Friday 24 January 2014

2 Timothy 4, verses 1-4.

Do you ever despair over the lack of people who attend Church?

I was speaking with a Ministerial colleague about Church attendance and it was obvious he was concerned about the number of people attending services. I share his concern for I have taken services in 28 Churches in/around Bedford, and apart from five Churches the attendance was less than thirty, in some cases less than double figures. In addition, the people were in the older age range with women outnumbering men.

This should cause us to consider why this is so. Various answers are offered to explain, usually referring to the pressures of modern life; need for working mothers to catch up, and so forth. This can only raise the question as to why such reasons do not apply to members of other faiths. The Mosques are not so poorly attended, and Muslim men are not ashamed to be seen and acknowledge their faith, quite the contrary.

There are Churches in other parts of the world which are seeing massive increase in attendance. There is of course one major difference. Like other European countries we in Britain have so dismantled the Bible that the population do not know what the Church stands for and really believes. This, together with the fact that we are classed as, the second most godless country in the world.

I think in fairness we should consider if we in the Church could do anything to combat this indifference by people generally.

Let me turn with you to words of Paul when writing to Timothy who he has chosen to take over the ministry Paul is ending and then facing death. He wrote, ‘preach the Word’. By the Word, he meant the Word of God, the Bible; that is the principal reason the Church exists. Every Sunday it is read in every Church in every nation across the world. When we read or hear it being read we are having God speak to us. The Bible should have pre-eminence in all services.

Whilst men are the authors of each book of the Bible, they fully accepted that God was using them and their individual personalities, inspiring them to write what God wanted us to know.

The Bible is essentially a book of salvation, with Jesus the focus from start to finish. John Wesley once wrote, ‘I want to know one thing, the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God!”

If we are to face the challenges of our time, living in an aggressive secular society, we have to be people of the Bible. It teaches us how God wants us to live and one of the great tragedies of our time is that children are growing up without any knowledge of the stories which have fashioned and made better the lives of so many older people.

This then is our mission, to preach the Word.

There was a chat show host, very famous, who was interviewing a Minister and asked him for him a pointed question regarding his opinion on a sensitive moral issue, obviously hoping for a reply which she could then embarrass him. The Minister replied so succinctly and effectively by saying, ‘I do not have an opinion. I preach what the Bible says, and whatever the Bible says I accept’.

Martin Luther and John Calvin both said when the preacher truly preaches the Word of God, what the preacher says is what God says. A preacher should not give his (or her) own opinion; or about climate change; we are to remember the term, ‘thus saith the Lord’

Paul went on to stress the urgency of this task. The Churches often involve themselves in promoting issues which are sidelines to their principal task. It is of course right and proper we should interest ourselves in social issues, but some Churches have extensive social programmes to the exclusion of spiritual matters. We should remember that on one occasion Jesus was approached by Simon and told the crowds were waiting for Him to come and perform healing works, Jesus forcefully told Simon He had to move on for the purpose He had come was to preach. In the book of Acts, the Apostles decided that the social work should be passed on to others so that they could get on with spiritual duties.

Whilst therefore we rightly involve ourselves in social activities we must never lose sight of our main responsibility to preach the faith, otherwise we just become another social institution with a spiritual touch, without any practical purpose.

This Letter could well have been written with today’s Church in mind; Paul ‘for there is going to come a time when people will not put with sound doctrine; instead to suit their own desires they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from truth and turn aside to myths’. Is that not a fair assessment of today’s Church in many places?

We have to ask ourselves why we go to Church. Is it just for meeting with friends; for the ceremonial in High Churches; or to enjoy the singing? Do we go for reassurance in the hope God will forgive us in spite of the fact we have done things which we know may not offend State law or practice, but are conscious we have offended God’s law?

There are many answers, but the real purpose should be to worship God with reverence and awe; to learn about God and how He would want us to live. In order to do this we need to know our Bibles and be prepared to accept what is taught there. I know this will not be acceptable to some people within the Church, for it may condemn the way they are conducting their lives. But a sincere follower of Christ, a true Christian, cannot live ignoring moral and ethical standards from Monday to Saturday and think a fragile repentance on Sunday will make matters right with God. A true Christian is one who lives their faith 24/7.

A time has surely come when people will not put up with sound doctrine, and a time is coming when preachers may be put in danger if they do preach it. Minority factions are wielding such power beyond that which their numbers merit.

I have been told we should make people feel good and happy. I can appreciate some would like that. I was at one service where the preacher ran round the congregation picking out people to make a comment and passing what were meant to be funny remarks, to the glee of many. Not much reference to God or Jesus.

People who come to Church seeking spiritual nourishment should be able to expect to find that satisfied and want something more profound. When people come to Church they have a right to expect they will hear a sermon expounding the Word of God; perhaps not what they want to hear but what they need to hear.

The greatest preacher of all times was Billy Graham who preached to 222 million people in over 185 countries before audiences of up to 80,000. He told them they were all sinners and unless they turned to Christ they had no future in heaven, and people flocked to hear him in their thousands.

When I was ordained I had to kneel before my Bishop and affirm that I believed the holy Scriptures contain sufficiently, all doctrine necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and that I would teach only that which can be proved and concluded by Scripture. Also, with faithful diligence banish all doctrines contrary to God’s Word.

This is something required of all those men and women who enter the Anglican ministry, and I am sure it applies in similar wording to other denominations. So why, the question must be asked, is this not generally done?

Doctrine is not being preached and preachers are ever ready to avoid speaking the truth. There are reasons. Some preachers just don’t believe in the full authority of Scripture. This is a sad thing to say but it is fact. I have heard it preached that Jesus is not the only way to God. In other cases some clergy are more concerned with career ambitions and do not want to cause any ripples on the spiritual waters lest it spoil their chances of promotion.

But it is a fundamental doctrine of Christianity that no one can come to the Father except through Jesus Christ; He is the only way to salvation. This is not negotiable and it is false doctrine to state all religions lead to God.

Another doctrine, which formed the bedrock of society in addition to being a biblical decree, is the definition of marriage. Last year David Cameron, in one his typical off the cuff ideas, cast aside 2000 years of Christian teaching when he re-defined marriage, and despite promising a full public consultation, everything was done to suppress such discussion.

Yet apart from the Roman Catholic Church there was barely a whisper against this legislation from the main denominations. In fact Bishops and senior clergy in the Church of England were openly campaigning for such practice, even though civil partnerships had been generally accepted. Indeed, preachers were being suspended for speaking against the proposal.

So does anyone wonder why the Church is falling apart? If you buy a car or many technological aids you receive a manual on how you are to care for that article, and if you fail to do so as laid down you have no claim on the maker. You have broken the agreement in other words. God gave mankind a manual, it is called the Bible and if we fail to keep to what is called for in that book we have no claim on God.

We have been saturated by a world that is committed to falsehood. Paul sets forth here that we must increasingly proclaim the truth as it is in Jesus. John Wesley said, ‘get on fire for God and people will watch you burn’.

The apostle reminds us that the most effective thing is, preach the word, announce the truth, tell of reality, make it clear, spread the word, and declare that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Thursday 9 January 2014

I want to quote now from the two great Saints of the Bible, the Apostles Peter and Paul. Peter states, ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which men must be saved’. Paul states ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation’.

The response from many people, even within the Church is ‘you can’t say that it’s too narrow it’s discriminating and exclusive’. So many within the contemporary Church would find this objectionable.
Why are they shocked that there is only one way to be saved, Shouldn’t we be utterly and thankfully amazed that there is a way to be saved at all?

The Bible is a book all about salvation and there has never been any doubt that the only way to be saved is through Jesus Christ. He is the focus and climax of the Bible from start to finish. This has been the message from all the great evangelists.

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

We will find that we will meet opposition when we declare our faith, we shouldn’t be surprised, and we should expect it. Public officials are ever anxious to erase Christianity from the public arena.

An article in the Daily Mail once told of business women converting to Islam because it has higher moral standards, respects traditional values, and is very spiritual. There is no higher moral standard than Christianity; it is untrue, unfair and naïve to suggest that Islam or any other religion has finer values and qualities than Christianity.

It is true to say that Islam is a moral religion and its clerics promote it vigorously.

It is also 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.

At the present time in this country we don’t go to prison for spreading the gospel, (not yet that is) although we are getting there, as punitive legislation has led to some preachers being arrested by police for preaching biblically, with a zeal not displayed against criminals.

The last government enacted legislation which was anti-Christian, and against the beliefs and conscience of Christians, and the present government has gone further and eradicated 2000 years of Christian teaching by legislating for same sex marriage.

'I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile’. These are the words of the great Apostle Paul.

The gospel story we are called to proclaim is the good news about what God has done to rescue us from the consequences of our sin. Each of us falls short of the standard that we ought to meet, and so justice demands that we pay a price. The problem, fundamentally, is a moral one. People like to pretend that morality is just some arbitrary set of rules made up by other people who want to control how we behave. It’s not. But God has given us the chance to be absolved from the mess we have got into, and the punishment we deserve. He has done this through the Cross.

Whilst a price has to be paid for our sins, God decided to help us by taking that punishment upon Himself. On the Cross Jesus suffered a most cruel punishment on our behalf so there is no longer any price for us to pay. But that requires us turning from our sin and putting our faith in Him and living according to the standard laid down by God in His Holy Word.

Why should anyone be ashamed to tell that story?
We may not be able or indeed desire to preach in the same way as of old, but whilst we may change our style we still have an important message to proclaim and it must not be watered down to suit modern susceptibilities.

To be ashamed infers that one is reluctant to admit to something, a desire to disassociate oneself from it. There is an ever present strong temptation to do so when there is so much theological and moral confusion; when you are dismissed as a fundamentalist for believing the Bible; when there is so much opposition; when there is encouragement to water down the gospel to make it more acceptable; when we don’t want to declare our faith in case we are sneered or laughed at.

We cannot be ashamed of the gospel. How would people hear? And how can they call on the One they have not believed in. And how can they believe in the One they have never heard. And how can they hear if no on preaches it to them.

How many Church members are embarrassed when asked if they believe? Indeed how many are ready to acknowledge they attend Church. How would we answer if asked to give our opinion on moral questions? If you are not ashamed you are ready to speak out about your faith.

The reason Paul was not ashamed and was eager to preach the gospel, was because it was the power of God for salvation, a teaching scorned by so many in the world. There is no other power known to men which can do that. All other religions have a philosophy, we have a man. No other spiritual leader can forgive, only Christ can forgive.

The Bible states ‘no one can come to the Father except through Jesus Christ’ Paul said you may be ashamed of saying these things but I am not. The Bible states ‘God did not give us a spirit of timidity’

How many preachers would be ready to stand in one of our Cathedrals and state this? How many would be allowed to? So many preachers are afraid of what people, and especially what the papers would report. But look at the praise heaped on Pope Benedict by the press for his bold and brave words in telling the politicians to stop interfering with the Christian faith, and calling for a vigorous Christian outpouring to combat the aggressive secularism pervading our society.

We must stand shoulder to shoulder with Peter and Paul behind the almighty power of God and the sacrifice made on our behalf by Jesus Christ, and we must proclaim Him as Lord and Saviour.