Sunday, September 24, 2017

[Matt's Messages] “It’s Our (Other) Middle Name!”

“It’s Our (Other) Middle Name!”
Gospel Roots (1892-2017)
September 24, 2017 :: 1 Corinthians 1:2

Now, I don’t plan to yell at you like I did last Sunday.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m not excited about what we’re going to study this week!

I am very much so excited.

Today, we’re going to have our 9th monthly message in the “Gospel Roots” sermon series where we are re-visiting the foundational values of our church family. We have been going back through our 125-year history and surfacing the major, important things that have made us who we are.

So we’ve talked about the gospel–Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. We’ve talked about singing the gospel, taking the gospel to the lost, being a praying church, being a church that stands on the Word of God, being a church that is involved in world missions, a church that loves each other as family, and a church full of servants who know that their labor in Lord is not in vain.

So what is the topic for today?

Here’s the title of our message for today.

“It’s Our (Other) Middle Name!”

A number of years ago, I preached a sermon entitled, “It’s Our Middle Name!” about that hard to spell and almost as hard to read word “evangelical” or “eh-vangelical” depending on who you ask.

That word means “gospel-oriented,” all about the gospel. Because “gospel” is “evangel” in Greek.

And even though it’s hard to spell and even though some people abuse the word, I’ve always been glad that it’s our middle name because it reminds us that we are supposed to be centered on the gospel.

But today, I want to talk about our OTHER middle name.

The middle name that is easy to pronounce and easy to spell and that our church often goes by.

What is it?

Lanse FREE Church!

Why do we call ourselves “free?”

It’s not because we don’t take an offering!

I know somebody who thought that. Because some EFCA churches don’t take an offering during the service, they just have a box in the back for putting your envelope in, this guy thought that “free” meant that you didn’t have to give anything!

And if you are guest here, I hope that’s how feel when you’re here!

But that’s not what we mean by “free.”

And we don’t mean that we are free of “evangelicals.”

There was actually an EFCA church out West that changed their church name because a lot of the people in their community thought that their church name meant there was no gospel there! No evangelicals. No evangel!

That’s not what we mean by “free” either.

The word “free” in our name actually refers to our form of church government.

How we organize and direct our affairs as a church.

How we are structured and ordered and governed.

In that sense, we are “free.”

We are what is called “congregational” which means that we are autonomous or self-governing as a congregation.

We are free of outside control.

Now, there are many different ways to organize a church. There are several popular church structures, called “polities.”

You’ve probably heard of them or even come from a church that practices a different polity than we do. Most of the different polities have some biblical basis to them. Some part of the biblical picture that those church traditions emphasize.

There’s the “episcopal” structure which is kind of “top down” like the Roman Catholic Church or the United Methodists or the Episcopal Church itself. “Episcopal” comes from the Greek for “Oversight,” looking down over, watching over.

And then there’s the “Presbyterian” structure which emphasizes the role of Elders (Greek, presbuteroi) where the elders in a region exercise authority over the local churches in that region.

And there’s other polities out there, too.

But our polity is “congregational” which means, again, that the congregation, the church membership, is self-governing. It’s not top-down. It’s bottom-up. It is “free” from outside control.

Where do we get that?

Well, first, we get that from our history.

Remember in the Spring, when I told you about the Lay Bible Readers Movement in Scandinavia after the Protestant Reformation?

Those Scandinavian believers in Jesus wanted to read the Bible for themselves and asked, “Var står det skrivet?” “Where stands it written?”

Well, we aren’t used to this, but they all belonged to the state-run church which in the case of Scandinavia was the Lutheran church.

If you were born in Sweden, you were baptized as a Lutheran. That’s what you were. If you were Swedish, you were Lutheran. The church and the state were intertwined.

And in many ways, the state told the church what to do.

Well, those believers were studying their Bibles, and they couldn’t find any place that said that the church was supposed to be a part of the government or that the government was supposed to direct the business of the church. “Var står det skrivet?” “Where is that written?”

So they wanted their churches to a

Especially to read and follow the Bible for themselves.

And when bunches and bunches of those believers came over to the United States in the late 19th century, they started up what they called “Free Churches.” Free, now, of state control.

And free of any outside control, in fact. Including the control of other churches or church leaders.

Does that make sense?

So that’s where our other middle name comes from in our history. But where does free come from in our Bibles?

Well, that’s a little trickier.

I believe it’s in there. I believe in congregationalism! But it’s not the gospel, and it’s certainly not as clear as some of the other doctrines that we believe in here. Church polity is something that genuine believers can have genuine disagreements about.

But I do think it’s in there, and I want to start by looking at 1 Corinthians chapter 1, with you. Yes, that was all an introduction!

I’ll bet you’re wondering what is in here today.

What artifact can stand for our other middle name?

Has anybody ever looked into these old books that sit on top of the history display case in the foyer?

These are the record books of the Swedish Free Church of Lanse.

This one says, “Protokollsbok fir Swenska Friforsamlingen.”

Which Google Translate tells me means, “Minutes of the Swedish Free Church.”

And the first entry is dated February 13, 1892.

When our original 10 members gathered in the home of A.J. Palmquist, they organized themselves and took down these minutes together.

This next book starts in 1905.

The next two are from the 1940's.

This big one is a “Church Register Record and Ministerial Accounts.”

These are the official books that they kept to organize and order themselves as a church

This is a copy of the original constitution of this church. (I know you can’t read it, but you couldn’t read it anyway, it’s in Swedish!)

It says, “Constitution for the Swedish Free Congregation. The Bible shall be the only infallible precept and guide for her faith and conduct. The Assembly (Congregation) belongs (owns it allegiance) to God according to 1 Timothy 3:15...[and they hope that they] may assemble in a manner acceptable to God, he has given Christ to be head over all things to the church (Ephesians 1:22).”

These are our constitution and by-laws today. And Article V of our present constitution says, “This church is, as the name implies, ‘Free’ that is, independent, or self-governing.”

Now, where do we get that?

I have four points to make from one verse today.


Look again at what Paul writes in verse 2. “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy...”

Let me say something really obvious here:

Paul is writing to people.

He is not writing to a building.
He is not writing to an institution.
He is not writing to a campus.
He is not writing a concert or a show of some kind.

Paul is writing to a group of people.

And he calls those people, “the church.”

“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy...”

Let me say something crazy right now.

You cannot go to church.

It’s impossible!

You cannot go to church.

And...there is no Bible verse that says that you should go to church.

You know why?

Because church is not something you can go to.

Church is something that you are.

Now, we use the language that way, and that’s fine. “Go to church.” We know what we mean? Or do we. Sometimes our use of language can trip us up if we are not careful. The church is not a building. It’s not even a worship experience.

The church is a people.

A holy people. Did you see that in verse 2?

“To those [people] who are sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy.”

That’s Paul’s short definition of a church.

A people group that are made holy (sanctified) by Jesus and called to be holy by Jesus.

I love that it says both of those.

That Jesus both makes us holy and calls us to holiness.

Jesus’ blood washes us clean and makes us holy, and the Spirit of holiness calls our names and beckons for us to live out that holiness in everyday life.

And get this! That’s one of the key reasons for the church. That we would help each other to live holy lives.

Jump over with me to the book of 1 Peter chapter 2. Pew Bible page #1201. Keep a finger in 1 Corinthians, but look at what Peter says about who we are. 1 Peter 2, start in verse 4.

“As you come to him [Jesus], the living Stone–rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him– you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

That’s is absolutely amazing.

Jesus is a called a Living Stone. Which is a contradiction in terms!

Absolute strength (a stone) combined with absolute life (a living stone). Rejected by men at the Cross but chosen by God and precious to Him, and look what that makes us! We are living stones, too, holy building material. Being built into a temple (a spiritual house) the metaphor change to what you find in a temple...a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. Not animal sacrifices, spiritual sacrifices, our hearts.

The church is a holy people.

And a holy priesthood.

Martin Luther and the other Protestant Reformers grabbed a hold of this passage and others like it and said that the church was the “priesthood of all believers.”

That was one of their catchphrases in the Reformation.

“The priesthood of all believers.”

That’s amazing!

I almost titled this message, “You are a priest!” Because that’s right. If you’re in Christ. Skip down to verse. 9

Church “ are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

That’s what we are!

That’s what the church is. WE are a royal priesthood.

Isn’t that amazing?

You know what that means? It means that we don’t need another mediator.

Somebody else to stand between us and God.

We don’t need a priest. I am not your priest!

You don’t come to God through Pastor Matt. Praise the Lord!

And I don’t come to God through Pastor Jeff Powell or President Kevin Kompelien. Praise the Lord!

There is now only “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus...” (1 Timothy 3:15). Not me, not a priest, not a bishop, not the Pope, not Mary. Just Jesus.

The priesthood of all believers.

We are all priests! We are all privileged to come into the presence of God and to intercede for others. We are all called to help each other be holy.

Not just the pastor. All of us.

This church had no pastor when it began in 1892. And it was a church. A bona fide church.

You don’t need a pastor to have a church.

Don’t get any ideas!

You don’t need a building to have a church.

You don’t need a pastor to have a church, but you do need a holy people.

Turn back to 1 Corinthians 1, verse 2.

Point number two.


Paul writes, “To the church of God in Corinth...”

That’s important.

Paul envisions the church to be a gathered group in a certain location.

The church is not the location, but it is the holy people who are connected to one another and gather with one another in a location.

“To the church of God in Corinth.”
“To the churches in Galatia...”
“To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi...”
“To the church of the Thessalonians”
“To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse...”

“To the church that meets in Lanse, Pennsylvania.”

Do you get the picture?

The church is not just all of the holy people of God.

The church is also a particular group of people who are connected to one another in a certain locality.

What we call “a church family.”

The church is local.

And catch this. The local church is responsible to God for what it does as a church.

As this letter to the Corinthians unfolds, the apostle Paul gives the whole church instructions on how to behave, on what to do, on what to believe, on how to practice their communal life as a church family.

He treats the whole church as responsible for their choices as a church.
I think that’s really important for the case for congregationalism.

Paul doesn’t just write to the church leaders.

He doesn’t just write to the pastor of the Corinthian church. Or even just to the elders.

There are some letters where he does. 1st and 2nd  Timothy, Titus. Sure.

But most of his letters (and most of the other epistles in the New Testament, not just the ones written by Paul) address the whole church and hold the whole church accountable for the choices that the whole church makes.

Think about the book of Galatians that we’re studying right now.

That letter goes to all of the churches in the region of Galatia not just the leaders.

I’m sure those churches had leaders. The top leaders in most of these churches appear to be called “elders” and they are tasked with shepherding and teaching and leading these churches.

But Paul doesn’t just write to them. He goes right to the people.

And he holds them accountable for what the whole church chooses. If the church loses the gospel, it is the church’s fault.

Now, teachers and leaders are held to a higher standard. And they have, perhaps, a deeper accountability because of their roles. But Paul does not by-pass the congregation. He takes his teaching right to them.

And if the whole church has the whole responsibility for its decisions, then it makes sense that the whole church would have the whole authority it needs to make those decisions.

That is the case for congregationalism.

It’s not so much that we have the right to govern our affairs as we have the responsibility to govern ourselves and will be held accountable for how we do it.

In verses 10-13, Paul gives the church a hard time for infighting, quarrels, and division.

They were experiencing church splits over personalities and what leader they identified with.

“Cut it out, church!” Paul says. “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

See how he holds them accountable? No divisions. No superstars! Nobody saying, “I like Pastor Matt. I like Cody Crumrine. I like Bob Gisewhite. No! Pastor Matt didn’t die for this church.”

In Chapter 5, he tells them that they are responsible for exercising church discipline. As a church, they are supposed to put a sexually immoral man outside of church membership. He says (v.4) “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.”

That wasn’t said to just the leaders. That was said to the whole congregation.

It’s our job together to help each other be holy. And if someone will not be holy, it is our job to put them outside in the hopes that they will be restored.

It’s the same idea as what Jesus said in Matthew 18 with “tell it to the church.”

It’s the church’s job to keep watch over each other to help each other be holy. The first constitution of the church ends by saying, “If any member should now or in the future be such that he does not transport himself according to his profession and honorable calling, in that he yields to any of the fleshly lust as specified in Galatians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 4:25-31, he or she shall be warned and admonished according to the provisions prescribed by the Word of God. (Matthew 18:15-18 and 1 Timothy 5:2).”

The church is local, and the local church is responsible for its choices.

Including what it is taught.

Think about that phrase about “itching ears.” Do you remember it?

It’s 2 Timothy 4. It says, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. [Why?] For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

Is that happening? You bet.

But did you notice who is responsible?

“They will gather around them a great number of teachers.”

The church is responsible for whom it calls to teach it, for whom it listens to.

So if I teach a false gospel and keep on teaching a false gospel, you are responsible!

And it’s your job to stop me.

The congregation, as a whole, is responsible for choosing its leaders.

Because the church as a whole is responsible for its choices, we believe it’s important  that the church as whole has the authority to make all of the big choices. Now, a church as a whole can’t make all of the choices. But they should be able to make all of the big choices and any of the choices that they consider to be big.

That’s what we mean by congregationalism.

I serve on the Allegheny District Constitutions Board, and I read every governing document of every church that wants to join our association of churches.

And one of my jobs is to make sure that every one of the churches is truly congregational in how they do things.

That the congregation as a whole decides who their pastor is, who their officers are, what their budget is, what will be done with their shared property, and what their constitution and by-laws say. It’s my job to make sure that the congregation is its own highest authority.

And we’re committed to that here.

It’s our middle name!

Now, here’s where membership becomes so important.

Because if it’s the local congregation as a whole that makes the big decisions and is responsible before God for those decisions, how do you know who is the congregation and who isn’t?

And that’s membership.

Some people think that membership is not in the Bible.

I’d say, “It might have looked a little different than it does now in some ways, but there was definitely membership.”

In chapters 12, 13, and 14 of 1 Corinthians, Paul unpacks his body metaphor in the greatest detail.  “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” Right?

That isn’t just saying that we all have different gifts and that we all need to use them. That’s true and right there. But it’s also saying that we belong to each other in the Body of Christ. Like he said in Romans 12, “ Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

That’s membership language.

I remember a guy who used to go here to church a long time ago, and I was always trying to work on him to join the membership.

And he’s like, “Why so much about membership? I’ve never been asked to so much to join the church.”

And I said, “It’s biblical! And more than that, it’s the kind of church we are. We are congregational. We need members to help us to make the big decisions. Because we are all going to be held accountable for the decisions we made.”

So, if I’m on you about membership, this is why.

The church is local and the local church is responsible for what the local church does.


As much as I believe in congregationalism, in the autonomy of the local church, it must also be tempered with a bigger view of the church universal.

Turn back to chapter 1, verse 2.

“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...”

Do you catch that?

The local church is connected to the global church.

The local church may stand on its own, but it is not alone. It’s not supposed to be alone.

“...together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...”

If Lanse is a church with a small “c,” we must always see ourselves as connected to the Church with a big “C.”

We must stay connected to other churches elsewhere.

They may not have any authority over us, but they are still us. And we are still them.

That’s what the Apostle’s Creed means by saying, “I believe in the holy catholic church” not the Roman Catholic church but the holy universal big C everybody out there who belongs to Jesus Church. Catholic in that sense.

The communion of saints.

We aren’t just out on our own. We are part of something much bigger than spans the globe.

Some people call that "connectionalism."

So we are both congregational and connectional.

The EFCA is an association of autonomous but interdependent churches.

We choose to relate to each other and work together to achieve our mission.

This week, I’m going to a national EFCA thing and a district EFCA thing. I leave tomorrow for Minneapolis for what they call the Missional Summit where I’ll be taking part in meetings of the Spiritual Heritage Committee. Please pray for me.

I’ll be seeing Kevin Kompelien there and we’ll be talking about his visit in a week and half.

At the end of the week, Heather and I are going to the Allegheny District Pastors & Wives Retreat. Thank you for sending us. I’ll see Jeff and Kim Powell there and a bunch of our other district pastors.

I love being connected in a family of churches that work together with a common theology and a common goal.

Our church has always partnered with other churches.

For while, we were an Evangelical Covenant Church. Did you know that?

A lot of people don’t know that. The Evangelical Covenant Church was also Swedish and they sent Swedish preaching pastors to be among us. We owe them a great debt.

One of those old Swedes is still living. Pastor Chuck Anderson. We sent him an invitation to our anniversary.

We have always connected with other churches, because even though the church is local, the church is also global.

And I know that I’m running out of time. Here is point #4.


The church belongs to Jesus. Verse 2 one more time.

“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ–their Lord and ours.”

The church does not belong to me.

The church does not belong even to the church.

The church belongs to Jesus Christ. He bought it with His blood.

So congregationalism is not democracy. It is not a bunch of citizens all voting to get their way.

Congregationalism (rightly practiced) is a Christocracy. It's is a royal priesthood discerning together what they believe is the will of their Lord for this church body.

Jesus is the head of the church.

Our EFCA Statement of Faith says it this way, “We believe that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God's grace through faith alone in Christ alone. They are united by the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, of which He is the Head. The true church is manifest in local churches, whose membership should be composed only of believers.” (from Article 7)

The church is a holy people.
The church is local.
The church is global.
And the church belongs to Jesus.

What is your application of today’s message for your life?

I’ve given this list before, but let me just say it quickly.

1. Be a part of the church.

If you have not yet joined the membership, you need to seriously consider it.

It’s biblical, and it’s what kind of a church we are.

We just had a membership seminar with a bunch of young adults at it, and we’re going to have another soon.

2. Do your part in the church.

Take up the mantle of membership. Use your gifts in ministry. It takes the whole church to be the church.

Don’t just GO to church. You can’t go to church!

Be the church!

You’re a body part. Don’t sit out there like some detached body part. Get into the game.

The nominating committee is beginning their work of finding officers for the congregation in 2018. Pray for them and consider how you could be used.

3. Never part from the local church.

You can leave this one. Nobody’s locked into this local church for life.

But don’t try to be a Lone Ranger.

We aren’t meant to go it alone in the Christian life.

We are meant to be a part of the local body of believers and help each other to live Christ-pleasing lives.

Because Jesus is the Head of the Church.

We are NOT free from Jesus!

We belong to Him.


Previous Messages in This Series:
01. Jesus Christ and Him Crucified
02. Sing!
03. Lost and Found
04. The Church That Prays Together
05. Where Stands It Written?
06. The People On Your Fridge
07. I'm So Glad I'm A Part