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Evangelistic Message to the Uninformed: 1 Timothy 3.14-16

Even though this is written as a sermon for delivery, and even though it was preached in a homiletics class, I decided I can’t post it as a sermon because it was not truly preached at a place where nonchristians wanted to hear what I have to say about Christianity. The setting is fictional. Thus, if there are any unbelievers who may be interested, I offer it here in our Apologetics section.


Who Needs It?

Mark Horne
Copyright © 2002

I’ve been asked to talk on the subject of What is Christianity? To answer that question I’ll use as my starting point a letter from the Apostle Paul to his friend Timothy. I’ll be reading from verses 14, 15 and 16 of the third chapter. We’re cutting into this letter where Saint Paul has just finished summarizing how Church leaders should behave.

Hear the Word of the Lord:

[Read Text]

Before we go any farther with this, I would like to pray for God’s help as I deliver this brief presentation.


To help us focus on the issue of Christianity, I’ve taken the liberty of amending the title of this talk to Christianity: Who Needs It? Perhaps some of you will recognize in that title a slight nod to the atheist author Ayn Rand and her book Philosophy: Who Needs It? Her answer was “everyone.” Thinking is the basic means of man’s survival and philosophy teaches man how to think and what ideas are true.

I don’t know whether “everyone” needs philosophy or not, but I do know that not everyone needs Christianity, for the simple reason that there is no such thing as Christianity.

Imagine driving up to Canada and stopping at a restaurant to get a bite to eat. And while you’re sitting at the table, someone comes over to you and says in an excited voice. “Are you an American?”

You reply, “Yes, I am.”

“Wonderful! I have so little fellowship up here with fellow Americans.”

“Have you lived in Canada a long time?” you ask.

“Oh yes, all of my life. I was born here.”

“Oh… So your parents were Americans.”

“No, sadly my parents remained Canadian all their lives.”

“Then how did you become an American?”

“Well, one day I found a tract that told me about American ideas. I was transfixed by their power and adopted them as my own. I was born again, you might say. From that day on I have believed in Americanism. I have memorized all of the Declaration of Independence and portions of the Constitution, and I subscribe to the Congressional Register.”

My problem today is similar to the one you would face in trying to explain to that Canadian the reality of his situation. You would have to tell him that there is no such thing as “Americanism.” America is not an “ism” but an institution. To be an American one must be a citizen of the nation. There may be beliefs which one must hold to be a good American, but being an American is not a matter of holding certain beliefs.

Just as there is no such thing as Americanism, there is no such thing as Christianity. Jesus never proclaimed Christianity while he was with us on the earth. Nor did His Apostles preach Christianity. We live in an age of ideologies and ideological religions where people define themselves by virtue of certain ideas they believe. It is popular these days to talk about choosing a “world view” or a “belief system” of a “philosophy.” Ayn Rand is just one idea peddlar among many others. One can consider Marxism, libertarianism, conservatism, liberalism, humanism, nihilism, hinduism, buddhism, spiritism, transcendentalism, existentialism, pragmatism, theism, atheism and so on. The list of “isms” is endless. But there is no “ism” found in God’s Word, the Bible. You will not find “Christianity” among it’s pages. Saint Paul did not spread Christianity in his journeys through the Mediterranean world. Rather, he was instrumental in spreading the Church.

It is not Christianity you need,


In Saint Paul’s letter to Timothy he writes about the Church, an institution which he compares to the institution of a household–which in our modern society would be comparable both to a family and a corporation.

(The other analogy which he uses elsewhere, by the way, is that of a nation–when he describes the Church as a kingdom. For example, he writes to the Colossians that God the Father “delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of His Beloved Son.”)

But going back to the passage I read, what is the significance of calling the Church God’s “household”? According to the Bible, when God created the first man, Adam, and His wife Eve, He was a father to them. They loved one another as members of a common family. God, being the head of the household, humbly and generously poured out every blessing upon Adam and Eve. But they responded with treason and rebelled against God. As a result they were disinherited from God’s family and banished from His Kingdom. That is how we all come into the world. We are by nature orphans and exiles. Instead of being God’s friends we are alienated from Him so that we don’t love Him as we should. Being alienated from God, we are alienated from one another and don’t love each other as we should.

God, however, has not left us in this condition without hope, but has created a New Family and Kingdom to replace the one that was originally lost. The broken relationships have been restored as the institutional Church. It is in the Church with it’s pastors, and rituals and worship, and it’s proclamation of God’s Word, the Bible, where God and man are beginning to dwell together as they once did. It is there that alienation is replaced by reconciliation.


Now, because the Church is an institution, it has a history which explains it–a history commonly called “Christianity.” There are beliefs implied in the Church, just as there are beliefs implied in America or any nation, even though one cannot reduce a nation or the Church to a belief system. What America is is largely determined by how it came to be. We learn about what it means to be Americans by learning about the nation’s history–it’s wars and regimes and laws and peoples. Likewise, Paul gives Timothy a terse summary of the “common confession” of the Church which is mainly historical. The history of the Church consists primarily on the history of Jesus, and then of the Holy Spirit. Let me briefly summarize each of these:

Your need for the Church because


Two thousand years ago, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth was the birth of the Church. He is thus the center of the common confession. Jesus existed from all eternity with the Father as God. But He was born to Mary as a true human being. As God revealed in the flesh–one person Who was both divine and human–Jesus Himself was the reconciliation between God and humanity. But Jesus also had to suffer the ultimate alienation in order to reconcile us to God. He allowed Himself to be die a torturous and humiliating death by being nailed to a wooden cross. He suffered the punishment we all deserve for our wrongdoing. But because Jesus was personally guiltless, he was raised to life by God’s Spirit, vindicating Him before God and man—that’s what Paul means he says Jesus was vindicated in the Spirit.

All of this was seen by God’s appointed witnesses. Paul here calls them angels, but the word in the original language can refer to a human messenger, and that is almost certainly the meaning here. These messengers proclaimed who Christ was and what he had done throughout the world (Their writings were compiled as what we call the New Testament). But Jesus is not simply the founder of a movement. He lives right now as the head of His Church having been taken up in glory. Jesus ascended into a different order of existence where He governs His Church and brings it to himself through the course of history until He will personally return to judge the living and the dead.


When I was a boy of about seven years or so, I remember getting to go on a trip with the rest of my students in my small private school to a place with a swimming pool. This was a big deal for us, since none of our families had swimming pools. The problem was I was still rather new at swimming. And sure enough I somehow inhaled at the wrong time and found myself suddenly choking on water. I was in the middle of the pool and could not reach the side. I panicked and started splashing, trying unsuccessfully to catch my breath and yell for help. The place was so crowded that no one seemed to notice me. I was literally going down for the third time when a hand caught me under the arm and a student only a few years older than me pulled me to the side.

Jesus is the human hand of God, rescuing us, if we will be rescued, from a fate far worse than drowning.


That is why you must realize that any interpretation of Jesus which presents Him primarily as a teacher of a belief system or the giver of a moral code is fundamentally at odds with reality. You don’t give a drowning man advice; you throw him a life preserver. God would not be so cruel as to merely give the human race information about how to live; He gave us the life of His Son. If we belong to Jesus, we are reconciled to God. And we can belong to Jesus if we join ourselves to Him through the Church of which He is the head.


But if we simply speak of God’s gift to us of His Son Jesus, we have not said enough. What Jesus accomplished does not ultimately reconcile all people to God. Rather, the life of Jesus must be conveyed to those who wish to benefit from who He is and what He did. Only the Holy Spirit can do this.

Your need for the Church because


According to the Bible, the Holy Spirit is a person like Jesus and the Father. Also like Jesus and the Father, the Holy Spirit is God. He is especially involved in the giving and withdrawing of life. Paul’s confession attributes the resurrection of Jesus especially to the Holy Spirit. This has implications beyond His own new life. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome of his day, “if the Spirit of Him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you” (8.11). He also wrote to the Corinthian Church that each of them had been made a part of the Church by the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Church is commonly called the body of Christ because it is united to Christ and receives it’s life from Him through the Holy Spirit.

Christ did not simply establish the institutional Church, but the Holy Spirit which gave life to His body as it lay in the grave continually reconstitutes the Church by conveying to it the life of Christ. Only those united to Christ by the Spirit can benefit from His reconciliation.


I was recently driving my Chevy Sprint down the rode, when I suddenly heard a loud pop from the engine. The car suddenly slowed to a crawl and began vibrating in a rather unsettling way. It turned out my engine had blown a spark plug, leaving me with only two working pistons. Now, if I could have afforded the work, that car could have been fixed simply by putting the plug back in place. Almost any mechanical problem can be fixed by pushing or pulling something back into place, or by replacing some small part. That’s why the Bible does not use mechanical analogies. What’s wrong with us cannot be fixed by simply re-arranging what’s already there or even replacing a broken part. Our problem can only be explained in organic language. We are like branches on a dying tree. The only way we can be rescued is to be cut out of that tree and engrafted into another, healthy tree. That is the analogy used in Scripture. Jesus is the ever-living, healthy tree. We are dying because we partake of a dying nature. We will die alienated from God unless we are somehow joined to His Son. It is the Holy Spirit who mysteriously unites people to Jesus. It is by the Spirit that people cease to be orphans but are adopted by God and made part of his household.


That is why, when someone tells you that you can be “saved”, or “born again,” or whatever the lingo happens to be, without going to Church, you need to be skeptical. The notion that God could adopt someone as His child without making them a part of His household is a rather incoherent idea which the Bible does not consider normal. Furthermore, the presence of God’s Spirit is associated with the Church which He indwells. If you want to be united to Jesus by the Spirit and thus reconciled to God, you need to pursue being admitted into His household, the Church. That is the ordinary way in which we are made part of Jesus and He is made part of us.


Now, let’s think about what all this means here and now. Being reconciled to God is more important than anything on earth. God loves us and has demonstrated it by providing the means of by which we can be reconciled to Him, even though it cost Him dearly. If we spurn His great love for us and refuse to become part of his family we will become even worse off than we were before. So I plead with each one of you to make reconciliation your highest priority.

This transition from alienation outside the Church to adoption into God’s household is normally marked by the ritual of baptism. Some of you may have already been baptized as children, in which case it is important that you return to the Church and become active worshiping members, so that God does not judge you to be defectors from His Kingdom. You don’t want to be found guilty of treason do you?

For many of you, you need to come and talk to me about getting baptized into the Church as soon as possible. Baptism is how one is admitted into the Church outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of reconciliation.

For those among you who realize you need to be reconciled to God, I would like you to do something right now, so that you won’t be in doubt that, if you were to die unexpectedly, you would be welcomed into God’s presence as a reconciled friend. I would like you to turn over your handout and recite the prayer that is written there. This prayer is quite simple and short, and some of you might be think that God would not care about a written prayer. But the fact is, none of us can come to God unless we come as children. We don’t know how to talk properly unless someone first teaches us. God will delight in this prayer if you say the words sincerely. To mark the event, I have probided space for you to sign your name and date it.

To pray the words sincerely means: you won’t simply forget about all this after you have said them. Rather you will pursue the means by which God has promised you His Spirit and reconciliation. Don’t allow anything under your control to prevent you from that pursuit. Otherwise this prayer will simply become a testimony to the fact that you have spurned the love of God. But why spurn the only one who can bring you true and lasting reconciliation?

If you believe this message of God’s love, the only sane thing you can do is to pray for the reconciliation He promises. Please pray along with me:

Dear God, I confess that I am your enemy. I have not loved you as I ought to love you. I thank you that you sent your Son into the world to suffer the punishment I deserve and to rise from the dead that I might also live with Him. Forgive me, I beg you–adopt me as your child and be a Father to me, not because of anything I have done, but simply because of your incredible love and mercy. Please give me your Holy Spirit I pray, and unite me to your Son Jesus Christ. In His Name, Amen.

Copyright © 2002

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