Friday 22 February 2013

The Church
I want to speak to you about the Church. Let me begin by reading to you an extract from an article which appeared in one of our national newspapers some time ago:

‘In an average English village today, Anglican worship has become little more than a dying bourgeois cult. A small cluster of motor cars may be seen outside the parish church when the service is in progress; the bells still ring joyously across the fields and meadows on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings, but fewer and fewer heed them, and those who do are predominantly middle-class, female and elderly.
(that would suggest the wisdom of middle class elderly ladies. However, he went on.)
It must be desperately disheartening, and the Vicar often gives the impression of being dispirited and forlorn. Whatever zeal he may have had as an ordinand soon gets dissipated in an atmosphere of domestic care and indifference on the part of his flock. Small wonder, then, that in the pulpit he has little to say except to repeat the same old clerical banalities. He doubtless feels himself to be redundant. The villagers stoically die without his ministrations; they would resent any interruption to their evening telly if he ventured to make a call... So wrote Malcolm Muggeridge some 30-40 years ago, and the situation has not improved. If we are brutally honest we would have to agree that bears some reality.

When I came to live in Bedford it was a complete change of environment in ministry, from having spent all my life in a big city, followed by suburban parishes, to taking services in village Churches. This is something I have enjoyed immensely and met many lovely people. What I find hard to understand is how the residents of these villages so easily dismiss the Church. Similar indifference also exists of course in town and cities.

I saw a sketch in a television programme in which the writer was taking a dig at the Church. In this a man and wife newly arrived to live in a village were taking a walk on a Sunday morning and finding the atmosphere strange. The man says to his wife, ‘I almost thought of going to Church, but thought better of it and went to sleep’.

I suspect many residents don’t even get as far as thinking of going to Church. Yet these people live in beautiful surroundings, in lovely homes, no anti-social behaviour that there is in towns and cities, most with good jobs. So much to be thankful for, yet so thankless and self centred.

At one time the village Church, and every village had one, was the centre of the community. It brought people together as no other organisation was equipped to do, being a gathering of different backgrounds, ages, class and sex. People’s lives were bound up in the Church through baptism, weddings and finally funerals. It made life more enjoyable and fulfilling.

It has been said that we live in a post Christian age, meaning little, if any interest, is shown in the Church by the majority. There are very few people who would seriously deny there is a God, indeed the majority own up to believing in our God, but that is as far as they go. They lead godless lives and don’t want Him involved in their lives. Many people however do claim to be Christians yet do not want to attend Church. Various excuses are offered for not attending, excuses which do not apply when it comes to wanting a baptism.

But a local Church gives one a sense of belonging, a feeling of spiritual safety, increases our knowledge of Scripture, and most importantly, give children teaching on their Christian heritage. Now, generation after generation grow up without any Scriptural knowledge. What people ignore at their peril is that their parish Church may cease to exist.
They all expect it to be there for their use when required but give no thought as to how it is kept open, where the money comes from to maintain the property and pay necessary expenses.

We live in a world full of evil and despair. Some terrible crimes and actions are being carried out daily. It could be thought there were ample grounds to express gratitude for being spared the grief many are forced to endure and for being able to live in a country where one is allowed, however tenuously, to worship freely. There are many people living in non Christian countries who would dearly love to have our conditions in exchange for the perilous way in which they have to live out their faith.

In many parts of the world Churches cannot exist and Christians are forbidden to meet together under pain of beatings, imprisonment, even death. Churches are being burned down, Christian homes are attacked. Think of Nigeria, Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, to name just a few. Here despite the efforts of politicians, biased judges, and the agenda of minority groups we can express our faith. But if not cherished, valued, and supported, there are those waiting and anxious to displace and banish Christianity. What they fail to realise is that would create a spiritual vacuum which would be replaced by something else probably quite disturbing

Jesus Christ established the Church. He did not merely establish individual Christian living, but corporate faith. The Bible teaches that people who are believers are connected to a local church where they live out their faith. Individual Christianity is nowhere found on the pages of Scripture.

Christians should have regular fellowship with one another. We read in Acts that the first Christians met to learn together and build each other up. We come to give and to get. The Bible states, ‘let us not give up meeting together as some do’. Accepting that there is a God is not enough, we have to draw near to Him and the only way is through Jesus Christ. He alone is the way to God. People are ever ready to say love your neighbour without showing the same love for God.

There is a misunderstanding of the Church in society. Today, there are all kinds of organisations to cater for social needs and the Church is often seen as a sort of social organisation with a spiritual flavour. There are parts of the Church which encourage this image as more attention is paid to that side than the spiritual. So we should remember when the disciples sought out Jesus to attend to people’s needs, He replied that what He came for was to preach the gospel. Whilst He did perform many acts of mercy, His main purpose of preaching was made clear. That I suggest should be the attitude the Church takes, namely that we will engage in social activity and see the Church is the centre for that activity, but never at the neglect or reduction of our main purpose. The Bible sees the Church as much more than just another social organisation.

The Church has a special importance in God’s plan. It also means we ought to know how we are to live and function within that plan. In spite of living in a world of opposition, we must hold fast to our faith. We are under so much pressure by press, television to turn away from fundamentals, and government legislation works against us. The messengers of secularism and multiculturalism and ethnic faiths are given so much attention and respect.

The Bible uses various terms to describe God’s people. An army, a fellowship a body, but the most powerful is a FAMILY. In families we are related to one another it is a strong bond based on allegiance and fidelity. A family consists of , different ages, different sex, different race, experiences and background, and is the only institution in which such a mix can meet in harmony and peace.

Most Church members rely on the Sunday services for their connection with the Bible, and even owning Bibles rarely use them in the home. This is why we need to come to Church to learn the Bible from the readings, have it expounded in the sermon, pray 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.

We share a relationship to God and to each other, based on a common spiritual life. We are to care for one another, and when others need encouragement and support, we are to give it. God put us with a variety of people we may not ordinarily like, but God expects us to grow together, yet we respond just like the world responds. We choose and insist on mixing with those we particularly like, and so cliques are formed.

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. There are times when coming to Church can be hard. Non Christians can make it hard especially when family members oppose you. There are of course the housebound and those working shift hours, and indeed it can be hard if you have been made unwelcome at a previous time.

It is largely a case of priority, and Jesus expected to be given priority. If we can find time for all the other things in life but not for Church, we must ask ourselves how important is our faith, God, and Jesus to us.

The great American evangelist D L Moody told the story of a young man who had fallen away, and as they sat round a coal fire, Moody knocked one of the coals into the hearth and it died out. He picked it up and put it back on the fire, and it glowed. He pointed out to the man that this is what happens when a Christian falls away from Church, they burn out

There are few people who can say they have no worries or problems, all in my life is sunshine and roses. It may be a health worry, concern for the future, domestic problem, a Church problem. To all these people Jesus says, ‘come to me and I will give you rest for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your soul, take my yoke upon you’.

Never give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing. Be at Church on Sunday and may God bless you.

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