Saturday 26 May 2012

Acts 2; post Pentecost
Pentecost was a unique and wonderful experience for all present, but it was never to be repeated. The response of those early Christians is something we can study and hope to emulate. The Church has a responsibility to bring the gospel as therein outlined.

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 combination of ignorance and indifference, even hostility to all things Christian.

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. In addition, we are faced with anti-Christian legislation and a judiciary which appears determined to curb the expression of Christian beliefs however firmly held. Under the guise of equality and human rights, such legislation has only made for the inequitable, in that Christians have been deprived of their human rights, and a situation created which is ripe for entrapment of Christians.

We are told minority groups have to be protected, but this does not apply to the minority group that is called Christian. What these misguided people fail to recognise, is that if they displace Christianity they create a spiritual vacuum which will surely be filled by something else, and the certainty is that it will be something quite unpleasant

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, 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. 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.We need to meet regularly to grow spiritually together from Bible readings and sermons, praising God as we sing together and sharing in the taking of bread and wine in Holy Communion.

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. 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.

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 m/w) 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.

I accept that Ministers have the primary duty of contending for the truth, but the Bible states that every Christian should contend for the faith. We must all be ready to stand up and be counted. This can be done by showing an example in the way we live, doing so worthily of our Lord.

In God’s plan the people who have been touched by the gospel have a role in influencing the world. The world in its creative state is a wonderful world, but in reality is also a place of evil and suffering.

We are the moral disinfectant. We have to stand up for Biblical ideals. We should support the work of Christian Institutions which fight to defend Christians, lobby Members of Parliament, even if like my experience they just ignore you if you ask or say something they don’t agree with. We have to remind them that there is more than one agenda to be considered.

Above all, we have to show by the way we live our lives that we are distinctive, standing apart from foul talk, gossip and conduct unbecoming. Jesus is the light of the world and we should reflect that light in our lives.

One of the biggest problems the Church faces is apathy, which is why Christianity has fallen to such low level and why morality is so poor. It is so easy in the times we live in to opt out, saying, ‘there is no point in fighting them.’ Can you imagine what would have happened if Winston Churchill had have said in 1940, ‘there is no use in us fighting, the enemy is too powerful.’ We must stand firm by the Cross.

Let us remember there are Christians being persecuted in non Christian lands with violence, arson, and yes even murder. Hundreds have been killed in the last few months in Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia and Nigeria. Whole villages ransacked, yet they valiantly fight on for their Lord and Saviour. How pathetic if we let some vociferous secularists silence us.

Rather than contend for the gospel we can deny our Lord by denying we are Christians to avoid being mocked, or to avoid embarrassment. How many are prepared even admit to their friends they attend Church.

The country is in spiritual death throes and in need of intensive care. This is why we must contend for the faith. How God must weep when He sees the Church singing His praise, pretending to be holy, whilst countenancing and failing to speak out on moral issues and totally ignoring His written Word.

Idealistic people say we just have to do our own thing, God will provide and look after His Church. God will indeed provide and care for His Church, but He requires His people to do their part. As a popular saying goes, ‘every little helps.’

My friends, it is the duty of the Church to teach the gospel and not to budge from it. We are not to be blown by every new spiritual wind so that we drift from our moorings. We are not to be superficial believers. Hold fast to the gospel once given by the Apostles who were taught by the Master Himself. Today people are being drawn away from the doctrines of the Bible as judgement is becoming a censored word.

You and I are called to contend for the truth. Do not let anyone tell you that you do not count. You count tremendously, so glory in what God has called you to do and be faithful to His command. Let us all be part of taking the fire of God’s love to the nation.

Be in Church on Sundays and God bless you.

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