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Church is Heavenly

Daniel Rowland"I like this tune," I said to my translator above the noise of the choir, "What are they singing?" He almost had to yell: "This is a very popular hymn in Malawi. It's called Just because you go to church doesn't mean you're going to heaven." "Oh" I said, watching the choir dance up and down the aisle, singing the chorus for the 50th time. Someone slid into church late, hoping to go unnoticed. He failed. Perhaps I'm imagining it, but some of the singers seemed to direct their words pointedly at the late-comer:

Just because you go to church doesn't mean you're going to heaven.

Well, it's true. And certainly you can understand the urge to sing it where nominal church attendance abounds. But it doesn't really capture the dominant note of the Bible. You see the Bible, more often than not, speaks of church as heaven.

"You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven." (Hebrews 12:22-23)

Because you're going to church you are going to heaven. You see that's also a biblical truth - a central one. I don't mean that every church-goer is guaranteed paradise, I mean that - right now - church is paradise. Forget the final reckoning for a moment, church is heavenly - that's the overwhelming witness of the Bible.

Daniel Rowlands, one of Wales' mightiest preachers, would watch his congregation walking to church on a Sunday and remark: "Here they come, bringing heaven with them."

That's the emphasis in the Bible. And yes, some who came to Rowlands church may be in hell right now. But not because they didn't taste heaven in church, they did (Heb 6:4-8). Everyone did - that's what church is. 

There can be an unhealthy preoccupation among evangelicals with distinguishing the visible church from the invisible elect. We're always looking past the tangible concreteness of our actual brothers and sisters, gathered around the word, the bread and the wine. We want to say "Yeah, whatever, those are just externals. The real issue is down deep in your soul." And so we encourage the spiritually serious among us to be deep-soul-divers, trying desperately to plumb their own depths. All the while it's church - in all its ordinariness - which actually does the deep work in us. The word exposes and heals us, the bread and wine nourish us "deep down", our brothers and sisters en-courage us in ways that nothing else can.

Church is heavenly. Whatever heaven we seek which is not intimately tied to church might just turn out to be a false spirituality. I fear that - in that false sense - there are some people so heavenly minded they're of no churchly use.


11 thoughts on “Church is Heavenly

  1. Wayne McDaniel

    Jesus identified God's chosen as those who "cry to him day and night."- Luke 18:7
    Do his words describe a majority in most churches? Is James 5:16 the most refused verse in the Bible? If every meeting of your church had half a dozen or more people invited to pray, would you know your brothers and sisters better? Would the number at the mid week meeting drop if the time was used entirely to pray? "My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations." Does that describe us, where we gather?
    Perhaps our messages,songs, & announcements obscure our lack of praying. If we read Acts 4:24 carefully, would we refuse to imitate their prayer on that occasion?

  2. Cal

    Maybe also, it's letting the word church lose its "churchiness". When 2 or 3 are gathered in Jesus name, He is among them. It has nothing to do with a building, though some meet in particular buildings for corporate, sacramental, worship on Sundays (or whatever day).

    I'm all for saying, like some early believers, that there is no salvation outside of God's Church. And I'm all for talking about the concreteness of the Church, not looking past real people. But Church is so much bigger than punching a card by going somewhere for a few hours a week. It's a state of being, of living together.

    2 cents,

  3. Glen

    Thanks Wayne - I hear the problem. I think part of the solution is to refuse to despise our local church gatherings - no matter how unspectacular. As we value the means of grace that we do have we may find people desiring more.

    Hi Cal, the people of God gathered around word and sacrament seemed to be the reformers definition of church, which at least guarantees that church does not become "anything that Christians happen to do." The danger with that would be that you lose the proper centre to all our "being and living together." That centre is the event of God's grace coming to us from on high. This, for me, is what's vital to preserve even at the cost of some people feeling they're just "punching a card."

    Good line OldAdam :)

  4. Cal


    I guess I'd say that we're, by nature, worshipers. Our deepest convictions are intertwined with worship. If the Church is communal living and being, there will be worship and Jesus, and His apostles, teaches us what that will look like: word, sacrament, corporate prayer and fellowship (vis. Acts 2).

    If we're not worshiping in such a way, we're worshiping something or someone else, or we're now being shaped as Christ directs.

  5. Cal

    It's about minimally defining the Church, and not including the gathering of two or three in Jesus' name.

  6. Michael Baldwin

    How does this attitude fit with Matthew 7:13-23? And, for example, the classic "Shocking youth message" by Paul Washer which had such an effect on quite a few in my generation?

  7. Glen

    Hey Michael, no doubt that there are many false professors of Christ. But the only solution to that is the gospel - calling such folks out of themselves to Christ. And the ordinary means of grace are all we've got to do that.

    There's a danger that Washer is trying to fix. But there's an equal danger that he might create too - the danger of those looking within in order to assure themselves that they really, Really, REALLY are elect. I reckon those in Matthew 7:13ff are still the same ones Jesus has been speaking to in the rest of the sermon - the hypocrites. *They* are the swines / the fruitless trees, etc. Therefore doubling down on religion can't be what Jesus is calling them to. He's calling us instead to Matthew 8:1ff - unclean people owning it and coming to Christ anyway.

    If you want a BRILLIANT response to the Washer-style message... I must have watched this a half dozen times:

  8. Wayne McDaniel

    Jesus described God's elect as those who cry
    to Him day and night -- Luke 18:7. Each of
    us may ask ourselves if that describes me.

    Twenty years ago I heard these words from
    a 39 year-old Bible professor: "I have learned also that I do not maintain the disciplines of prayer adequately by myself, and that I MUST pray regularly with others."
    - Leonard Allen

  9. Michael Baldwin


    He's a bit too snarky for me to be able to share that around but it was a great response!
    If he didn't keep calling himself a Lutheran my Reformed friends might take more note too :P
    On Friday morning after you posted this video I went on to watch this guy's video on Matthew 6 as I'm preaching on that tomorrow night. Definitely helped to make sure I preach Christ from that and not just the "proper" way of doing the 3 spiritual disciplines. He's so fresh in the way he speaks about Christ!

  10. Michael Baldwin

    Watching his stuff on the second half of Matthew 5...preached on it 2 weeks ago- this is absolute gold! I love this guy! Thanks for the link Glen.
    Definite distinction between law and gospel but not simply reducing the Sermon as purely law. Tis good!

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