Sunday 25 May 2014

I want to speak this morning on our Epistle, from Acts Chapter 2 verses 42-47. To think about the Church in general, without any reference being intended to any particular Church.
I was speaking with a fellow clergyman about the future of the Church in this country and he expressed his concern about his Church, which like so many others, had a congregation largely of the older age range, and inevitably there is a regular decrease through either death or illness, and not being replaced.

This of course is happening right across the country. I have taken 31 services in and around Bedford over the last few years and apart from five Churches, the congregations have numbered less than 25, and in two cases not even reaching double figures. This should be a worrying feature to all Christians, especially as the closing of Churches will inevitably increase.

These are dark days for the Church in this country. We live in a post-Christian age, in a society which largely rejects God and regards Church and Christianity as totally irrelevant to their lives. The world, and indeed even within the Church there are those who, see the Church standing for values it no longer considers acceptable. This makes it more important that we in the Church get things right, and we all have a part to play.
We are not helped by the actions of politicians, who make legislation which affects Christian beliefs; the judiciary who always rule against us in matters of conscience; and educationalists who fail to hold assemblies in schools.

There are however, still Churches attracting large congregations and a closer examination of their style of worship, usually evangelical, shows they are offering something which touches people.

I want us to consider, what are the marks of an active, committed Church? The reading follows on from Peter’s stirring sermon on the day of Pentecost where 3,000 people turned to Christ. We are told they then ‘devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles’.

The heart of the Christian faith is knowing God; not only knowing about God, but having Him as your God. In order to have this knowledge there has to be factual teaching, but we have false teaching and none teaching. For instance, a service was held in one of our country’s Cathedrals on Easter Sunday, a momentous day in the Church calendar, yet the sermon was on social justice and a critique of the English Defence League.
Jesus appointed twelve Apostles and taught them, then they went out and spread that teaching. We have that teaching at our disposal; it is called the New Testament. Jesus warned against false prophets who will reject fundamental doctrines and such can cause people to be misled and controversy to arise. We see the consequences in the way the Church of England (particularly but not exclusively) is in such disarray.

I think it fair to say that in some Churches there has been a turning away from the Apostles’ teaching. This is because people both within and out of Church life, want to adopt a way of living which is more consistent with contemporary culture than with Bible teaching.

I was told recently that cultures change and we should. Paul warned of this when he said people will turn away from sound doctrine, but he also called on preachers to preach the Word that God gave us.
Those early Christians were devoted, that means they were committed, no half-heartedness. They believed Jesus was Lord and they were blessed by the Holy Spirit. They wanted to learn and live the way Jesus had taught.

The Word of God must be the foundation of the Church and we must focus on Jesus Christ; that He was the Son of God, who came to earth to do the will of God, which was demonstrated by His words and actions; that He died a cruel death on the Cross so that the sins of all people may be forgiven by God because He paid the penalty, and all who accept Him as Lord and Saviour will earn eternal salvation.

Each Church if it is to be blessed by God, must be built around the Bible and have its teaching at the heart of the services. If it does not, we have nothing special to offer and we just become another social place with a religious touch. The Bible sees the Church as much more than a social organisation; it calls it the household of God and pillar of the truth, with a special place in God’s plan.

The second mark of a renewed Church is that it is a caring one. We share a relationship to God and to each other, based on a common spiritual life. 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, and when others need encouragement and support, we are to give it.

The Bible uses several names to describe God’s people, and the most powerful is that of a family. In families we are related to one another, a bond based on allegiance and fidelity. A family consist of
different ages, sexes, and it is God’s way of providing for His people to grow together. This is why we need to come and share in all the aspects of worship.

When visitors come we should make a special effort to welcome them. I have been in Churches where a visitor is looked upon as if they were an intruder venturing into a holy huddle. And each should try and relate to other members and not be like someone just driving on to a forecourt to fill up and then drive off as quickly as possible.

There are people who are looking for a biblical preaching ministry that relates the Word of God to the modern world, and where there is a loving, supportive, caring fellowship.

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.

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, and worst of all a bad experience at a church, all of which are expressly good reasons for going to church.

I know people have busy lives, but there are many men and women who do attend Church who have equally busy lives and yet manage to arrange their lives to enable them to come. Time can be found for other things, so it is all down to priority. Those first Christians were ordinary people just like you and me, with the same demands on their time, but their actions reflected their priorities.

Members of Islam don’t seem to have any problems attending worship. You need only stand outside a mosque and see how many men and women come out of their meetings. How can their lives be so different from Christians?

So what about you and me today? There is always the temptation on a Sunday morning to think ‘they will not miss me if I don’t go to Church.’ I am sure your fellow members will miss you, but more so, God will miss you. Don’t fall prey to the devil.

As we examine ourselves today, let us ask ourselves, ‘are we half hearted or wholehearted in our commitment to Christ?’ A tepid commitment is no commitment at all. We must ask ourselves how important our faith, God, and Jesus to us is. If you consider yourself a Christian and a believer, then failing to attend church is not an option.

The Bible repeatedly tells us that Church attendance is an essential for a Christian. It is necessary
for your spiritual well being, it pleases God as you obey the 4th Commandment. It shows our love and worship toward God. It demonstrates our faith and trust in God,

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

Fourthly they were a growing Church, their numbers increased rapidly. We must remember Christianity spread throughout the ancient world without any radio, television, or any means of mass communication. If we expect great things from God great things will happen.

If we today want to see the Church grow we have to be devoted to the task. When life gets hard for people they are more inclined to think of the Church and for a lot of people life has become very hard.

A major fault in the Church today is apathy. It is tempting for older people to say I won’t be here in X years so it is not my worry, which is to dismiss the young and prejudice their future.

There is also too ready an attitude to accept the situation as it exists. We don’t let people know exactly what the Church truly stands for. We allow the forces of secularism to overcome us.

We have an election in which the parties have posted through our doors letters telling us all the wonderful things they can offer. I believe the Church should be telling what we are doing as we have more to offer, and more truthful also In simple terms let people know we care, have good music, tell Bible stories in plain words and would really like to see them.

Business spends millions of pounds advertising and they wouldn’t advertise unless it paid off. Because of bills pushed through my letter box I think I know of every Indian restaurant in Bedford.
We are in the Lord’s business and should not be reluctant to advertise. In spite of living in a world of opposition, we must hold fast to the faith in which we believe and draw near to God with a sincere heart, and without compromising to those who would dilute our faith.

The messengers of Islam and other faiths are not ashamed or reluctant to boldly proclaim their message, nor will they allow their faiths to be abused, neither should we.

Let us take inspiration from those Christians who daily face terrible persecution of their faith in Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia, Pakistan, and many other Islamic countries, having their Churches and homes burned down, assaulted and imprisoned, and even murdered, but never give in or lose faith.

People have an image of indifference, ancient language and solemn music. It need not be any of that. We have wonderful music to choose from, and the most vibrant message that can be offered. We just need to proclaim it.
The closing verse of the passage tells of those early Christians praising God as He added to their numbers. Only God can add to our numbers. Jesus said He would build His Church, but He needs workers to help Him. If we offer reverent, dignified, joyful worship, with music people can relate to, God will reward our efforts

Believe His promise. Read the Scriptures, keep coming. Never give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, and let us always give each other encouragement

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