, J.S. Bach, pursued it, for God’s glory alone.

She worked hard at piano performance. Occasionally there were classical music recitals at the college in which she would perform.  She also composed arrangements of familiar hymns which she would be called upon to play for church meetings.

Mom loved the Bible and she read it daily. She read through the entire Bible many times. She taught a ladies’ Sunday school class for many years. As any good teacher knows, she learned and grew herself by studying the word of God in preparation for teaching.

When I was young, my mother reminded me regularly to read the Bible for myself. She and Dad sought to have a time of family devotions every day in which they read the Bible and prayed with my brothers and me.

Mother was a “world Christian” long before that term was coined by missiologists. She cared deeply about the worldwide expansion of the gospel. She loved and prayed for missionaries whom she knew, especially her two brothers. She followed a regular system of praying for different regions of the world on different days of the week.

She was unflappable. When my brothers and I were worked up about something, she would remain calm and even-tempered. She would respond with, “Rave on. You don’t worry me a bit!” Her gentle disposition was one of the qualities I admired about her.

She valued books. She was never without a book she was reading. If she had a chance, she would tell us about something she had read in a book of history, or a little-known fact she had discovered from reading a biography. She was a lifelong learner.

She was approachable. I always felt I could talk to my mom about what was going on in my world and in the world at large. She would respond with wisdom, humility and good sense. I do not remember her having much interest in reading the newspaper, and I know she did not watch tv news very often. But somehow she  was aware of trends and people in politics, and she shared her views when she was asked about them.

I regularly thank God for my mother and her example to me.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

Not a “One and Done”

Not long ago I was made aware of an article that appeared in the April edition of Franklin Graham’s Decision magazine. It featured my son-in-law, John Mark Eager and The Mailbox Club, the ministry he directs. It is an international mission reaching children with the gospel and providing discipleship materials to help them grow in their faith.

The story in Decision highlighted The Mailbox Club’s plans to offer free follow-up to children who attend vacation Bible schools across America this summer. VBS programs in many churches are coming soon.

I am writing to suggest that you contact the VBS coordinators in your church. Let them know about The Mailbox Club and what they have to offer. The website, www.tmc4kids.org, has information about how to enroll kids in a systematic plan of age-appropriate discipleship training for children.

It is easy to see sample Bible lessons and to learn how to use them to engage the church in follow-up with children. The Decision magazine article is available for you to read at The Mailbox Club website too. Look for it in the upper left hand corner of the home page.

The choice between no summer follow-up and high quality, biblically faithful discipleship is an easy one to make. There is no cost to your church and The Mailbox Club will send out automatic monthly reports.

VBS should not be a “one-and-done” event. It can and should be the beginning of a growing relationship children have with the Lord Jesus.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

PS — Please forward this to ministry leaders who care about reaching kids with the good news.

Only One Way?

In school you may have read the poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” by John Godfrey Saxe. It describes how six blind men wanted to learn what an elephant was like. Each explored a different part of the elephant, and each had a different way of describing it. When examined from the side, the animal resembled a wall. From its tusk, it seemed like a spear; from its trunk, like a snake,  from its ear, a fan, from its tail, a rope.

“And so these men from Indostan / disputed loud and long. / Each in his own opinion / exceeded stiff and strong / though each was partly in the right / and all were in the wrong!”

The author was making a theological point. He wanted his readers to assume that there is more than one way to think about reality, more than one way to God.

The way our world is today, the problem with Christians is that we think we have the only way to salvation. We claim to worship the only true God. To many people, this is narrow minded bigotry.

Philip Ryken wrote, “Insisting that Jesus is the only way is an especially unpopular stance in a culture based on freedom of choice. . . . Religion is now called a ‘preference,’ which makes it sound like  a soft drink or a shade of paint. If you can go to the college of your choice, root for the football team of your choice, watch the cable channel of your choice, and eat the yogurt of your choice, why can’t you pray to the god of your choice?”

Colossians is a letter written by Paul to first century  believers living in a city which was a hotbed of religious and cultural pluralism. Colossae had a mixture of the pagan gods of Rome, Greek philosophy, eastern mysticism, and Jewish legalism. Many of these influences were blended into  a system of thought that was a precursor to Gnosticism.

This new cult taught that faith in Jesus was not enough. A secret, higher knowledge was needed to obtain wisdom and enlightenment. It taught the worship of angels and sought mystical experiences through secret rites and astrological mysteries.

If you read and study Colossians, you will discover that Paul borrows from the vocabulary of this new philosophy to argue against it. He uses some of their own words to teach what they denied: the sufficiency and supremacy of Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote with unfiltered clarity that Jesus Christ is sufficient: “In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14). He is all we need to have a right relationship to God. He is the totality of the divine fullness. He is the cosmic agent of creation. He is the reconciler of people to God. He is over all spiritual forces, both angelic and demonic. By his death he secured victory over sin and the powers of darkness. By his resurrection he is proven to be the pre-eminent one. He is indeed the only way.

This is strikingly relevant today in America as people are being told that all religions are equally valid. They are merely different roads up the same mountain. No single worldview has an exclusive claim on the truth. No religion can claim to be superior to any other.

The only absolute creed in America today is pluralism, the theory that there can and must be more than one kind of ultimate reality. Edward Gibbon wrote about the last days of the Roman empire: “All religions were regarded by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false, and by the politicians as equally useful.”

This is why Paul puts such emphasis on the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. The first chapter of Colossians is one of the great Christological passages in the New Testament (along with John 1, Hebrews 1, and Philippians 2). There is a finality and authority in his teaching about Jesus in Colossians. I recommend that you read it carefully.

The Colossian believers had “heard the word of truth, the gospel” (Colossians 1:5). They had believed what it taught about Jesus (Colossians 1:4). You and I need to do the same thing as we navigate life in a pluralistic culture.

Pastor Randy Faulkner