Saturday, January 1, 2000, arguably marked the first day of a new millennium. The entire Western world had just breathed a collective sigh of relief over the Y2K apocalypse that never came. Nonetheless, a mixture of excitement and anxiety remained as people pondered the dawn of a new era.
Churchgoers were not immune to the speculation. Church-growth experts were actively pointing to the newest emerging trends and projecting how the church would need to adjust. If the church was to survive in a new millennium what would it look like?
On Sunday, January 2, John MacArthur stepped into the pulpit to deliver his first sermon of the twenty-first century: “A Church for the New Millennium.” Needless to say, he didn’t envision anything new or different from what God has already prescribed in Scripture. But it was a refreshing and timely reminder of what constitutes a biblical church. Moreover, those lines of demarcation provide tremendous clarity in distinguishing a true church from a false one.
In “A Church for the New Millennium,” Pastor John unpacks Ephesians 1:3–14 to reveal the five distinctive callings that signify God’s true people—His ekklésia:
1. We were called before the foundation of the world (election). 2. We have been called out of darkness (redemption). 3. We have been called from sin (sanctification). 4. We are called to holiness (identification). 5. We are called under authority (submission).
One of the things I most appreciate about Pastor John’s teaching on the church is his acute awareness that not every “church” is a true church:
I don’t know how people can fill up churches with non-believers trying to make nonbelievers as comfortable as possible and call it the church. It’s not the church. The church is redeemed. The church has redemption. The church has been forgiven. The church has received saving grace. The church has received the application of the blood of Jesus Christ. It’s been washed. It’s been cleansed. Now admittedly from time to time, we want to certainly acknowledge that unbelievers are welcome to come and to sit in and participate. But we function as the redeemed. It’s not designed to be a comfortable place, a suitable place. It’s not designed to be an affirming place for the unredeemed, for the unforgiven. And so we are very clear about that. We come together to worship God as the redeemed.
John preached that sermon seventeen years ago but its message is just as pertinent today. In fact, the truths of Ephesians 1:3–14 haven’t changed since God divinely authored them as the blueprint for His church. “A Church for the New Millennium” won’t teach us anything new. But it is packed full of ancient truth that we need to be constantly reminded of: God defines His church, and His Word is the sole point of reference this century, or any other that comes before Christ’s return.
The start of a new year is a great time to take stock and evaluate our participation in Christ’s church.