Don’t Let the Devil Steal the Identity of Your Church!
This sermon is part three in a series I am writing. Parts one and two were preached at our live Radio Antioch meetings. Any of you who are interesting in seeing what parts one and two are about can see the videos on our website. In these teachings, I was focused on how the devil tries to steal the identity of the Christian. Today we will focus on how the devil tries to steal the identity of the church.
The devil cannot directly oppose the moves of God. He does not have sufficient power to do so.
However, the devil does oppose the servants of God, those used of God to carry out His will upon the earth. I suppose you could say that the devil practices guerilla warfare. Instead of confronting the power and people of God directly, he tries to focus on one small area at a time, perhaps a single believer or a single church, and then flee. One of the best ways to do that is to deceive or discourage us so that we forget who we are in Christ and forget what we have been called to do. Remember in Genesis, where the devil asked “Did God really say”? He sows doubt and unbelief, or bad theology. If the devil can’t send you to Hell, we will at least try and make you miserable and ineffective.
One of the greatest places of deception in all time has been the attack to try and steal the identity of the church!
One of the first places where the devil tries to steal the identity of the church is the focus on buildings and divisions. In our culture, when we talk about a church, we usually mean a building. If you asked 50 Americans what a church is, most would say a building where religious services take place. WRONG! How many know that as Christians, we are supposed to get our definitions, our “world view” out of the scripture? Today we commonly use the phrase “Church” to mean a building. But the word translated “Church” in the New Testament is ekklesia (ek-klay-see’-ah) which means “a calling out” or “congregation” or “assembly”. So when the New Testament speaks about the Church in Ephesus or Antioch or Corinth, it is speaking about the gathering of people there. Each gathering or assembly of believers has its own personality, its own strengths and weaknesses, and its own calling as part of the body and Kingdom of Jesus Christ. By the biblical definition, the defining characteristic of a church can never be what its building is, but rather who are its people!.
The people make the church, not what building keeps the rain off of their heads! A common tactic of the devil to get us to focus on the so-called “church” where people go instead of on the church that the people are.
How many of you have visited the original Antioch church from the New Testament? What? No hands? In fact, I don’t think that there is any building in existence today associated with any of the New Testament churches. In fact, it was many years before the idea of dedicated church building caught on. Early churches met in people’s homes and in public places. But I would say to you that it was the first church in Antioch that sent out missionaries to the world, and that our churches today can be traced back to the fruit of their efforts.
Another Lie: Where is it in the Bible that Christianity is a Spectator Sport? But it was the Romans that had the Arenas. If the Church is about the people, then if the Church is Dead, then it’s YOUR fault!
If all the people are just sitting there to be entertained, then it might as well be “America’s Got Talent”! But consider what the ONE THING that we do in church now that we will also do when we get to heaven. That one thing is to WORSHIP the Lord. Sure teaching is very important, for we need to be taught the principles of Christ. We all need to be taught the scriptures. And yes, we need to pray for the sick, as the scriptures command, having the elders lay hand on those who need healing. But the most important thing about church is to enter into the presence of God, and to commune with Him, and to Worship HIM. That communing, that worship, is the ONLY part of our worship experience that will continue in heaven. It seems to me that some of our churches should dare to practice more of it now!
Turn with me in your bibles to the book of churches chapter 11…
Why are you looking at me like that? Oh, yes, I’m really talking about the book of Acts, which is a shortened name for the “The Acts of the Apostles”. You see it is not about a building but rather about what the people did. It’s the acts of the apostles, not the acts of the churches.
Let me show you a second place where the devil tries to steal the identity of a church. In Matthew chapter 28, we were told to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” In Mark 16:15 Jesus said to them to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Now, there are two common commands here: Can anyone tell me the first? The first is what to do: GO! Don’t be only focused on your area. The second command is similar: WHO- Don’t be focused only on your little group, go to all the nations. One big place where the identity of the church gets stolen is the trap of ignoring or under emphasizing these two aspects of the great commission. The big temptation is to just minister to our 50 or 100 people in our local body of Christians. We just get inbred and only associate with our own kind, the believers. Worse yet, a lot of our denominations only associate with their own denomination, making them doubly inbred. A lot of people really put the early church in Jerusalem up on a pedestal as the ideal new testament church. I believe they do this largely because the people gave sacrificially and took care of the needy. However, if you look, they only took care of Jews. They were not going to the nations. In fact, the whole reason that the office of the deacon in the church was created is because there were complaints that widows of the Jews of Hellenistic origin were being overlooked in favor of the local widows. Not only did they only focus on Jews, but they also clearly were cliquish within their own people group. It was not until persecution broke out that this church was scattered, and the people began to carry out the Great Commission. In Acts chapter 7 and 8, you see the martyrdom of Stephen and the beginning of the persecution of the church by Saul. When this happened, the church was scattered. We see Phillip going to Samaria and proclaiming the Gospel to the hated Samaritans. After he begins to have success, Peter and John join him. In Acts 11:19 we see that some who were scattered from the persecution in Jerusalem made their way to Antioch. At first they preached to the Jews alone. But later, they began to preach to the Greeks also. Acts 11:21 says that the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number believed and turned to the Lord. Note that the scriptures say that the believers were first called Christians in Antioch. Whenever you see a name change in the scripture there is a deep spiritual significance. Like Jesus, this church was more focused on the Father’s plan than on their own agenda. And like Jesus, this church was more focused on who they were trying to save than their own needs.
Church, the devil would love to have us only focus on, and associate with, other Christians. The devil is perfectly happy when Christians go be separate to themselves and do nothing to be salt in light in the community. Those guys are all saved, so why spend any effort on them? Instead, the devil would rather focus on dragging as many people outside of the church to hell as possible. We are supposed to be Salt and Light to the community! We are supposed to be bringing the nations into the knowledge of Jesus. And by nations I mean not only countries, but also those who live in our country of a different social or ethnic background. If we just focus on ourselves we are not a danger to the devil’s kingdom…The Devil has twisted the scripture in 2 Cor. 6:17 that says “Therefore, come out from their midst and BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord.” To mean don’t associate with anyone outside the church. And honestly, in a large portion of the Christian community that is what we do. But look at the next verse: “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. “ This section is about not being polluted by the things of this world. Now, when it says “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” that does imply that we should not enter into certain close relationships with unbelievers, for example I don’t think a believer should marry an unbeliever, or take on an unsaved business partner. Some relationships are so close that you can’t help but be affected by that person. However this section DOES NOT justify the church in general withdrawing from interaction with the world. Just don’t hold them so close as to be polluted by them.
Church- Do not let the devil steal your identity of Salt and Light. Do not let the Devil steal your identity as missionary to the nations!
A third place where the devil has stolen identity in the church is in our leaders. Can anyone show me anywhere in the church where the head of a group of believers was required to be pastoral? I doubt it. If you look at the new testament churches, they usually have several leaders, with different giftings. One might be pastoral. Another might be a teacher or an apostle. Another might be prophetic. We have this simple model where one man is the head of a local body, and his job is to meet the spiritual needs of all the flock, and to teach them, and to shepherd the direction of the church. We put such an unreal expectation on that poor sucker we call “the pastor” that there is almost no way he can prosper! Instead, what if we gave the freedom for our leaders to be who they are in Christ, and put others around them to help with the load. Instead of being judgmental of a man of God who has a great teaching gift but is not all that good with hospital visits and funerals, why not pair him up with an elder who is very pastoral. Maybe a church has a visionary leader but he needs a couple of good bible teachers to run the Sunday school.
The devil has tried very hard to steal the 5 fold ministry identity from the body.
Ephesians 4:11-13 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,  to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
A really common lie the enemy has used to steal from our leaders is that after the early church, there are no more Apostles, Prophets or Teachers. Most denominations acknowledge the evangelist, and call the head guy at the church a Pastor. But what do we do with that guy who has a building, fathering, apostolic gift to build into people and plant churches or ministries? What do we do with the prophetic? Most churches literally ban them, or limit them to one expression, a tongue and interpretation. And unless our teachers who are grounded and mature in the word are on staff somehow, we don’t consider them as part of the ministry. But this scripture in Ephesians 4 clearly says that all 5 offices were given until the church attains the full measure of fullness in Christ. I don’t think any church in history has over gotten to that point, so I got news for you- the Apostles and the Prophets and the Teachers are still called to be working side by side with the pastor and the evangelist.
Acts 13:1 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (Mon-ah-ane’) (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.
Now, clearly at the church in Antioch, we had in the leadership team prophets and teachers. But now look what happens:
Acts 13:2-3 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
So look at what happened. Barnabas had been sent in Acts 11:22 to be the head of the church in Antioch, and he had recruited Paul to help him. But now the Holy Spirit was moving them into an apostolic ministry. If the people in Antioch had refused to let go of those two, the much of what happened in the rest of the book of acts would have been different! The devil would love to have our pastors be worn out, expected to be all things to the body, and be kept in the box defined by their congregation. Instead, we need to surround our leaders with others whose giftings help balance the needs of the body, and actually have the courage to let our beloved leaders grow in their calling and walk with God as well.
This brings me to the fourth way that the devil tries to steal the identity of a church- By having it stay the same and not grow into the calling that God is leading it into.
Many of you understand this, but for clarity, let me spell out a concept to you- Local churches are like people, they have a birth, they grow in size and in maturity, in knowledge and capability, and eventually many die. From one season in life to another, a church grows and changes just like a person does. Look at this church in Antioch. Acts 11:26 says that Barnabas and Paul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. It was during this time that they became disciples, and first became known as Christians. During this formative season in the Antioch church, the focus was entirely on making local converts and training them into disciples in the Lord. But now we see the Holy Spirit calling two of their beloved leaders into this apostolic call to the nations. At that point the leaders and people of the church in Antioch had an option- to be disobedient and keep Paul and Barnabas back, and ignore this trans-local call on the church, or to embrace this new season in the church’s identity, become the sending center to reach the nations, and release Paul and Barnabas to enter into their destinies as apostles. Thank God they did!
Now, you can bet that some in that church wanted to hold on to the way things were. What they did not understand that if through disobedience, the hand and favor of the Spirit was withdrawn, things would never be the same anyway. And yet a lot of churches miss their call to move into a place of regional and even international influence out of the desire of some to avoid change. And yet if you miss the move of God, change does come, and never for the better.
Church, I challenge you this day not to let the devil steal your identity. I challenge you not to become so caught up in buildings and programs that you forget that the real church is a group of PEOPLE and all the buildings and programs are but a servant to their needs, not the other way around. I challenge you not to become inbred, focusing only on stealing Christians from the other churches, but rather to truly be Salt and Light in the community and bringing in the lost. I dare you to train up your people to be leaders in their schools, jobs and even in government. I dare you to become radically saved by having the courage to witness to the radically unsaved!
Let me say that again: I dare you to become radically saved by having the courage to witness to the radically unsaved!
Church, I challenge you to build leaders in a biblical pattern, raising up the 5 fold in our midst, and having the courage to release them as they grow into their destinies. And finally, church, I dare you to get on your face and seek God for what you are to be in this next season, and boldly allow the Holy Spirit to transform this body as it walks into its destiny. I dare You!