The local church in America is a lot of things to a lot of people these days. For some, it is the main entertainment center of their life. They go there on Sunday and have films or comedy routines or dances presented to them, or even a bed and a sermon on sex, instead of expositional sermons. Youths lounge sulkily in darkened ministry rooms designed to look like city lofts, complete with cool couch, and a stage with a drum set in the middle so they can get jacked up for Jesus. The building is mostly a place for recreational and social activities, and entertainment.
For others, the church is a country club. It is a place where like-looking people from the same socio-economic strata congregate and have coffee and laugh and make plans to go the Cracker Barrel after the appropriately short sermonette their avuncular (until crossed) pastor gives them. No feathers are ever ruffled and all people are friends, at least for another week. And even if they aren't, they're family and they have been going there for years anyway. It is mostly a place for recreational and social activities, and entertainment.
For me, the church is a military academy. "The purpose of the United States Military Academy is "to provide the Nation with leaders of character who serve the common defense." In order to achieve its purpose, the mission of the United States Military Academy is "To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country; professional growth throughout a career as an officer in the United States Army; and a lifetime of selfless service to the nation."
All we need to do is change a few words to replicate the duty of the Christian in service to our High Commander: Jesus, in not the nation but the Body of Christ. Yes, it is for a lifetime. We learn duty and honor to Him, we grow as Christians in His Spirit. Our churches are military training academies and the enemy is satan.
In other words, it is a training ground to go out and participate in war. The teachers are often the seasoned vets, familiar with the enemy and familiar with the training manuals. The cadets come in and learn from them, as well as make bonds with their fellow cadets. Other who may be younger than a seasoned vet teach some of the more basic classes. It isn't an army base where it is insular and protected by barbed wire. It is a Military Academy, where we go in for educational purposes, get trained, and go out. Only to come back and get more training so we can better engage the enemy, depending on where the Commander decides to deploy us. And so on. Week after week we go in, get trained and refreshed, learn a bit more about the enemy, and then go out and wage battle.
However, I am sure there are sentries stationed around even an academy. They are needed. "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:" (1 Peter 5:8) We need to remain vigilant and aware of our common enemy's whereabouts and his tactics at all times, even when we are inside the academy.
The warlike aspect of our faith is increasingly ignored in favor of the comforts of what we are told Christianity can bring us. Every day is a Friday. We can get comfortable seats at the movies and preferred parking places at the mall if we just believe. We sow a seed and reap 100 fold. Ugh.
The first century Christians didn't have a church down the road to skip to because their flat screen is bigger. The medieval Christians didn't even have access to the bible and the only church was the false Catholic church. The Third World countries that oppress Christians and persecute them have churches, but if you congregate there you may get burned alive inside. The Tribulation saints won't have churches to rely on, but only basements and nooks and alleys and mostly will be on the run from the hounds of antichrist coming to behead them. We have the glorious opportunity now, here in this age and in this nation, this generation, to attend a church of our choosing and learn the Word and to rejoice in Him with brothers of the faith, to extend the kingdom and to glorify Jesus! How DARE WE toss aside our churches! How DARE WE let them go to the hounds of hell simply because we cannot be bothered! A nation with no military academy loses the war.
We ARE in a war, every minute. "This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:" (1 Timothy 1:18-19).
Our walk is called a good fight of faith. "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:12)
The church is supposed to train us and equip us, the same as a military academy. "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (Ephesians 4:11-12)
The pastor is supposed to be training the cadets but it is not a duty resting solely on the pastor. Any church that abdicates its duty and whose individuals in the congregation rely on the pastor only for education is in for a wild authoritarian ride! We learn from our elders and our teachers, and from each other too. (Proverbs 27:17). No one is higher than another. "But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers." (Matthew 23:8).
Puritan John Owen wrote, “The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the word. It is a promise relating to the new testament, that God would give unto his church "pastors according to his own heart, which should feed them with knowledge and understanding" (Jer. 3:15). This is by teaching or preaching the word, and no otherwise.” That means no beds, no movies, no man-written books, no comedy routines, no interpretive dance, just the training manual, thank you: the bible. Can you imagine the reaction at West Point if the cadets attended a class on "Enemy Tactics 101" and the teacher said they will learn how to identify the enemy through watching an interpretive dance? The teacher would be laughed out of the classroom.
The point is to learn when you get there, not recreate or entertain. You don't go to there passively occupy space without ever employing your brain. What if you went in to the Academy week after week and all the teacher ever did was give you the syllabus? Where's the substance? The content? The meat? You would demand your tuition back! What if you went in there and all the teacher ever did was show recruiting films? You're already recruited. Soon you get to asking, "Now what? I don't know enough about the enemy. I don't know what I am supposed to be doing to alert others to the danger, and I don't know enough to know how to resist the enemy... and I've been coming to this Academy for 10 years!" (1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:12). The church is for training, equipping, sharpening. When we go to church we are not recreating, we are not country clubbing. We are soldiers!
"Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." (2 Timothy 2:3).
You're a soldier, soldier! Quit whining about the pews! Quit griping about the air conditioning! Stop wallowing in your laziness! Snap out of it! You're in Jesus's army now! "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:" (Ephesians 6:11-17)
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