Most likely you’ve heard the old question, “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” For some reason this really seems to be a legitimate question for many, but for anyone who is a Christian the answer is self-evident. God created the chicken; the chicken lays the egg. We know this because the bible tells us so and, of course, it makes perfect sense.
But it seems as if that simple logic is lost sometimes in our busy Christian lives which oftentimes focus on bringing the lost (and the saved who often desperately need a fresh drink from the Living Water) to the next church service instead of to God. In other words, we tend to forget that God came, and still comes, first.
In the Old Testament we see clearly that there was God; then came those who followed Him. In the New Testament we clearly see that there was Jesus; then came those who followed Him. They were the “Church” by the way…the ones recorded in the New Testament who followed Jesus. It’s always been the case that the Church was the people. Perhaps the question I’m posing should be, “Which came first: God or the Church, or the home or building the Church met in, or the traditions of men often referred to as church….” Ah, I digress.
Suffice it to say in the bible we see that once Jesus came, people started to follow Him while He was alive and kept right on following Him after His death, burial and resurrection. They went everywhere telling others the good news of the gospel in word and in deed. They ministered, they cared, they loved, they endured, they were Christians. As a result of them going around sharing the love and grace and message of Christ, many people were added to their number and then new “churches” were born and you see them start gathering together with other Christians as they continued to go out and find more.
What did these primitive Christians do when they wanted to bring someone to Christ or encourage a believer in Christ? They pointed both to Christ and shared the message of hope that always ended with a promise that God, in three-Persons, was right there waiting to enter into a saving, loving, caring, triumphant, forgiven, exciting, miraculous relationship with the lost soul and right there to carry the saved yet discouraged and weary believer through whatever valley of death they yet faced.
Oh can you see it???!!!! Everyone being turned to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit at every turn! Read the letters of Paul and others. They constantly pointed believers and non-believers alike to God and compelled them to run to God, run to the foot of the cross, run to His resting place, run into His arms, run towards heaven, run towards life eternal, run towards the Spirit, run towards the very depths of an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus by sitting at His feet like Mary did while Martha busied herself. God came first. The growth of the Church was an end-result of taking people to God.
Recently a dear pastor friend of mine shared with me that at a meeting he went to of a rather conservative, traditional denomination the leader had drawn a diagram that showed God and a local church and a lost person. The question was then asked if it was possible to bring someone to Christ without them having to go through a local church first.
The answer was a resounding yes! Of course a person can be brought directly to Jesus. And yet the teacher went on to explain how, in a variety of ways, we act like that is not the case. We sit in our little groups and our little buildings trying to get people to come to us, come to church, and it just isn’t working. The kicker is, as we touched on earlier, in the bible and in the early church Christians were always introducing people to God first. Only those who believed and were saved fellowshipped with the local Church wherever it happened to meet. Folks weren’t sold on the pastor or the building or the programs or the location, etc. and how awesome that all was—in the hopes that if they would only come to the “service” then maybe they would eventually get to God. No! They were “sold” (if I dare use that term) on how awesome God was and what wondrously good news the gospel was.
If I had a dime for every time I have heard someone talking about how they wish they could just get so-in-so to come to church…I’d have enough money to pay for the medical treatment necessary for me to get that nauseating feeling out of my heart, mind and spirit that surely results from hearing it time and time again. I know it’s said sincerely with the best of intentions but it’s simply misguided. As if people estranged from God needed whatever version of “church” we could possibly come up with to fill the crater in their soul, cure their terminal disease of sin, awaken them from the coma they’re in, or give them hope in the midst of their utterly hopeless condition. Dear friends, people need to be brought to God first before anything else will make any real and lasting difference.
So, how many people have you brought to church first—hoping someone or something else might then bring them to God? And how many people have you brought to God first—knowing that once they come to God, their being a part of the Church and fellowshipping with other believers would be a given? When I ask myself these two questions, I find that I don’t really like the answers. God change us.