Rick Holland: What in the World is the Church Supposed To Be? #BoldCon

Dr. Rick Holland is Senior Pastor of Mission Road Bible Church and the author of Uneclipsing the Son. The following are my notes from Dr. Holland’s first session at the BOLD Church Conference on October 1, 2012 (paraphrased).


Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19-25)

The overwhelming responsibility of telling a man—everything you need to know you can find at this address—does this describe our churches?

Every Christian should be an ecclesiologist. Every Christian should know what the Bible says about what the Church is. Everyone should be able to answer questions about what the church is and what the church isn’t.

If the church is the bride of Christ, I wonder if sometimes Jesus is offended by how some people treat the Church as we would be if some men came up to our wives and slapped them across the face?

Some people wrongly equate the gospel with the church. You ask someone if they know the gospel and they’ll say, “Well, I don’t go to church.” This isn’t necessarily a bad connection, but going to a church and sitting in a seat doesn’t make you a Christian.

Where does our authority for the way we think about the Church come from?

You know these museum churches—I call them this because the church is really supposed to be a hospital for the soul—where we treat the building as something God’s supposed to be impressed with? There’s more about the covenant people of God in the Old Testament and the church in the New Testament coming together in worship that goes way beyond a building.

Hebrews is fundamentally a book of comparison. Jesus is compared to everything the people thought was important—angels, the Law, prophets… Compare Jesus to anything and He’ll always be found to be better and more fulfilling. And this builds and builds to chapter 10, which is the beginning of the “so-what”.  And the write shows how all these things, how Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice, the High Priest, etc., fuel the Christians involvement in church.

1. It provides Christ-centered motivation. Motivation for church is a strange thing. What motivates you to come to church? In v. 19-21 we’ve got a summary of the main doctrinal points of the book of Hebrews—the need for access to God. Understanding the sacrificial system and the priestly system is important to accessing God. No one could come before God on their own. Look at v. 20—Jesus is our access to God.

And notice the “we”—church is a corporate dimension. It is to be corporately maintained.

So look again: “Therefore”—because the Gospel is precious, “therefore”. Because Jesus is better than anything else, “therefore…”

Then there’s the veil, the curtain… God could not look on any sin. No one just went into the Holy of Holies… Even the High Priest never went in without blood… the Gospel is saturated in these verses.

Can I state the obvious? Church is for Christians. It’s for those who can come before the throne because the blood of Christ has covered their sins. Church is being redefined in our age as being something for unbelievers. “What can we do to get unbelievers to come to church?” Now, I want them to come and hear the gospel, to be provoked by what we’re saying, and the intensity of God’s Word… but the church isn’t for unbelievers.

In John 13:35 we see something that I’ve never seen in any church growth book—“They will know you by your love for one another.” Unbelievers should come and feel welcome and loved, but very, very left out. If we love the unbeliever more than our Christian brother there’s something wrong.

It’s hard to believe that we’re even having to talk about this—the Church is for Christians? It’s not that I don’t love unbelievers, I want them to come, but they should be able to come and see and say, “Wow, I’m jealous. They have something I’ve never experienced before…”

The Church is to equip the believers to evangelize and encourage wherever they are—it’s not that we shouldn’t evangelize in our sermons, but that we must not sacrifice equipping the believers.

Isn’t amazing that we can sing that song by Wesley, “Bold I can approach…” Do you understand the grace we’ve been shown that we can even sing that? It should make the unbelieving shudder.

2. Church provides an opportunity for us to draw near to God with one another. We need to come together to encourage one another. You know the people who separate, who say, “I want to go to a church that believes what I believe the way I believe it”—there’s something wrong with this. Left alone, be become weird, unbalanced and proud.

But look at our verses—do you really believe with full assurance? Do we sincerely believe the miracles of Scripture? It’d be good to see people at church stop one another and ask, “Are you sure you believe these things?”

Look at the mutual accountability that we see in these verses—I love what it says here. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Don’t ever underestimate your testimony. Do you understand how powerful your testimony is, regardless of what kind of things we’ve done or haven’t done.

Your testimony is precious; don’t ever underestimate it. We want to give a defense for the hope that Peter says is within us…. because [as we] notice how our verse ends, “for he who promised is faithful.”

Verse 24: The gospel motivates us to motivate one another in gospel application. In 2 Sam. 11, we see David’s sin with Bathsheba, and we see this repeated word of “sent,” “sent,” “sent…” Notice that there’s all this sending and no one says stop. Our passage answers Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper” and the answer is yes! Yes, we are our brother’s keepers.

Why don’t we confront one another’s sins? Because we want to be liked. We are so afraid of confronting someone over their sins because we’re afraid they won’t like us anymore.

Verse 25: Why do we miss church? Why does the writer of Hebrews stress this? It’s not because there aren’t valid reasons to miss church. There are legitimate reasons that sometimes we have to miss church. If you have the flu, please stay home.

But I think the main reason Christians skip church is a lack of preparation. We have a saying in our house, “Sunday morning begins Saturday night.” And Satan seems to whisper his best arguments on Saturday morning; “you’re tired, it’s okay to sleep in…”

And have you ever noticed that our best arguments seem to happen on Sunday mornings?

There are reasons to miss church but a lack of desire and a lack of preparation is not one of them. We’re coming to stir one another up, to encourage one another to good works and greater love for the Savior.

I was in Siberia and it’s 35 below zero. And they don’t count the wind chill. We showed up and the church parking lot had two cars in it, but I heard this volcanic singing. I asked a guy if this was the choir practicing and I went in and saw all these people from the congregation singing—these people showed up two hours early, below 35 weather, on foot, because Church was their haven.

Then there’s this section of older women, of widows, and I asked what this section was for. I was told, “these are our most honored members; their husbands all died for the gospel.”

It’s a sin to not come to church. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly. But it’s also a sin to come to church for the wrong reasons.

Look at the last part of our verse, “…all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We’re called to come together to encourage one another, to correct and rebuke sin… I love the way that Paul uses this illustration of the Body. Christ is still the head, He’s still sending signals to the Body. Are we listening, or are we fighting against ourselves?

The church should look at how we care for others—including those who are unlovely—and should see that something binds us together that’s so transcendently different than anything they have.

Church is about Christ. Church is about God. And we’re to move and encourage one another to do ministry better because of Him. We can come together because our High Priest sits on the throne.

Get new content delivered to your inbox