Sermon title:

The Church Is Not Just a Club

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, October 4, 2020

 

 

 

What’s the difference

between a church and a club

or other fellowship group?

 

There are many clubs and fellowships

that bring people together for a good time

or to accomplish certain goals,

many of them commendable.

 

People get together in the Elks Club,

the Lions Club, the Rotary Club,

and various other social organizations.

 

The Rotary Club’s website says,

“Rotary Fellowships are international groups that share a common passion. Being part of a fellowship is a fun way to make friends around the world, explore a hobby or profession, and enhance your Rotary experience.”

 

For some people, their church is their club,

and they embrace it as an alternative

to one of these other clubs.

 

Their church is a place to get together with friends,

to hold events like craft fairs and cookouts,

and to support one another emotionally

and do good works in the community.

 

And, for some people, that’s all that church is.

 

It’s not about a relationship with God.

I had relative named Sam who was a long-time atheist.

 

He didn’t have any use for God,

and he didn’t believe in God.

 

But he joined a church.

 

I remember that he explained it this way:

 

He said, “I’m in the real estate business,

and am getting into town politics,

and I’ll have better connections

and be more successful,

if I’m a member of this church.”

 

He was probably right.

 

The church he joined was an impressive

steepled white building

on the green in the center of his town—

probably the oldest building in that town,

and certainly the most noticeable.

Some of the town’s selectmen were members there,

and so were a number of other business owners.

 

My relative Sam would make good connections there

and be able to advance

his business and political aspirations.

 

It didn’t matter that he didn’t believe in God.

 

Neither did many of the other members.

 

In fact, there was a pile of pamphlets

on the table in the vestibule

titled, “What Do Unitarians Believe?”

 

And it began with this statement:

“Some Unitarians believe in God, and some do not.”

 

Yes, this was a Unitarian church—

the first parish church in that town—

a church that went back to the early 1700’s.

 

It was originally a Congregational church—

the denomination descended from

New England’s original Puritan settlers.

 

That church was Congregational

back when it was founded

and the building constructed.

 

But it went Unitarian in the late 1700’s

when many pastors in New England

abandoned belief in the Trinity.

 

Some time after that,

many Unitarians also abandoned

their belief in God altogether.

 

So, Sam would feel comfortable there.

 

It would be his social club—

his way of connecting with others.

--------------------------------------

 

Some churches are just that—social clubs.

 

But many other churches—real Christian churches

that promote belief in the God of the Bible

and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ—

many real churches like that

also have some people in their midst

who view the church just as their club.

 

They go to church for the fellowship,

the human connection,

and maybe even enjoy the music—

or they go just to please their mate—

but, in any case, they don’t connect with God.

 

They may even have a vague belief in God,

to the point of saying, “No, I’m not an atheist,”

but they don’t have a personal relationship with God.

 

They don’t pray, and certainly don’t expect God

to do anything in their lives

or in the world today.

They go to church, as you would go to a club,

to meet and fellowship with other people.

 

Something like that may have been the case

with a married couple named Ananias and Saphira

who we’re going to read about this morning

in Acts Chapter 5.

 

They were aware of the people around them,

when they met with the Apostles and other disciples,

but they didn’t seem to be aware of God.

 

But, before we turn there,

remember that a few weeks ago

we saw in the 2nd Chapter of Acts how 3,000 Jews—

most of them

visiting Jerusalem for the Jewish holiday—

were baptized as Christians

on the day of Pentecost.

 

And then a couple thousand more joined them

over the next few days.

 

And the early Church made emergency arrangements

to care for these thousands of new believers

who stayed on in Jerusalem

to receive the teaching of the Apostles.

 

The temporary financial measures the Church put in place

were discussed in Acts Chapters 2 and 4,

where we read, [  RED ]

Acts 2   44 All who believed were together, and had all things in common. 45 They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need.

Acts 4    34 For neither was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need.

 

So, people were selling lands and houses

and turning the proceeds over to the Apostles

so they could provide food and temporary housing

to all these visitors to Jerusalem

who stayed on unexpectedly.

 

And that’s were we encounter Ananias and Saphira.

We read about them in Acts, Chapter 5,

where they joined the others

who were coming to the Apostles

and donating the proceeds

from selling their property.

 

And we find that they tried to ‘pull a fast one’

as the saying goes,

to make themselves look good in the eyes of others.

 

In Acts 5:1 we read,

1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira, his wife, sold a possession, 2 and kept back part of the price, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4 While you kept it, didn’t it remain your own? After it was sold, wasn’t it in your power? How is it that you have conceived this thing in your heart? You haven’t lied to men, but to God.”

 

It was not a sin to make just a partial donation.

 

They could have sold their land, and announced

that they were donating half of the proceeds.

 

That would have been fine.

 

The money from the land sale was theirs

to do with as they pleased.

 

And there would not have been any problem

if they decided and announced that they

were giving 1/10th of it, or 1/3rd of it,

or none of it at all, to the Church.

 

The problem was that they pretended

that they were giving the Church

the full proceeds of their land sale—100% of it.

 

And that was a lie.

 

More seriously, it was a lie to the Holy Spirit—

a lie to God.

 

The Holy Spirit revealed to Peter

the true facts of the case.

 

Now, if Ananias and Saphira

recognized God’s role in the Church—

if they recognized the Holy Spirit’s activity

among the believers—

they would have known

that God saw what they were doing.

 

But, they saw the Church from a human standpoint,

not recognizing that God was really there

among his people.

 

They viewed the Church like their club that they belonged to.

 

It was just a club, full of other people like them,

but not the body of Christ indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

 

They lied to their club about the amount of their land sale

in relation to their gift, or donation.

 

But the Church was not just a club.

 

God was there, by his Holy Spirit,

and they had lied to God—as Peter told Ananias.

 

What happened next proved this to be the case—

that the Church was more than some human club.

 

God revealed to Peter what was really going on,

and then God took action

to punish that sin they committed against him.

 

Verse 5 tells us,

5 Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and died. Great fear came on all who heard these things. 6 The young men arose and wrapped him up, and they carried him out and buried him.

 

Yes, as soon as Peter miraculously exposed

Ananias’s deception, God struck Ananias dead,

right there in the midst of the congregation,

right in front of everyone.

 

But Ananias wasn’t alone

in treating the Church like a human club

that they could get away with lying to.

 

Saphira, his wife, was his partner in this crime—

the lie they told, not to men, but to God.

Verse 7 tells us,

7 About three hours later, his wife, not knowing what had happened, came in. 8 Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.”

She said, “Yes, for so much.”

9 But Peter asked her, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”

10 She fell down immediately at his feet, and died. The young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her by her husband. 11 Great fear came on the whole assembly, and on all who heard these things.

 

The Church of God is not a club—

not a human organization defined by the people in it.

 

It’s not just a collection of people

meeting together for their own purposes.

 

The Church is the body of Christ,

and he, himself is present there.

 

Before he departed for heaven, our Lord Jesus said,

at Matthew 18:20,

“where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst.”

 

Christ himself is actually present in the Church

by his Holy Spirit.

And it is vitally important to recognize this.

 

It’s a life and death matter,

as could be seen literally and immediately

in the case of Ananias and Saphira.

 

Their case was unique

in terms of immediate consequences.

 

But it was only the immediacy that was unique.

 

It’s a life and death matter for all of us

to recognize that the church isn’t just another club,

but that it is the body of Christ,

and that God is present with us

by his Holy Spirit.

 

The Apostle Paul pointed out the same thing

to the church in Corinth, Greece.

 

When that church met together to celebrate communion,

some among them were indulging in a complete meal

with other food and drink they brought from home,

and they were treating the communion bread and cup

as if it were just part of their meal—

as if they were just drinking ordinary bread and wine,

without recognizing its significance,

and without acknowledging God.

 

So, the Apostle Paul rebuked them

at 1 Corinthians 11:26, saying to them,

26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Each one must examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

 

They didn’t drop dead right there in the church,

as Ananias and Saphira did,

but those at the Corinthian church

who viewed communion in the Lord’s Supper

the same way they would view

sharing a meal among friends at a club

were suffering the consequences.

 

They were drinking judgment on themselves.

Not final judgment,

like being sent to the lake of fire instead of to heaven,

but they were receiving judgment from God

in the form of direct, physical punishment.

 

God is real,

and he is not someone to be messed with.

 

Those who treat his Church like their private club

suffer consequences.

 

What happened to Ananias and Saphira

should serve as a warning

to keep God in mind

when dealing with his Church,

the body of Christ.

----------------------------------------

 

But the lesson of Acts Chapter 5 is not all negative.

 

The opposite side of the coin is also true.

 

God is powerfully present among his people

to bless those who recognize his presence

and give him the honor he deserves.

 

We see the power of God,

not just when he punishes,

but also when he blesses.

 

And that’s what we read about as we continue

in the 5th Chapter of Acts.

12 By the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. They were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, however the people honored them. 14 More believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. 15 They even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mattresses, so that as Peter came by, at the least his shadow might overshadow some of them. 16 Multitudes also came together from the cities around Jerusalem, bringing sick people, and those who were tormented by unclean spirits: and they were all healed.

 

Unbeknownst to any of those people at that time,

God was in the process of replacing Judaism

with Christianity as the way to worship him.

 

And it took those powerful works

to establish the newborn Christian Church

as God’s arrangement.

 

For well over a thousand years,

it was the Law of Moses that spelled out

how God wanted people to worship him.

 

And that Law of Moses was instituted

with all sorts of miracles—

signs and wonders performed by Moses

and signs from God in heaven.

 

The Nile River in Egypt was turned to blood,

the Red Sea opened so Israel could cross on dry ground.

 

Thunder and smoke enveloped the mountain top

where Moses received the 10 Commandments.

 

And all the people were so frightened at the sound

of God’s voice thundering from heaven

that they asked Moses to bring them God’s word,

so they would not be shaken by that voice again.

 

And Moses did.

 

Acting as mediator, Moses brought the people

into a Covenant or Agreement with God

that included a set of laws given by God.

 

For century after century the Jews recognized

that those Laws of Moses were given by God.

 

To replace the Laws of Moses with a new arrangement

it would take powerful evidence from God

that he was behind the change.

 

In order to replace those thousand-year-old laws

with the new law of Christ,

God validated the changed arrangement

with signs and wonders

at the hands of the Apostles of Christ.

 

Verse 12 said,

12 By the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people.

 

Not only from Jerusalem, but also

from the cities around Jerusalem

people brought those who were sick

and “all of them were healed.”

 

Not just some of them, but all of them were healed.

 

This was enough to prove that God’s power

was manifesting itself through the Apostles of Christ.

 

So, people who came together to hear the Apostles preach

knew that they were not just joining a club.

 

They saw solid evidence of God’s presence

in that new Christian congregation.

 

It was enough to convince those who looked into it

that God was replacing the old Mosaic Law Covenant

with the New Covenant through Christ.

 

Jeremiah 31:31 foretold this would happen.  It said,

31 Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt

The Old Covenant was instituted through Moses,

and the New Covenant was instituted by Jesus

when he said at the Last Supper,

“This cup is the new covenant in My blood.”

Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25

 

All those “signs and wonders” the Lord performed

through the Apostles in Jerusalem

authenticated that Christianity was indeed

the New Covenant promised through Jeremiah.

-------------------------------------

 

Now, there are some

who claim to perform “signs and wonders

in certain churches today.

 

There are charismatic teachers of the modern

“signs and wonders” movement

who claim theirs is the only true teaching,

and they claim to perform miracles to prove it.

 

But that’s not a biblical view.

 

A lot could be said about this.

 

But suffice it to say that

God used signs and wonders to validate

the Old Covenant through Moses

and again to validate the New Covenant

through Christ and the Apostles.

 

But there is no Third Covenant

that would need to be validated now.

 

If new teachings emerge in the modern church

with signs and wonders to back them up,

we need to question the source.

 

In fact, as we approach the time of the end of this world

and as the time approaches for Christ’s return,

it’s the devil who Scripture says

will be doing signs and wonders.

 

At Matthew 24:24 our Lord Jesus foretold that

“false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.”

Numerous false teachers have arisen in recent decades

putting on a big show,

falsely claiming to perform miraculous healings

and drawing people to follow them

while getting rich off their followers.

 

Other false teachers have claimed special powers,

performing false signs and wonders in their midst,

building churches based on false teachings,

with a focus on signs and wonders

instead of Christ and the Bible.

 

Both result in churches that use Christian terminology

but that fail to produce true Christian disciples.

 

Miracles on the scale of those performed through Moses

did not continue throughout Jewish history.

 

And miracles on the scale of those performed

by Jesus and the Apostles

did not continue throughout Christian history.

 

In each case, God gave those “signs and wonders”

to establish a change in his dealing with mankind—

first the Old Covenant through Moses,

and then the New Covenant through Christ.

 

And there is no Third Covenant for the time of the end

except the devil’s deceptions.

 

Our faith in God today is based on the Scriptures,

not on ‘signs and wonders’

introducing new revelations—

supposed new words from God.

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So, the passage in Acts Chapter 5

that we looked at this morning

can help us identify  2 dangers

that today’s churches need to guard against:

 

The danger from individuals like Ananias and Saphira,

who view the church as just a human club,

and who fail to see God.

 

And the danger from the ‘signs and wonders’ movement

that takes people’s eyes off Christ and the Scriptures

to look instead for modern miracles

and new revelations contrary to Scripture.

 

Both represent extremes in thinking

that pervert what the body of Christ is meant to be.

 

The one extreme represented by Ananias and Saphira

turns churches into social clubs

that no longer worship God.

 

And the other extreme represented by

the ‘signs and wonders’ movement

turns churches into a mockery

of the real body of Christ.

 

May the Lord continue to protect us

from the false teachers of both extremes!