Dear Jesus Our Precious Lord and Savior,
You have brought us all into the Father’s favor.
Sweet Jesus, Friend of sinners, Friend of me,
You have saved us. You have answered our plea.
There is no one who is fairer than Thee.
Help Your Church Lord Jesus, help us now,
To love and cherish You alone as our All in All.
Now and forevermore, let this be our goal and call.
One of my favorite hymns (if not my most favorite) of all time is “Fairest Lord Jesus,” an Anonymous German hymn, written in 1677. The first and fourth stanzas go like this:
Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature, O Thou of
God and man the Son: Thee will I cherish, Thee will I
honor, Thou my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.
Beautiful Savior! Lord of the nations! Son of
God and Son of Man! Glory and honor, praise,
adoration, now and forevermore be Thine! Amen.
Our church’s hymn book, “THE HYMNAL for Worship and Celebration” has Isaiah 33:17 under the title of this hymn: “Your eyes will see the King in His beauty and view a land that stretches afar.”
What makes a church a Christian church? The most important characteristic of a Christian church, I believe, is that the assembly of believers recognize the Supremacy of Christ above all else; that He is God, He is the head of the Church and He is the only mediator between God the Father and mankind. This is succinctly explained by the Apostle Paul:
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made of human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:15-20).
The same is said of Jesus in John’ Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men…He was in the world, and though the world was made by Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not recognize Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-4, 10-14).
The Christian Church believes that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins and rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of God praying for us. Paul writes:
“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? Christ Jesus, Who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:31-34).
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”
(I Corinthians 15:3-4).
The Christian Church believes that Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and will come again. Luke writes:
“’…and you will be My witnesses…’ After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you look into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:8b-11).
[We know from Matthew 24:36 and Acts 1:6-7 that no on knows when Jesus will return.]
Paul teaches that Jesus is the Only One we need:
“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its perfect time” I Timothy 2:3-6).
Jesus Himself says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
In order to know and understand in our heart of hearts that Jesus is supreme above all else, A Christian church must believe that God’s Word, the Bible, is Truth and they must teach God’s Word accurately and truthfully, without adding to it or subtracting from it. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he gives these instructions:
“Keep reminding them [Timothy’s church] of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the Word of Truth” (II Timothy 2:15).
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17).
In the lengthiest Psalm in the Bible, the psalmist writes this (among other things) about God‘s Word:
“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
John warns everyone not to tamper with God’s prophecy in the Book of Revelation, but his warning can be applied to all of God‘s Word:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this Book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this Book. And if anyone takes words away from this Book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the Tree of Life and in the Holy City, which are described in this Book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
Recognizing the Supremacy of Christ – that Jesus Christ is God and the only mediator between God and mankind – is vitally important to the spiritual health of a Christian church. Believing in God’s Word, the Bible, God’s Truth, and having accurate and balanced teaching of God’s Word are crucial elements in the growth and body-life of a Christian church. Also, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is of the utmost importance in the worship cycle of a Christian church, whether it be once a week or once a month. In celebrating of Jesus’ Last Supper, Christians remember His death, eat together as God’s family and look forward to Christ’s return. Jesus Himself instructed [all] His disciples [from His first to His last] to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together [Communion] until He comes again:
“When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at table. And He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’ After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:14-20).
The Apostle Paul instructed the new church in Corinth regarding the Lord’s Supper:
“For I have received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night that He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore, whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be sinning against the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats the bread and drinks the cup” (I Corinthians 11:23-28).
[Other Scriptures concerning what the Lord’s Supper means to the Christian Church: Song of Solomon 2:4, Isaiah 25:6, Revelation 2:17 and 19:9)
A Christian church also obeys Christ’s lasts commands in His “Great Commission” found in Matthew 28:19-20, to “…make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I commanded…”
The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are often referred to as Sacraments of the Church. There are also the Sacrament of Marriage and the Sacrament of Burial (b. t. a. are two distinctly different Sacraments) which are practiced in almost every religion, but the Lord’s Supper (Communion) and Baptism are unique to the Christian Church.
What does this have to do with Yogi Berra’s famous quote, “It’s déjà vu all over again” you ask. Well, I’m going to get to that soon. But first, I need to tell you my firsthand account of what it’s like to leave a church. Way back, in Part One of “In Search of a Perfect Church”, I mentioned that I came from a Roman Catholic background. When I began attending the Protestant Church I refer to as CC, I attended that church on Sundays and went to the Catholic Church with my family on Saturdays. The longer I attended CC, the more difficult it was to attend the Catholic Church . I so badly wanted to do both, but some of the Catholic Church’s teachings did not jive with what I was reading and learning from the Bible and from sermons and Bible studies I was attending at CC. For the first time, I heard the Gospel message; the GOOD NEWS that Jesus did it all by dying on the cross for me. I finally understood what the Apostle Paul was talking about in Ephesians and Titus:
“For it is by GRACE you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the GIFT of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God‘s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His GRACE, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone” (Titus 3:4-8).
What a relief! Have you ever tried to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when your dominant arm was broken or try getting to the bathroom with a broken leg or try to talk with someone about changing an air plane ticket who is from another country and can’t understand a word you are saying? Those situations are a little bit like how it is to have cerebral palsy, only cerebral palsy does not go away. What should take a minute takes twenty minutes for me. When I am dealing with a whole bunch of these frustrating situations in one day, “Patience” is not my middle name. Also, being a perfectionist and having cerebral palsy does not make me a “happy camper.” BUT, PRAISE GOD FOR HIS MATCHLESS GRACE – His unmerited favor. It is not up to me to win a place in Heaven. It has already been won by Jesus Christ. It is not all up to me to do the good that God has for me to do. He has empowered me with His Holy Spirit Who gives me His power and enables me to do what is pleasing in God’s sight. And if I mess up, as I often do, God’s Word tells me, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). God’s Word tells me I am “justified by His grace.” It is “just as if I have not sinned.” My obedience to God is no longer out of obligation and the fear of going to hell, but it is because I love Jesus above all else and am so grateful “to God for His Indescribable Gift!” (II Corinthians 9:15).
I was having my own little “church conflict” inside of me. I did not want to leave my dad’s church and hurt him in any way. Why couldn’t I just go to both? But, the above Scriptures made it increasingly difficult to participate in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. How could I pray to Mary and other Saints, when I knew Jesus is the only One I need? How could I go to a priest to confess my sins when I knew Jesus is the One I need to talk to? How could I carry out penance for my sins when I knew Jesus already paid for them all on the cross. How could I believe that the Pope was the Head of the Church when I knew Jesus is the Head of the His Church? How could I participate in the “Sacrifice of the Mass” when I knew Jesus dying once on the cross is the only sacrifice God would accept? How could I work hard to be good enough to get to Heaven when I knew that is humanly impossible to do? I struggled with all these questions for over a year. The turning point came during a Summer Bible study at CC, with one of the Assistant Pastors (D.O. are his initials), on the Book of Hebrews. The following passage jumped out from the page and almost slapped me right between the eyes, as though God was saying, Okay Lydia, try to ignore this:
“Now there have been many priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them. Such a High Priest meets our need – One Who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of his people. He [Jesus] sacrificed once for all when He offered Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath [God’s oath to His Son], which came after the law, appointed the Son, Who has been made perfect forever” (Hebrews 7:23-28)
That was the clincher for me. The next Spring I became a member of CC and was baptized in a lake, in April. My dad was not pleased with my decision, but he still loved me, as I knew he would. God blessed my obedience to His call and I’ve been a member of CC for about thirty-six years. For me, CC fit me like a glove. As a family in Christ, we survived the immorality of our founding Pastor who left before everyone knew of his escapades. His first attempt to escape fell through, but he was able to leave the second time, for a pastorate down south. The Lord blessed us with a godly man to be our Pastor and he stayed for about twenty-five years. Then, the “déjà vu all over again” happened, only different.
First, Pastor #2 announced that he was applying for a Chaplaincy at a military academy. He explained that he felt the Lord was leading him to a new challenge. The congregation was understandably sad at the thought of him leaving, but staying in the same pastorate for over twenty years was very rarely done. We were thankful to the Lord for the time he was with us and knew this might happen eventually. Unlike the first Pastor who barely acknowledged my presence, Pastor #2 and I became friends. When I was a missionary in New York State, he came to speak at one of the retreats for people with disabilities I was working at. When I was a deacon, he and I would meet about special functions at the church. He also counseled me when I was going through a hard time. And, most meaningful of all for me, he would ask my advice on things, from sermons that mentioned a person with a disability to what wine would go best with chili (Red Zinfandel), and he would always ask me to pray at the end of our meeting times. “I really will miss him,” I thought to myself. But wait…
The Chaplaincy “job” fell through and someone else was picked, much to our surprise. “Their loss and our gain,” we all thought. But awhile later, Pastor #2 did leave for another pastorate in another time zone. Just like the first Pastor, the second Pastor’s first “job” fell through, but the second “job” came through. Unlike the first Pastor, Pastor #2 was leaving CC on good terms, and for that we were all grateful. That is what I meant when I said, “it was déjà vu all over again,” only different.
In the last installment of “In Search of a Perfect Church (Part Five)” [I promise], we will be looking at our “warts.” The Roman Catholic Church is not the only Christian Church with “warts.” The Protestant Church has a hefty share of them as well. In a recent email to a prayer group, I wrote the following: “It is hard to look at our ‘warts‘ and admit that we have them. But, we need to look at them and ask God to remove them. Also, our ‘warts‘ hide our ’beauty marks‘ – the things we are doing which please God and honor Him. ‘Wart removal’ is painful, put the results are ‘out of this world’ and into a God-honoring Christ-like life of joyful service and peaceful rest.”
Before closing, I want to say that I know many people who are Roman Catholic who love the Lord Jesus and honor Him in their service to their church. But, it was something hard for me to do personally. I felt like a round cat trying to fit into small square box or a square cat trying to fit into a round basket. (Meet my housemates: Tulip and Tannin.)