- Adam Schell
I Believe | In the Church
So, over the last few weeks at Melbourne Heights, we have been talking about what we, as Christians, believe. And, to help us think about what we believe, we’ve been taking a closer look at a confession of our faith that has been around for more than 1600 years. The confession of faith that we’ve been looking at is called The Apostles’ Creed, and this is what it says:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
Now, I’ve said this just about every week during this sermon series, but it’s worth repeating again today. There is no creed that could ever fully capture exactly what we believe - because the essence of our faith is belief in a person, Jesus Christ, and not simply a system of ideas. But creeds can still be helpful as we try to understand what we, as Christians, believe. And the Apostles’ Creed has helped us think about what we believe about God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit over the last few weeks.
And this week, the Apostles’ Creed is going to lead us to talk about the church. But, I gotta tell you, trying to figure out what we, as Christians, believe about the church seems almost impossible. I mean, right here in the city of Louisville alone there are over 400 different churches. And some of these churches are huge churches with thousands of members and some of these churches are much smaller. Some of these churches are Baptist, some are Methodist, some are Lutheran, some of them just call themselves a church…so it’s hard to know exactly who they are or what they believe. One of these churches - Christ Church Cathedral - has been around for over 199 years, but other churches haven’t even turned a year old yet. And when you think of all of the different sizes, denominations, and ages of these churches; it’s hard to believe we’d be able to agree on what the church is.
But there are at least a few things that, as Christians, we all believe about the church. So what do we believe about the church? Well, let’s start by talking about what we believe the church is.
And whenever I start thinking about what the church is, I can’t help but think of the old hand game that a lot of us learned in Sunday School when we were kids. You remember the one I’m talking about, right? It goes like this: Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.
But even though that was a cute little game that was fun to learn as a kid, it actually teaches us something that isn’t true about the church. That little game teaches us that the church is a building. And it’s not just a silly little game that teaches us that the church is a building. A lot of the language we use concerning the church alludes to the same thing. Like when we say that we’re going to church, it turns the church into the building where we attend services. Or when someone asks where our church is, it makes it sound like the church is the place where we meet.
But the COVID-19 pandemic reminded us all that the church is not just a building. Just stop and think about it for a minute. Right here, at Melbourne Heights, we did not meet together in a building for more than a year because of the pandemic. But does that mean that we stopped being a church until we resumed having in-person services? Of course not.
Or even now that we have resumed having in-person worship services, we’re no longer meeting in a building that we own. It’s been just over a year now since we sold our old church property. So, instead of meeting in a building that we own, we’re renting a place to worship from UofL. But does that mean that we are no longer a church? No.
And that’s because being a church isn’t about a building, being a church is about the people.
Being a church isn’t about a building, being a church is about the people.
But the church isn’t just about any old group of people, the church is about a very specific group of people. And the way that the Apostles’ Creed describes the church tells us who this very specific group of people are. So let me just remind you how the Apostles’ Creed describes the church.
It describes the church as “the holy, universal church.” And what does that mean? Well, let’s take it word by word.
The Apostles’ Creed begins by describing the church as holy, but what does that mean? Well, a lot of the time when we hear the word holy, we think it means perfect - like when we talk about Holy God, or the Holy Spirit, or even the Holy Bible. But the word “holy” doesn’t actually mean perfect. The word holy really means that something is sacred or that it has been set apart by God. So the church is a group of people that are set apart by God.
But that’s not all that the Apostles’ Creed says about the church. Over the last few weeks, we’ve also heard that the church is universal...but the word universal isn’t the actual word used in this creed. The actual word used in the Apostles’ Creed is catholic. But we’ve used the word universal over the last few weeks because I didn’t want you to get confused with what this creed is saying.
When the Apostles’ Creed says that the church is catholic, it’s not exclusively referring to the Roman Catholic Church. Instead it’s referring to what the word catholic actually means. And the word catholic comes from two Greek words kata and holos that are combined together. And when you put those words together they mean “concerning the whole.”
And what that means is that there aren’t really 400 different churches here in Louisville, and there aren’t 400,000 different churches in the United States, and there aren’t 30 million different churches in the world. Even though we may be located in different places, speak different languages, and belong to different denominations; we are all part of one church.
We are all part of one church.
And then the last word used in the Apostles’ Creed is the word church. But word does the word church mean? Well, the actual word church comes the Greek word kuriakon - which is translated as kirsch in German, and became church in English. And this word means “belonging to the Lord.” And this means that the church is made up of people who belong to Jesus.
So, when we put it all together, we see that the church is a universal body of people who belong to Jesus and have been set apart by God.
The church is a universal body of people who belong to Jesus and have been set apart by God.
And that tells us what we, as Christians, believe the church is...but it doesn’t tell us what we believe the church does or what God set the church apart for. And that’s what I want us to spend the rest of our time together today talking about. I want us to talk about what God set the church apart for.
And to help us understand what God set the church apart for, there is no better place for us to turn than the story of the birth of the church. And we find this story in the book of Acts. Now the book of Acts is found in the New Testament, and the books of the New Testament essentially tell us one of two things. They either give us a biography of Jesus, or they tell us about how our faith in Jesus grew and spread after his crucifixion and resurrection. And the book of Acts does the latter. The book of Acts tells the story of how our faith grew and spread in the decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, his resurrection, and his ascension.
And in Acts chapter 2, we find the story of what happened after our faith began to spread. This story takes place on the day of Pentecost - right after the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ disciples - and the world first heard the good news of Jesus. So let’s take a look at Acts chapter 2, where we’ll start reading in verse 42. It says:
42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47 (Common English Bible)
Now, I think that the part of this story that we typically pay the most attention to is the end...the part about the Lord adding to their number daily. And that makes us think that the only reason why the church exists is to get bigger. And, of course, that means that if our church isn’t getting bigger - if God isn’t adding to our number daily - then we’re failing as a church.
But there’s a pretty major flaw with this line of thinking. And that’s that nothing exists to just get bigger. Let me give you an example to show you what I mean. So, going into my senior year of high school I was the same height I am now - 6’2” - but I only weighed about 185 pounds. But I was also going to be the starting right tackle on my high school football team. Now, just so you know, the average lineman playing college football is about 6’5” and weighs 280 pounds. So, going into my senior year, I wanted to get bigger.
But I didn’t want to get bigger for the sake of being bigger. I wanted to get bigger because I dreamed of playing college football...and I knew that wasn’t going to happen if everybody else that was up for a scholarship outweighed me by 100 pounds. Unfortunately, my dream of bulking up and playing college football didn’t come true. But it doesn’t change the fact that my goal wasn’t simply to get bigger...I had another goal altogether.
And the same thing is true for the church. The church doesn’t exist to just get bigger. The church doesn’t exist to just draw more people to our worship services, or build larger facilities, or to present bigger budgets. The church exists, God set the church apart, for another reason altogether.
And to see what that reason is, we need to pay more attention to the beginning of this passage in the book of Acts than we do the end of this passage. And the beginning of the passage we just read tells us what the church is all about. So let’s take another look at Acts 2:42. It says:
42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers...
So this verse tells us that we, as the church, have been set apart by God so that we can devote ourselves - or commit ourselves completely - to four things. First, the church has been set apart so that we can completely commit ourselves to the apostles’ teaching. And what were the apostles teaching about?
They were teaching about God the father, his son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. So we, as a church, have been set apart to learn about our God and grow in our relationship with him. And we do that by participating in Bible studies, by listening to sermons, to learning how we can read the Bible for ourselves, and by wrestling with hard questions when it comes to our faith.
And there’s something else that I think needs to be pointed out here. And this needs to be pointed out because all the things I just mentioned are things that you can do on your own. You can study the Bible on your own. You can download a podcast or load up YouTube and listen to a sermon on your own. You can buy books or do Google searches that can help you learn how to read the Bible on your own. You can even wrestle with life’s hardest questions on your own. But the church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching because they knew they couldn’t grow in their faith and in their relationship with God on their own.
We, as a church, know that we cannot grow in our relationship with God on our own. And that’s because none of us know everything there is to know about our faith and our God on our own. So we have to come together to learn from each other and to learn from those who have come before us, instead of trying to do it all by ourselves.
The next thing that we’re told is that the church was devoted to fellowship. Now, typically when we think about fellowship in church life we think about food. So, if our church can put together a nice potluck meal we think we’ve got fellowship figured out.
But there is so much more to what fellowship really means than just food. As a matter of fact, there is another word that starts with the letter “f” that can help us better understand what fellowship is all about, and that’s the word family. Being in fellowship as a church means that we are all part of the family of God. And being a family is about so much more than just sitting down and eating dinner together.
The apostle Paul does a pretty good job of summing up how a family is supposed to treat each other in Galatians 6:2, when he writes:
Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.
What Paul is saying here is that we, as the church, have been set apart by God so that we can get to know each other, build relationships with each other, take care of each other, and help each other as we journey through life and faith. The way that I like to put it is that church means sharing life together.
Next, we’re told that the church should be devoted to “the breaking of bread.” And, although this could literally mean eating together, it seems to imply that we should eat a certain meal together. And that’s the Lord’s Supper. And when we come together for the Lord’s Supper, or communion, we join our lives together with Jesus’ life.
When we eat the bread that represents his body and drink the cup that represents his blood, we are reminded that Jesus lives through each of us and through the church as a whole. So, if we want the world to see Jesus, we have to show it through our actions and the actions of our church.
Finally, we’re told that the church should be devoted to “prayer.” Prayer reminds us that we have a deep connection with God. The God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them including us; the God who came down to this earth and experienced what it means to be one of us; the God who continues to live in and through us; allows us to connect with him through our prayers. Our prayers also remind us that we, as a church, do not exist for ourselves. When we take the time to be with God, we’re reminded of our proper position in life.
So, as Christians, we believe in the church. I believe in the church. Say it with me. I believe in the church. One more time. I believe in the church.
But I don’t believe in the church because the church is perfect. I believe in the church because I believe that God has called all of us into a relationship with him. And God set the church apart to be a place where we can grow in our relationship with God, where we can grow in our relationships with each other, where we can serve the world as Jesus’ hands and feet, and where we can continually be drawn into the presence of the one who created us all.
And I believe in the church because I know that I can’t be who God wants me to be without the church.