The Church in the Image of... You?
Passage: 2 Timothy 4:1–4:6
MID WEEK SERMON
The Church in the image of… you?
The word for church is “ecclesia” – and it simply means “assembly.” When you spend time in the New Testament, over and over what you will find is the church described as a community made up of individuals (Acts 11:26, 12:5, 20:28; 1 Corinthians 5:12; 12:28, and many more). This is the way, then, to ‘think’ about the Church: as a group of people. It is essentially impossible to be a part of the church without being a part of a community of Christians.
The reason for this is numerous, but I’ll try to stay general. The Church is intended to be the representation of Jesus on earth. Even more so, the actual presence of Jesus on earth (1 Corinthians 12:27). Being so, we then are also members of one another. Paul says it this way:
so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:5).
We sharpen one another (Proverbs 27:12). We speak truth to one another, even if at times the truth is hard to hear and you walk away feeling beat up by a friend (Proverbs 27:6). Jesus is perfect in his person, and he alone is completely full and perfectly controlled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is impossible me or for you to represent him alone. Together, it is still impossible to do so perfectly, but in our unity and in our multitude of gifts that we bring when we are together, Christ is represented on earth.
This season of pandemic has been very difficult. As a pastor, and Immanuel, as your pastor, it has been especially difficult as I entered into this right in the middle. I’ve been able to spend time with most of you, although there are still some of you that for good reasons have not made it back to one of our services or mid week gatherings.
However, I am afraid that the Church around the nation after so many months and, almost one year now, of pandemic ministry, we are in danger of entering what I want to call two things: the “Amazon Effect” on Church life, and also the “Echo Chamber Effect” of church participation. I’ll break down each one to you.
The Amazon Effect on Church Life
Most pastors will not write a book that will become a best seller, and their sermons will never be circulated much beyond their local congregation. Most churches in America average around 75 or so in attendance, and few ever break the 200 mark in attendance.
During Covid, the largest churches with the most resources and the most spectacular pastors have seen massive increases in online viewership of their sermons and services. Even though many still watch their own services from home, or attend in person from time to time during the pandemic, it is still much easier to watch your favorite church in whatever state, with your favorite dynamic speaker, and listen to the best worship bands out there. If you want a virtual experience of church, those large ones will deliver a much better experience than your local church.
Give this enough time, and you may begin feeling as if your local church is rather lack luster compared to that one mega church in southern California, or in Florida.
The Amazon Effect is in place. This may seem innocent enough, and I know that I listen to my favorite preachers and teachers as well. But we must ensure that this never becomes a replacement for your membership in the local church body. If it does, the result is an isolating effect. That church in California has no voice into your life because they do not know you. They’ll never share a meal with you. They don’t know how to pray for you, because they don’t know you. As beneficial it is to be fed from time to time for the very unusually gifted preachers and teachers of our time, don’t let the Amazon Effect isolate you and accidently create a distance between you and the church during the winter months of Covid.
The New Testament speaks into this. In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul had this to say:
1 Corinthians 1:10–17
 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.  For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.  What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?  I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,  so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.  (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (ESV)
Hear me loud and clear: If your faith becomes attached to a personality, especially a ‘virtual’ one that you will never have personal contact with, one that via online mediums you can click and pick to your own choosing, your faith will only shaped into that person’s image. We have to be aware of this, and be cautious, as nothing can replace your local church full of local people who know you, with pastors who have walked life with you – that is Jesus’ design from day one, as he walked with his disciples, as he literally lived life with them. The Goal is Jesus, it is the power of the Gospel message. That is what we are drawn to, and the Gospel is what keeps us – not a personality.
Secondly, there is a much more damaging effect that can result from this, an almost by product from what I called the Amazon Effect, which is of my greatest concern. And it is this: Living in the Christian-Echo Chamber Room.
When I was in Israel some years ago, many of us went to the Turkish bath that was inside of our hotel in Jerusalem. The ceilings were high, most everything was made of stone, and we just laid around on the warm stone tables and sung notes and harmonized notes with one another as it echoed off the walls in amazing fashion. The sound of our own voices actually sounded beautiful as it echoed off of the stone walls around us. It was a nice, warm, cozy Echo chamber to lay around in and listen to the sound of our voices echo around the room.
Now, imagine if you had the opportunity to find a particular Christian preacher, teacher or leader who shared every single belief you do, agreed with how you think about yourself and your life, and you had the opportunity to sit at that person’s feet, that person who you know will agree with everything you agree with, and when you spoke to that person or asked a question, you could almost anticipate the answer as you know that whatever they say will only echo back to you in agreement?
This is the Christian Echo Chamber, and it can easily happen in combination with the Amazon Effect – finding that very gifted Christian preacher or leader online who speaks things you enjoy hearing, and better yet – that person cannot actually hold you accountable to anything because they don’t know you. But hey, you agree with them, and they agree with you. Now you can block out whatever else you don’t want to hear, and due to YouTube’s algorithms, you’ll only be recommended more videos and more teachers that agree with your views, and before you know it, you are laying in that Turkish bath listening to the sound of your own voice echo around your head. And you can get stuck there, because it is very cozy and nice there. Those stone tables were so warm to lay on, let me tell you.
This is how the Amazon Effect can lead to the Echo Chamber effect. You begin wanting to hear the things you agree with, the things you want to hear. You want your own worldview and theological convictions and understanding of life to be continually reinforced – that’s always the temptation in life, right? To be as comfortable as possible?
There is a Scripture that relates to this.
2 Timothy 4:3–5
 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,  and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (ESV)
Another spin off from the Echo-Chamber effect can be called the No-Accountability-Church effect that I briefly mentioned at the beginning. That church you enjoy so much online may actually teach good, Gospel truth. Maybe they are a solid church after all. However, if that church becomes your primary source for bible teaching and preaching, that person and that church will never know you. You will not have anyone to speak into your life. You take in good teaching and leave behind relational accountability that is intended by Jesus’ design in his church.
This is the summary of my short sermon today: you need to belong to a local church congregation. You need your average pastor who preaches an average sermon – but who is willing and able to spend time with you, pray for you, get to know you, and by God’s help shepherd you deeper into Jesus himself. You need your own views and convictions to be challenged from time to time, because none of us have it all figured out. Jesus is always in the business of confronting us, challenging us, and regularly busting up our preconceived notions about life. And this is good for us.
If I could speak directly to Immanuel right now, hear me out: I know Covid is hard. I just did the math, and I literally haven’t preached in one month, or physically attended in almost a month due to sicknesses. Many of you for similar reasons have a difficult time regularly attending. It is hard to have in person fellowship with one another, to share meals over a table right now. It is hard, and there are no easy answers, as we may still have 2021 to push through in this kind of world.
But thankfully, this is not forever. And this is a plea for you to be intentional about how you live out your faith right now. This is a plea to consider what information you are feeding yourself, what teachers you are spending time listening to.
Has your involvement and intentionality into the body of Christians at Immanuel gotten less of you than certain other churches and Christian leaders online? Have you accidently fallen into the Amazon effect?
And lastly, are you only listening to the things you agree with? Are you listening to too much Christian fluff that doesn’t bring you to repentance and Christian action towards your neighbors?
Or, have you allowed yourself to fall away more than you ought have from the body of Christ?
Consider how you can intentionally pursue your commitment to membership at Immanuel. Not for the sake of the institution of Immanuel – but for the spiritual health and well being of one another. We can push through this together. And Immanuel, be ready, as I am going to preach hard about Jesus in the on coming weeks. We need Jesus. We need Jesus more than ever. We need to grapple with him, we need him to challenge us, but we more importantly need to ensure that we are giving our TOTAL allegiance to our Lord and King Jesus. And you cannot do that alone, apart from your brothers and sisters who know you at your own church.
Make phone calls to one another, pray for one another, bundle up and go out for a walk. Come and meet at our church building where we have plenty of space to stay apart from one another. Be creative. Write letters to one another, email one another. This is a call to perseverance, and let’s persevere with Jesus as our focus. Thanks for your time, and please join us online this coming Sunday at 10am right here on Facebook.