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.

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