In his sermon, what is the church, Martyn Lloyd JonesBegins his definition with the rather obvious point,
The first thing we must say is That it is a gathering of people. Why do I make such an obvious point? I make it because as I read some of the journals and some of the books and booklets that deal with this question, I’ll most get the impression that some people seem to think of the church not in terms of people at all. You seem to think of the church is something that is written on paper, as a confession on paper. I’m not criticizing confessions. I believe in confessions. The church, after all, is not a confession of faith. (51)
But if these people gather and do not believe the confession, is it still a church?
The gathering of people is not something which begins with the people: it is something that begins with God. Lloyd-Jones looks back at the start of the church, Peter preaching:
Here in Acts the people have become aware of the fact this message is speaking to them directly. These are not people who decided to join the church. They did not decide to take up religion. These are people of been called of God. (53)
What is the first thing they realize? They have been convicted of sin. “They are aware that God the Holy Spirit is dealing with them, and they have been brought face-to-face with themselves.” (53) This makes all the difference. Consider those first Christians:
Now it is obvious That these people have undergone a profound change.They’re not the people they were when they left their homes and their lodgings that’s morning to go and listen to the strange man to whom this amazing thing happened. They have become different men and women. (54)
What did this change do? How did it show itself among these people?
How do these believers manifest this new life that they have received? And the answer is they do so by gathering together.
What does this mean? How should we understand this fact of gathering?
Why did the first believers gather together like this? Why did they come together day by day? Why could you not keep them as it were apart from another? I do apologize and a sense for bringing in these negatives, but I’m beginning to think that they’re tremendously important.Let me point out that these first Christians should not come together to be entertained. Nothing to me is so pathetic about the state of the church today as the entertainment that has increasingly come into our services. There are churches that keep going by means of clubs and societies. I know Churches – so-called churches – they keep themselves going by game nights and dances and dramas and various other human activities. That is not church; that is a travesty of a church. That is the world. The world does such things, and it does them very well. But that is not what brought these people in the early church together. (55)
What is it that drove them together? The text tells us: Fellowship was driven by doctrine, by preaching & teaching:
The really significant point about the list in Acts 2:42 is the order in which the subjects are put before us. You notice at the first thing that is mentioned his doctrine, teaching– not fellowship. And I emphasize this because the whole ecumenical movement is based upon the basic argument that fellowship comes first. (55)
Now fellowship will follow, it must follow of necessity, “Because we are sharers of the same life. We belong together. We belong to the same family.” (61)
This sharing of common life shows itself in the Lord’s Table & prayers, in sharing, in joy and gladness. Unfortunately, too many Christians do not see this life as joy & gladness (that is elsewhere). Church as a duty, as an obligation – can that gathering actually be called church?
Lloyd-Jones states the real reason our message cannot be heard is that the professing Christian does not profess joy and gladness in Christ. We do not need an evangelistic campaign; we need the true operation of Spirit which will manifest in the joy and gladness among us:
This has always been the characteristic of the true church. And when she becomes like this, she AskAs a magnet to those who are outside. When men and women CS with the spirit of joy and rejoicing, this spirit that is invincible, the spirit that knows God and is afraid of nothing, they will rush to listen to us. Joy and rejoicing! How much enjoys there to be seen among us? How formal we are! How organized we are! House set we are! Of the world’s not interested. But when it sees this joy of the Lord and us, it will come and listen to us and ask us for the secret of this amazing experience that we are enjoying. 65
And of course this Life of fellowship and prayer and joy will show itself in praising God.
He does not ask this in the sermon, that is something we must ask ourselves. If these things are not evident among us, we must ask what is the fault? First, the fault must lie in the lack of the Word of God. The fault must lie in our preaching and teaching if there is no fellowship and hope and joy and gladness. For it is the Word and the Spirit which makes the church. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to create the people of God. Thus, where the Word of God is lacking can we expect the Spirit to be present, also?