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John MacArthur counters church’s ‘identity crisis’

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The church is in the midst of an “identity crisis” that can be resolved by returning focus to exalting and honoring God, said John MacArthur at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during a Sept. 15 chapel service.
People today are “not sure what the church is supposed to look like,” said MacArthur, a pastor, college and seminary president and host of the radio show, “Grace to You.” In fact, church is often like a merry-go-round, he said — worshipers often get off exactly where they get on.
But that’s not what the church is supposed to be like, said MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, Calif., and president of Master’s College and Seminary. Telling his Southwestern audience Sept. 15 that his ministry is first and foremost that of a pastor, he said, “I love the church, because it’s the only place where heaven comes down.”
The situation in the church today, however, is troubling, MacArthur said.
“There’s something desperately wrong when an unbeliever feels comfortable in the church,” he said. “Heaven’s not coming down. The world’s coming in. The church ought to be so unlike the world.”
What ought to be going on in the church, he said, is “the honor of God, the glory of God and the exaltation of Jesus Christ. That’s heaven.” When that happens, “then the whole world can see that what they have — and what heaven is — are very far apart,” he said.
MacArthur reminded his listeners that the church is being built by the Lord himself, “whose purposes always come to pass, whose plan is invincible and who speaks of the church in triumphant terms.”
The redemption of mankind, MacArthur recounted, can be described in terms of the Father finding a bride for his Son. “The saints are gathered in the New Jerusalem as a bride” pledged to Christ, he said.
“God sets out to redeem a bride whose express purpose is recognizing his glory and to praise and serve Jesus.”
Humans are rather “incidental” in the plan of salvation, more of a gift from the Father to the Son than anything else, MacArthur said, adding that salvation is not “something we design, we orchestrate, we manipulate.”
“Jesus receives the sinner because [the sinner is] a love gift from the Father, not because there’s something inherently valuable in the sinner,” MacArthur said.
The emphasis on the worthiness of Christ to receive a redeemed humanity is reflected in the Bible’s emphasis that the redeemed will be made like Jesus, so that they literally reflect his glory, MacArthur said.
“It isn’t [at] all about the value of the sinners. It’s all about the value of the Son to the Father,” he said.
Another part of understanding the identity of the church, MacArthur said, is that “the church is the Lord’s most precious reality on earth,” because it has been purchased by the blood of Christ.
Not only did Jesus die on the cross for humanity, but in coming to earth in human form, he divested himself of heavenly riches, MacArthur said, quoting 2 Corinthians 8:9.
“We can’t even conceive of what the self-emptying of Jesus was, what it was to come all the way down … to the form of a man, all the way down to a servant, all the way down to death, even the death on the ignoble cross,” he said.
MacArthur also noted the need to treat every believer with care, because the doctrine of substitution means that God looks at each believer as if they had lived Jesus’ perfect life. That is possible, he added, because on the cross, God treated Christ as if Christ had lived each believer’s life.
“God treated Jesus as if he personally had committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe,” MacArthur said.

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  • Cory J. Hailey