Tuesday 27 August 2013

(A sermon preached at Oakley Methodist Church on Sunday 25th August. Readings 2Timothy 4 v 1/5; Matthew 16 v13/20)

This morning I want to focus on the verse, ‘I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’.

Jesus knew the Church would always be attacked, so was assuring His protection. Such words are to be a comfort in knowing the Lord will never desert us. The Church has survived over many hard times and whilst Empires have come and gone, only the Church has survived through the ages.

If the building of Christ’s Church is to continue the work has to be carried out by His followers, and be built on the foundation Jesus laid, that is the teaching in the New Testament. In every sense of the word, Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Church. The Bible states, No one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid, that is Jesus Christ. He is also the head of the body, the church, with Himself as the cornerstone

This is important to remember because everything the church is and does should emanate from this truth. Many churches today have over the years drifted away from their origins and are no longer recognizable as being founded upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. Let us never forget that we exist to exalt Jesus. Everything we are is about Him.

Whilst the Church in the West is in decline, the Churches in Africa, Asia and South America are flourishing. This is because they have not been dismantling the Bible as many are trying to do here.

The Bible states it is the will of God that those who belong to Jesus must belong to His Church. We may not always worship in the same way, but we should share the same beliefs. We may have disagreements, but they can be resolved with good will; Methodism itself came from such a disagreement.

The Bible states we should worship in spirit and in truth. In spirit by coming with a sincere desire to please God—glorify Him- and worship Him with reverence and awe.

In truth can create problems for some people. Jesus said He would build His Church, but it seems as there are those who are replying and we will pull it down. When a builder constructs a building invariably a covenant is placed on it restricting what may be added or altered. Jesus effectively did so with His Church when He gave His teaching in the New Testament, giving instruction as to what should and should not be taught and believed.

The faith and belief of the Church are built on two essential doctrines; salvation by grace through faith and the authority of Scripture. These may not be important to some, but they are the fundamentals to true and real Christians. Such were the themes of the preaching of Charles and John Wesley. Remember the words of John Wesley ‘I want to know one thing; the way to heaven, how to land on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book; at any price give me that book’. I fear John and Charles would find a lot of preaching these days not to their liking.

Truth is not a DIY subject, God has spoken. Those who dispute His Word do so for their own purposes, often to justify the manner of their living. It is in effect saying, we reject the authority of the Bible and substitute our own authority. God has told us clearly what He expects.

Charles Wesley once stated, ‘the manner of living as well as attending Church was important for a Christian.’ I once held a service to honour Charles Wesley and the research I made caused me to realise how far we have moved from the ideals of the founders of Methodism, which at one time had such a profound effect on this land.

The doctrine of the church has fallen on hard times these days. Paul warned that people will turn away from truth because it requires admission of human weakness, the restraint of passions and submission to the authority of God. They will look for those who will teach them what they want to hear, who share their preferences and are prepared to re-interpret Scripture accordingly. There seems to be no shortage of such teachers.
We have sacrificed sound doctrine in favour of cultural trends and the consequences have been disastrous. To many, church membership means little or nothing.

That is why if there was ever a day when Christians need to be certain the doctrine of the church and to know what they the church exists for, it is today. Unless we know what we believe we will not know who we are and how we should live or why we must live that way
When I was ordained I had to affirm before my Bishop that I would accept the formularies and Articles of the Church of England; such state that Holy Scripture contains all that is necessary for salvation and the pure Word of God is to be preached. I am sure other denominations have similar requirements. Why in so many cases has it all not been so?

Sadly, there are those who are trying to change the Church’s teaching so as to correspond with contemporary thinking. I heard one Vicar state that she didn’t think the Bible should be taken literally. If a minority cannot accept the teaching and tradition of the Church, they should for the good of the Church family have the grace to sacrifice rather than create division. There are so many living in spiritual darkness that the Church should not be wasting time on personal ambitions and preferences. When we consider the moral state of the country, all our energies should be concentrated on bringing the nation back to God. We have to give faithful witness to the gospel message as it is written.

We all have apart to play in building the Church. This was the message Peter and Paul took up so often; that Christians have a responsibility to maintain the faith. Clearly the major task falls on preachers to teach the true gospel and instruct on the way lives should be lived in accordance with biblical teaching. But all Christians also have a duty to live worthily of the Lord and not be ashamed to confess their faith, but to do all they can to promote the Church.

With this in mind, from the loneliness of a prison cell in Rome, Paul wrote his last Letter, sending it to Timothy whom he had chosen to take over ministry from him. No other passage in Scripture describes more accurately the day in which we live. The overwhelming majority is committed to unbelief and there seems nothing we can do to stop the downhill slide of our day.

Paul begins by reminding Timothy that he is ministering in the presence of God and in the sight of Jesus Christ, the One who will be the judge of all and before whom every heart is exposed and before whom we will all stand and give account.

Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2 to preach the word. A true church is a church which preaches the word of God, and this means however unpopular it appears; we are here to tell people not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear.

The great Methodist preacher of the last century, W E Sangster once said ‘preaching is in the darkness; the world does not believe it’. Certainly the modern idea is to keep preaching to the minimum and fill in with drama or asking questions. Consequently people come to Church without any expectation of an encounter with God.
People have a right to expect those speaking as Ministers of the Church to preach the Word of God so unbelievers may come to believe and those in doubt may be strengthened. When Ministers substitute personal views for other reasons, they are exceeding their remit.

When you are a true believer it means that you not only agree with the moral and ethical teaching of Scripture, but also that you live out those teachings in your life. It is hypocritical to mouth words and then go and act contrary to what you have condemned.

Each year the Methodist Church holds a Covenant Service in which listening to the Word in scripture, read and preached is specifically mentioned, and during the Covenant promise it is stated, ‘in some we may please Christ and please ourselves; in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.

Many so called churches have become anything but a New Testament church and no longer fulfil their biblically assigned role. Some have turned into places with a political agenda. Some have become little more than places of entertainment where you go to feel good. A Vicar once actually told me we should make people feel happy and not be boring with doctrine.

I have seen baptism services held when quite a number of strangers attended, and rather than take the opportunity of speaking about what baptism meant, and our faith, the speaker waffled about personal memories or held a sort of question and answer session.

The preaching of gospel of Jesus Christ is what should be central in our churches. This is what we exist for. Instead we are giving out a confused image and people naturally feel if we can’t get the message straight between ourselves, we are not in a position to preach to them.

We are not here to be like a spiritual dispensary giving out soothing prescriptions, although some of our messages will offer comfort. We are not merely here for us to gather in a sort of holy huddle, although we receive inspiration and encouragement. We are here to spread the gospel and expand the Christ’s Kingdom, and if the Church is to survive in this country, this is a must.

The Church remains on earth to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth, by bearing witness to Christ in all places at all times. You and I are called to advance that work; do not let anyone tell you that your life as a Christian does not count. It counts tremendously. Take pride in being a Christian and never be ashamed to confess your faith.

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