Classic Silent Holocron: FBC Starbucks (4)
Stephen’s Note: Stephen is dealing with writer’s block. Until he has taken a lightsaber to it, he is reposting classic offerings from the ‘Cron. Enjoy!
FBC Starbucks (4)
Okay. It’s now time to examine that all-important objection: “What if I miss church to evangelize?”
I’d like to start by first getting my obvious skepticism out of the way. I take this assertion with a grain of salt. Were you really evangelizing? Some of the people who’ve used this excuse with me revealed that in reality they just wanted to hang out with their non-Christian friends at some community event. They wanted to be “a Christian influence” at that event. Yeah, right. The really sad thing is that such a perspective was endorsed by certain people who ought to know better.
I want to approach this by looking at two separate incidents in Scripture. The first is the Great Commission. You can use either Matthew 28:16-20 or Mark 16:14-20 as your text for this. Either one does the job that we need on this point. I’m going to use Matthew here since some of the scholars among us will no doubt tut-tut about how the ending of Mark is disputed.
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)
All right. Look at the order of things here.
First, the disciples gathered together. That sounds strangely like the Body of Christ going to church. We meet together with our fellow disciples. Second, the disciples worshipped Jesus. Yes, I know, it says that some doubted. If you go over to the parallel narrative in Mark, you’ll see that Jesus at that point rebukes the doubters for their unbelief. Is that not what happens, or ought to happen, in church? There is a time of worship, and then when the Word of God is spoken, unbelief is rebuked. Third, once they have worshipped the Lord, the Lord commands them to go and spread that worship.
What is the principle being taught here? It is one that took me two years to formulate. Once I formulated it, I started reading John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad! and found out he’d already put the principle I’d discovered into print. That principle was simple:
Missions is not the purpose of the church. Worship is.
And that is why, throughout this post, I am asserting that if you purposely miss church to evangelize, you have sinned.
Don’t misunderstand my sentiments, here. I want to be wrong about this. It rebels against every human sense of decency and honoring of God that I have. It rebels against every sense of missionary call I have as a pastor specifically and as a believer in general. But the undeniable conclusion that I have reached, and Piper affirmed, is that we have made evangelism an idol.
We have become a church that puts more emphasis on our ability to reproduce ourselves through evangelism than on our ability to produce spiritual health in those who are already believers. The result of that? Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of false converts in our churches. In the Southern Baptist Convention alone, we boast 16 million members in our churches. 16 million. But surprisingly there are only 6 million people attending our churches on any given Sunday. What happened to the other 10 million? They aren’t all on vacation like me. They aren’t all sick. They aren’t all working on Sundays. The only reasonable conclusion that can be reached is that we have at least 10 million lost people on our church membership rolls.
And what that ought to tell you is that evangelism is bankrupt if there is no worship behind it. That’s right. Evangelism is totally worthless if there is nothing for a convert to “plug into.” Our energies ought to first and foremost be focused on worshipping the Lord before we can even begin to pray about any possible evangelism we could do. We need to be committed to faithfully attending the local church of which we are a member before we do evangelism.
That means we are obligated to show up on Sundays and Wednesdays. The health of the Body of Christ supersedes the health of the lost. Listen — the lost are dead men walking, anyway. They are zombies. They are good for absolutely nothing but satisfying the wrath of God (see Romans 9:19-24). You and I can do nothing to change that status. It will take an act of God. So calm down.
On the other hand, you and I are alive and in need of nourishment and sustenance. We are born-again believers, and that means we have been made alive in Christ. Dead people do not need nourishment. Living people do. That means our number-one priority is to worship the Lord above all else. Not even evangelism has the right to trump that priority. We must worship the Lord before we can ever hope to evangelize. Our next text illustrates that vividly. Let’s look at Acts 2:1-11.
1When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians–we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (ESV)
Notice what happens here. The church is gathered together, ostensibly for the purposes of being the church. All of a sudden, Jesus is there, through the Holy Spirit, and He empowers the church. What does the church do as a result of the empowering they have received in worship? They go out and evangelize.
I am convinced that failure to do just this is the reason why we see so much failure in personal and corporate evangelism. We have bought into the lie that the top duty of the Christian is to witness. As a result, when an opportunity for witness presents itself, we willingly forsake meeting with our churches, a direct violation of Hebrews 10:25. We run headlong into evangelism with no power behind it. There is no fuel in our words. No authority driving our witness. Evangelism is something that happens as a result of corporate worship, not in lieu (instead) of it.
The pattern of Scripture is that (1) the church comes together for corporate worship, (2) the church is empowered for the Great Commission as a result of worship, and (3) individual Christians then go about fulfilling the Great Commission, some with spectacular results.
So the next time you tell me you missed church because you were witnessing, you need to apologize, not to me, but to the church you have willingly forsaken. Apologize, not to me, but to God for thinking that lost people are more important than giving Him glory in worship. Nothing and no one is more important than God, and the minute you lose sight of that, you have sinned.
All this to answer whether or not meeting a “Christian friend” at Starbucks or Heine Bros. Coffee constitutes “being the church.” As you can hopefully see throughout these posts on FBC Starbucks, the answer is a flat and unequivocal “no.” Please direct any further objections to the meta, and I’ll try to answer them as they appear.