Monday 7 November 2011

Introduction with Acts 2

During the past 37 years of Christian ministry I have met many people and made friends from Churches in the Chester Diocese and numerous Churches around Bedford.

For 17 years I edited a Church magazine in which I reflected on local and national issues and included a Bible study.  After having preached at Churches, I have on occasions been asked for a copy of the sermon but been unable to give as they were mostly handwritten.  Now that the opportunity for preaching has largely ceased, I am taking advantage of modern technology and using this blog with the hope I can maintain some contact with those friends and perhaps make some new ones.

I watched a programme on the BBC News channel which talked about the ‘exodus from the Church’.  Comment was made that the Roman Catholic Church had lost half of its membership because of the priests’ scandals and was still falling and Churches right across Europe were losing thousands of people.  People were said to have little belief I God and there was no place in their lives for the Church.  In other words it was a typical piece of biased reporting which we can expect of the BBC.

It is true of course that many people have left the Roman Church but it could have pointed out many thousands still attend and there is no other man or woman on the planet who can attract such crowds as the Pope.

People are also falling away from the Churches and one can understand in many cases why this is so.  But let us be fair there are many Churches which are full of people.  Near my home a Church has had to include an extra service on Sundays because they could not accommodate the numbers attending. This inevitably suggests that in some Churches something is being done which is not in others.  I have to confess I have been to services and come away wondering why would anyone want to attend.

Turn with me to Acts Chapter 2 and verses 42/47
These are dark days for the Church in this country.  We live in a post-Christian age, an age where there is no common Christian consensus.   At one time there was a more common understanding of Christian teaching. Today, there is a condition that might be described as rank ignorance.
We live in a society which largely rejects God, and regards Church and Christianity as totally irrelevant to their lives.  The world sees the Church standing for values it no longer considers acceptable.
So let us look at the model of a Christian Church, as seen in Scripture in that first Christian Church, which was able to attract so many followers, and see how it differs from the Church of the present time, and see also if we can learn from that Church how to make our message more acceptable in a hostile climate.

First it was a Bible based Church. 
They were devoted to the Apostles teaching, it captivated them.  Those early Christians listened to the Apostles, who in turn had been taught by our Lord.  They heard all that the Lord had given and laid down, as the faith should be lived out.  It was about Jesus, who He was,
  what He came to do,
    how to obey Him and
      about His second coming  to judge the world. 
In other words, the whole Christian faith. 
     Notice when it says ‘devoted’ themselves, this means they were committed, no half heartedness. The wonderful thing is that we too can follow that same Apostolic teaching, it is written down for us in the New Testament, and it is God’s way of providing for His people to be trained. 

They met for fellowship.
Secondly they were devoted to each other in this church,
or, as verse 42 puts it, they were devoted to the fellowship.  They knew that when they committed themselves to Jesus, they also committed themselves to Jesus’ people.
We share a relationship to God and to each other, based on a common spiritual life. God put us with a variety of people we may not ordinarily like, but God expects us to grow together.   We are to care for one another, and when others need encouragement and support, we are to give it. 
     This is why we need to come, to
learn the Bible from readings and sermons
  Praying together for our needs and the world’s
     Praising God as we sing together
        Sharing the bread and wine in Holy Communion
as we remember what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. 

Thirdly, they were a committed Church. 
They met regularly.  There are those for whom the Church is a second choice.  There are times in all our lives when personal situations arise which call for our attention, but for some Church will take second place in their list of priorities, something which Jesus Himself condemned.         
The church is not optional. Jesus established the church. He did not merely establish individual Christian living, he established corporate faith.
The New Testament assumes that people who are believers are connected to a local church where they live out that faith. Individual and independent Christianity is no where to be found on the pages of Scripture. So the church is not man’s invention, but God’s. Because Christ instituted the church, we should know what it is and how we should function in it.
It can be so easy to go with the flow and give up, which is why the Bible urges Christians to be together. Each year hundreds of people give up worship.  There many reasons, pressures of the world,
   ridicule from friends,
     family trouble,
       a bad experience at a church,
 all of which are expressly good reasons for going to church.
Then in verse 47. “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” They were an evangelising Church.
Having seen how that early Church responded under apostolic teaching, we need to consider how the Church now in this critical time responds with its teaching of the Scriptures.

It is a matter of concern that some preachers are ready to stray from Biblical teaching and consider we should re-interpret the Bible to meet modern ideas of morality.  This suggests that God has got it wrong and He should be prepared to adjust to the age.  They are spreading a false gospel and send out a wrong message. God set out in Scripture in clear terms what is expected of us and all should be proclaiming the same message.    

For years, first the Labour party and then the Conservatives, spent years in the political wilderness because they sent out mixed messages and no one knew for certain what they really stood for.  The Church by not adhering to Scripture is doing the same, leaving people confused as to what we really believe and offer.   

There is a reluctance by clergy to speak out for fear of being labelled as a bigot or being discriminatory.   It is  true to say Christian preachers tend to modify teaching of traditional values to appeal to contemporary thinking, and for fear of offending one of the many discrimination laws promoted equally vigorously by vociferous minorities, so falling foul of the law, which is not enforced against other faiths with the same enthusiasm as against Christian preachers.

All this causes a problem for parish priests, and especially for visiting preachers.  We face a problem and none more so than those of us who want to be true to Scripture, when not everyone is prepared to accept what is written.  I heard one Vicar preach that she didn’t think the Bible should be taken too literally.  Have you ever heard a Muslim cleric deny or challenge any words in the Koran? Is it any wonder people fail to respond?

It is hard to quote the Bible without someone saying ‘Oh you shouldn’t say that.’  The Bible states, ‘salvation is found in no other name under heaven except Jesus Christ’. 
     The Bible states’ Jesus said no one can come to the Father except through me’, yet many preachers are dodging quoting this.  If we avoid telling these verses how are people ever to come to know the gospel.

This tells us our faith is not like other faiths which someone has made up, but rather comes from God.  Furthermore, it was given with the understanding that nothing needs to be added, amended or subtracted from.  Anyone who does so is a false teacher.   God will not ignore false teaching, and will pass judgement on such people

Whilst I have always admired Charles Wesley, I have recently had to study the life of Charles extensively in order to conduct a service in his honour, and that admiration has grown.  If he were alive today he would have much to say at the way the Church has failed to proclaim the message he left,
that salvation was through Christ alone,
  the value of a person’s life was measured by their faith,  
     and the doctrine of heaven and hell. 
How often have you heard a sermon on those subjects?

Today, no less than in any other age, it is intense biblical integrity that is needed. Fearless courage and conviction, to stand for the truth --that Jesus Christ is the only name that saves.

In effect there are three options open to preachers
    One is to avoid all contentious issues.
        2 To go with the flow.
          3 To be true to Scripture.
We all want to please and satisfy our audience, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to cause offence.  But if preachers are to be true to their calling, and preach with integrity and honour, there are times when I suppose some people may be upset. If, sadly, that happens, there must be doubt in the mind about the way they are living. 

We now have, for instance, changed our outlook on morals and ethics to adopt that of society. We have gone along with the incredulous acceptance that marriage, (that is between man and woman) is no longer the bedrock of society, but is no more acceptable than any other relationships. 

If ever the Word of God was needed it is never more so than now.  It calls for people to turn back to God who is ready and able to meet the needs of everyone who turns to Him.  The message we have for the world is centred upon the person of Jesus Christ and provides for a stable and well balanced society.

 In my next writing I will look further at the need for Christian response.

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