Is the Church a Most Neglected Resource?
Updated: Jul 5
Worship and Spiritual Formation
Man began calling on the name of the Lord in Genesis and called on “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” in Revelation 21:22b. To call on is to worship and to worship is to be spiritual. To not attend a church of worship is to not have spirituality. The church then becomes the most neglected resource for spiritual growth. The common thread throughout this writing is that God is in charge and Jesus will return for his church, the believers and doers of God’s will. The body of Christ. I differentiate between the church as a structure and the church of believers within context without capitalizing church.
Worship and the Human Spirit
We represent God’s nature as created beings, and we function along with water, whales, and wind. All was perfect until the fall. God grieved at man’s disobedience and wiped-out humanity save Noah and his family. In God’s perfect and holy image, created man was inconsistent with God’s character and man’s heart was corrupt. In Worship and Spiritual Formation by Paul Petitt, Averbeck writes that “Heart” in Hebrew “can refer to any element of our inner being, including the way we think and feel, our will and our desires, our memories and our plans, our attitudes, and more. The Hebrew language does not really have another term for "mind" or "brain.”” By definition then, the church influences all of the heart. It is not the sole purpose of church attendance, but the church nevertheless becomes the most neglected resource for nourishing and conditioning the heart. MacArthur says the heart is “the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature”and Wiersbe says the heart is “the entire inner life of a person.”
The Human Spirit in Scripture
If the church is the neglected resource, the neglected topic is that of the human spirit. This is somewhat surprising because when the spirit of the person leaves the body, the body dies! One can be absent in the flesh yet among us in spirit (Col. 2:5; 1 Cor. 5:3-5)). “The "spirit" is the seat of human character, as well as capacities, dispositions, and attitudes.” A person can be holy in both body and spirit (1 Cor. 7:34). One is cleansed of all filthiness of the flesh and spirit ((2 Cor. 7:1). Only God can destroy both the soul and the body (Matt. 10:28). The soul is distinct from the spirit and body, and the whole can be preserved blameless (1 Thess. 5:23). Death came to man because of rebellious disobedience and thank God! Once man broke covenant with God in his temporary insanity, God limited the life of creation. Averbeck mentions what a disaster it would have been for man to exist forever in the state of corruption, but his illogical assertion neglects the fact that God said, “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).
The loveless church of Ephesus, the first of the seven churches, was not a social club. The church was busy doing. The church of Ephesus had all kinds of ministries and programs. John Stott, author and rector, summarizes the condition of the church as, "energetic in their service, patient in their suffering, and orthodox in their faith." John praises their patience and abhorrence of the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, a heretical group, probably having views similar to the teaching of Balaam and Jezebel. He commends them for their endurance in the face of deception by false prophets.
But the church was labeled "loveless" because they lost their first love—they had fallen out of pure and simple devotion to God, out of affection, out of intimacy. Additionally, they abandoned the love for people. The church then becomes the most neglected resource for spiritual growth.
The Human Spirit in Worship
From the book of Revelation, consider the seven churches in Asia Minor. The problems these seven churches faced are the same kinds of problems churches face today. Christ sees the problems and sins of the church perfectly; we see only imperfectly. If we could look at our own church the way Christ does and heed The Son of God’s solutions to the problems of the churches, we would learn what qualities Christ praises in a local church. Too many churches get wrapped up in growth strategies and the latest trends (especially in the extravagant misapplication of praise and worship) rather than about what Jesus Christ teaches. Too many churches have accommodated the culture and have become social clubs, coffee bistros, and entertainment centers. Some people are eagar to transform their lives to feel better about themselves and misinterpret Colossians 3:9-10 “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” It seems the only phrase remembered is “put on the new self.”
Christ founded the church and is the head and judge. What Jesus says matters for eternity. We as believers are organisms of the church body. We have to be the church. Injury to our own body summons immediate attention and when God speaks to us as a church body, we must immediately seek God’s saving grace. Again, the church is the most neglected resource in aiding personal spiritual growth.
When God speaks, we must respond. Christ alone will judge the churches. If we can learn from the messages of God’s counsel in those seven letters to the seven churches, we can learn much that will help steer our churches, and the church, from failure and false teaching. “Our human spirit is now dominated by these dynamics of corruption. A big part of spiritual formation is about transforming our human spirit from corruption to godliness—back to the image of God.”
The human spirit must be in worship. “All true worship comes out of the human spirit affected by God.”One of the first instances of worship was when Adam and Eve had their third son, Seth. “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, “For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.” And as for Seth, to him also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:25-26).
I mentioned earlier that to call on the name of the Lord is to worship the Lord. What other choice do we have after descending from perfection to corruption? But there is more to calling on the name of the Lord in worship. We are created to worship, to call upon the name of the Lord, and if the form of worship has changed, the heart and center have not. We call upon the name of the Lord in praise and thanksgiving, (Ps. 116:17); in and for salvation, (Ps. 116:13; Acts 2:21; Rom.10:13; Joel 2:32); in summon or appeal, (1 Kings 18:24); for healing (2 Kings 5:11); and for clarification, (Zeph. 3:9). “Calling on the name of the Lord is at the core of worship.” Church and worship in the church must not be the most neglected resource in aiding personal spiritual growth. Praise songs, mission trips, worship workshops, and the like are necessary for the Kingdom of God, but presenting ourselves as creatures of the Creator in personal or communal worship pleases God. “Real worship arises out of the human spirit that is deeply impacted by God’s presence and transforming work through his Holy Spirit in our human spirit right in the middle of real life."
Salvation and Justification by Faith Alone: Individualistic or an Inclusive Community?
Recall that I quoted Psalm 116:13 and Acts 2:21 regarding our call upon the name of the Lord in and for salvation. Is soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, an individual or communal struggle? The following verse implies a communal struggle, “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are”(John 17:11). There is a unity of purpose in the body of Christ, the church, but organizational unity is no substitute for spiritual unity.
“Ratzlaff suggests that appreciation of this sociological dimension in Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith is a critical corrective to contemporary individualism and should redirect our focus onto the importance of the community of the people of God.” Colossians 3:15 “you were called in one body” where the “you” is plural, lumps us as community. Ava Rosenbaum writes in the Brown Political Review, "Americans do not tend to touch each other during interpersonal interactions. Americans maintain a greater distance of personal space between themselves and others, compared to more touch-oriented, collectivistic cultures like in Latin America or Mediterranean cultures. As such, there is less physical contact and touch between friends, family, and strangers."
The church plays a vital role in combating individualism. Contrary to self-seeking individualism, believers should share in the common ministry of the body of Christ. The fellowship of believers devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42). There were no needy persons among them. On a regular basis, believers sold their belongings and distributed their money to anyone in need (Acts 4:34-35). 2 Cor. 8:13-15 tells us, "Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little." Doing good and sharing with others pleases God (Heb. 13:16).
We can have individuality without having individualism. The differences between particular people need to be recognized. People have different gifts (1 Co 12:4-6), needs and abilities (Mt. 25:14-15) and character (1 Co 12:12). Placing the needs of individuals above the needs of the church as a whole is contrary to the biblical emphasis for all believers to share in the common ministry of the body of Christ (1 Co. 12:21-26).
Worship and the Holy Spirit
Worship without a reasoned faith is like talking to a wall. The wall is not going to respond, and without a reasoned faith, a conviction of belief in the Lord Almighty's saving grace, worship is nothing more than “ship” after a double-you with an oar. Of course, that does not make sense; that is the point. A worshiper having a reasoned faith has the Holy Spirit as helper, the Spirit of truth (John 14:15-16). The Holy Spirit is the empowering presence of God, the same presence that during the exodus from Egypt, made the mountains skip like rams, turned back the Jordan, and caused the earth to tremble (Ps. 114).
First Corinthians chapter two instructs us in spiritual wisdom. The wisdom of God is a mystery available to us through the Holy Spirit for us to see what God has prepared for us. The Spirit searches the deep things of God and only the Spirit knows the things of God. We have the Holy Spirit so that “we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12).
“The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Paul Petitt nicely sums up the working of the Holy Spirit with “The Holy Spirit works in our human spirit to make the transformation from deception to wisdom (James 3:13-18), from doubt to confident trust (Prov. 3:5-8), from illegitimate desires to good and holy legitimate desires (Gal. 5:16-26), from sinful rebellion against God to obedience (Matt. 28:20), from the depths of shame to the heights of God’s love and glory (Eph. 3:14-21), from a spirit of fear to a spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15-17), from "scrambling" to rest in the soul (Matt. 11:28-30).”
Worship and the Holy Spirit as "Wind."
Averbeck illustrates that we are the boat and the Holy Spirit is the wind. The worshipers without a reasoned faith I mentioned earlier are then the boat without a sail. When a worshiper hoists the sail, a reasoned faith, the Holy Spirit moves them. The woman at the well, a Samaritan who practiced pagan idolatry and had serial relationships with men, hoisted her sail. Christ told her “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). The woman hoisted her sail, was moved by the Holy Spirit, and she bore witness to others who came to believe in Jesus.
The Holy Spirit and Temple Worship
Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). John tells us that Christ, indeed the Word, became flesh and tabernacled with us (John 1:14). The Holy Spirit dwells in us personally as well as corporately. We as living stones build a spiritual house, a temple, and are the people of God (1 Peter 2:4-12). There are nearly 200 verses results for “worship” in the Bible. Nothing effects the human spirit like the effects of the Holy Spirit during worship in the temple.
One example of a church fitting the description of a tradition-driven religious business center would be the fourth church in the messenger's circuit in the book of Revelation. Thyatira is the most difficult to interpret because there is not much archeological information. Thyatira became part of the Roman Republic in 133 BCE and was the center of worship of Apollo and apparently Caesar since both were believed to be the son of Zeus. In Rev. 2:18, Jesus purposefully identifies as "Son of God", countering the action of Emperor Domitian naming his son, "son of god."
Thyatira was on the borders of Lydia and Mysia (location of Mt. Olympus), about 40 miles east-south-east of Pergamos and a similar distance north-east of Smyrna. Thyatira was a prosperous commercial center with many of its inhabitants involved in trade and manufacturing activities such as linen and leather workers, tanners, bakers, potters, bronze smiths, and shoemakers. If you were not part of those groups, it would be hard to make a living. The problem was that belonging to that industry also involved engaging in their social activities which included pagan worship. For example, tradesmen meetings would typically include pagan sacrificial meals and to not participate would endanger one's membership in that group. The tables will turn, however. Imagine the iron of the bronze smiths breaking the vessels of the potters. Jesus reminds us of Micah 4:1 – 5, that the people of God will rule over the nations and even judge them. We will receive the "morning star,” Jesus Christ. Christ directed the longest letter to this church. It is one of most severe letters because of the severity of adultery, sexual immorality, and idolatry. They have been led into an unholy alliance with pagan doctrine and practice.
They allowed Jezebel "who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols" (Rev. 2:20). Jezebel taught this as being justified while also worshiping Christ. She may have been one holding to “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans” (see Rev. 2:15). This is where Thyatira gets named the "corrupt church" and why this letter is so severe. Jesus uses the name Jezebel perhaps because the woman justifying compromise in Thyatira had all the marks of the Jezebel in the Old Testament (I and II Kings). No true Christian recognized her as a prophet and John mockingly associated her with the Canaanite queen who induced her husband Ahab, to worship idols and even try to kill the prophet, Elijah. First and Second Kings records that she was eaten by dogs as told through Elijah's prophecy.
Whereas the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) commands we make disciples, not converts, not church members, and certainly not 'return customers!' Jesus said, "feed my sheep" and that He would build His church.
Dr. John MacArthur put it this way: "...The Lord will measure the success or failure of a ministry by the maturity level of the sheep!"
MacArthur, John. 1 Timothy. Chicago: Moody, 1995.
Petitt, Paul. Foundations of Spiritual Formation. Kregal, 2018.
Rosenbaum, Ava. "Personal Space and American Individualism." Brown Political Review, 2018: 20.
Strauch, Alexander. Love or Die, Christ's Wake-up Call to the Church. Littleton, Colorado: Lewis & Roth, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton: Victor, 1989.
Notes  Petitt, Foundations of Spiritual Formation, 53.  MacArthur, 1 Timothy, 175.  Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2:227.  Petitt, 55.  John R. W. Stott served as rector of All Souls Church in London and was honored by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World." His many books, including Basic Christianity and The Cross of Christ, have sold millions of copies around the world and in dozens of languages.  Johnson, Discipleship, 56.  Strauch, Love or Die, 1  Petitt, 56.  Petitt, 60.  Petitt, 59.  Petitt, 60.  Rosenbaum, Personal Space, 20.  Petitt, 61.  Petitt, 62.