Friday 20 June 2014

OBEY THE WORD. 1 Corinthians 1 v 10/17
Matthew 7 v.21/27
One thing on which all Christians should have concern over is that of falling attendances in our Churches. We are failing to attract people in the younger age ranges, especially in the middle age group.

We have to accept that we live in a godless age, where the Church is a no go area to a lot of people, except of course when it suits their purpose. We get told pressure on combining home and business life makes it hard to attend Church on Sundays, but Muslims seem to manage it without much difficulty.

There are of course Churches which can attract large congregations and when I drive home this morning I will pass a Church where the roads outside it are like a huge car park. Logically it appears they are doing something right, which other Churches are not. It might be helpful therefore if we looked at what is happening generally in the Church at large.

Worldwide the Church is growing massively, and China once seen as the epitome of the anti-Christ, has now more Christians than any other country, such is the power of God to respond to those committed to His Son. Nations in other Eastern parts, Africa, South America see similar responses with mega Churches because they are faithful to Scripture instead of dismantling the Bible, and are impervious to the insults hurled at them by those in this country who find the Bible restrictive.

In his Letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul was addressing a situation similar to that which we face now. The Church was situated in what was a godless society, immorality was prevalent, and people’s main preoccupation was pleasure.
Tension had grown within the Church at what it was supposed to be and how it was reacting; a conflict between the ideal and reality. Worldly influences had crept into the Church membership and internal disputes had arisen causing some members to follow the world’s agenda, with society’s view of spirituality and wisdom being adopted.

If we face up to reality, the same thing is happening to the Church in this country as we have modified Scripture to avoid offending other faiths and those with no faith, and reinterpreted the Bible to meet the culture of society. When we try to please man rather than God; when we depart from the Bible by adding to or subtracting from, we are causing cracks in the foundation of Apostolic teaching; we are building on sand rather than rock.

In Corinth unity was broken as it became people-centred instead of God centred, and when rival groups fight to establish their own agenda, there becomes breakdown.

There is an un challenged reluctance to be really faithful to the Bible for fear of being called a bigot, or accused of having some sot of phobia if one speaks out against the culture of society or the terms of the (In)equality Act. It is our duty of all clergy to keep our Ordination vows to be true to Scripture in our preaching, and also by practising what we preach. Secularists, humanists, and followers of Islam will not allow their beliefs to be suppressed, and Christians have a reasonable expectation that the Churches will stand up for them.

If we allow ourselves to withdraw from plain speaking of the gospel we are failing our Lord and reducing ourselves as a Church to little more than just another social organisation perhaps with a spiritual touch, in which case we have nothing to offer those lost souls seeking real spiritual help.

We do have a moral duty and responsibility to speak out and challenge actions against our beliefs and faith. Women have been dismissed or suspended from their employment for the simple acts of wearing a Cross; a care worker of many years service was dismissed for praying for a sick person who actually asked, and in the presence of the woman’s family; street pastors have been arrested without just cause. In all these cases only ‘Christian Concern’ a foundation formed to represent Christians legally has raised a protesting voice and action which I earnestly recommend to be supported.

When this Prime Minister forced same sex marriage, ignoring the massive petition signatures opposing, there was barely a squeak from the Churches; in fact some senior clergy in the Church of England were actively campaigning for in direct contravention of Scripture. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who publicly opposed same sex marriage, wrote in ‘Pink News’ how great it was that the Act had been passed.

When the same Prime Minister sent a Minister to the European Court to oppose a woman’s right to wear a Cross, with the comment that there was always the chance to resign, after saying in Parliament he thought it should be permitted to wear a Cross; when the same Prime Minister challenged a person’s right not to be forced to act in their employment against their sincerely held religious beliefs, such as a civil registrar being forced to perform same sex unions, or a doctor not wishing to perform an abortion, the Church remained largely silent. However, other faiths have been permitted to opt out of rules enforced on others.

As Christians we have to make sure our nation continues to hear about Jesus Christ and of the attempts to push Him out of public life. We have to make sure an authentic Christian message is heard. At the moment people hear many different voices speaking in the name of Christianity, some of which are not faithful to the Bible’s teaching. People need to hear that the Christian message is not just for individuals, but that it has answers for the big issues our society faces to day.

I believe we must be committed to letting people know what the gospel is in simple, unabridged terms. We let so many opportunities pass. I have attended baptism services where there have been large congregations and the preachers have talked about themselves, stuttered aimlessly through long winded sermon or deep theology.

There are so many people with cares and worries and the Bible offers encouragement and hope, but it must be preached without fear or reservation. The Church is for men and women to be united in Jesus Christ, separated from the old life, and set apart for Jesus Christ. We should be like citizens of a heavenly state here on earth.

When people come to Church they have a right to expect to hear a spiritual message, a biblical one, and some of the preaching I have heard at times would not encourage me to make a second visit.

The gospel reading has a message for Christians personally; it is not addressed to those who do not believe in Him, but to those claiming to be His followers.

Jesus in this last part of the Sermon on the |Mount is giving His followers two choices, not multiple, two. He sets before us radical choice between obedience and disobedience and calls us to unconditional commitment of mind and will to His teaching. The way He does this is to warn us of two unacceptable alternatives, first a verbal confession, and second merely intellectual knowledge, neither of which can be substitute for obedience. Jesus emphasises that on a competed obedience our eternal destiny depends. This passage shows that neutrality is not an option.

Jesus speaks to warn that in the day of judgement there will be those who appear before Him and claim to have servedHim yet He will disown them. They may have said all the right things and done the proper actions, but are not seen by our Lord as genuine followers, although they are personally convinced they are real Christians deserving of a place in Heaven.

You may be able to relate to such people, who create an impression of piety, yet can be quite unpleasant when things happen in the Church which do not please them. If you haven’t you have led a charmed life. There also those who claim to give or accept all the right teachings of Scripture, but do not live their lives accordingly.

Jesus told a parable of two houses one securely founded on rock the other built on sand. Both houses will look the same only a storm will reveal the difference. In the Bible a storm is often understood to mean the wrath of God.

We see how important foundations are. Two types of men (or women) are portrayed. They have listened to and read the words of Jesus and decided to follow Him. One says all the right teachings of Scripture, using all the right kind of language, then sees television where people seem to be having so much fun doing things he has given up, so thinks religion is meant to be fun so I should be all right doing the same, and the foundations begin to crack, and so is not a real disciple. His faith is based on sand.

The other man determines to be obedient and faithful to the Scripture teaching because he has a firm foundation.

There are many folk we see at funeral services in memory of a departed relative or friend who has never been near a Church in years, or had any communication with the Lord, but because they have been nice kind and honest people deemed to be given a room in the heavenly mansions which Jesus spoke of in John 14, a passage so used in those services.

The marks of a true Christians are not just claims of great spiritual experience or strong professions of belief. Obedience to God’s Word and performance of God’s teaching, with a commitment to see the Kingdom of God established here on earth is what the Lord seeks. It is not enough to say how wonderful the words of Jesus are, you have to live them out. The commands of God are not negotiable. We all slip up, sometimes knowingly, other times accidentally, but we should strive to do the right thing.

Each week Scripture is spoken, preached and heard in our Churches, yet from Monday to Saturday lived in a way which is in direct contrast to that teaching. Well may Jesus say I do not know you. False claimants can delude themselves into mistaking loud profession for true spirituality. There is a lack of obedience to God’s Word.

When the Bible states a doctrine, or gives teaching, we are honour bound to accept the same. Preachers especially must be true to Scripture and expound its meaning, not give personal opinions as to its relevance in today’s society.

A chat show host was asking a prominent evangelist for his opinion on a sensitive subject, hoping to embarrass him, but he replied wisely, ‘I have no opinion; if the Bible says it is wrong I say it is wrong.’

Paul was very accurate when he wrote that people will not like sound teaching. A Vicar in a wealthy Southern county was teaching from Ephesians 5 on the duties of wives to husbands and husbands to wives, a very daring act in that part of the country. Again he was not giving personal opinion just explaining Paul’s Letter, but some women walked out of the Church taking their direct debits with them.

The man who builds on sand is likened to the one who hears the words of Jesus, but neglects to put them into practice, whilst the one who builds on rock hears the words of Jesus and acts upon them. The difference is obedience as opposed to disobedience.

In earlier verses Jesus had been speaking of destruction for all who travelled the broad road, now he is suggesting the one who does not put into practice His teaching is like a house shattered by a storm. Jesus is giving a strong warning concerning our future destiny, and now at the end of this great Sermon on the Mount is in effect pointing to two different destinations

I have been told more than once by fellow clergymen that the Church does not talk of ‘hell’, which is equal to saying ignore the words of Jesus.

Whether you believe in hell or not will depend on how much you believe the words of Jesus. Whenever He spoke of heaven he also spoke of hell, and His parables all offer two alternatives.

The Bible has various terms to refer to hell; outer darkness, destruction, place of rejection, place of torment etc. If you dismiss such a place, you inevitably dismiss the words of Jesus; if you believe in Him you will have no difficulty in concluding He is saying it is the only alternative to heaven.

If the Church was truly fulfilling its responsibilities it would be warning people, but there is a reluctance to upset people. I was told recently we should make people feel happy in our preaching. If you were walking down a road and saw a house on fire and a person leaning out of a window, you would try to help them; you wouldn’t try to tell them a funny story.

The paradox is that history’s greatest Christian preacher was Billy Graham. He spoke to 220 million people in 185 countries over 40 decades. He constantly told people they were sinners and unless they repented they had no eternal future, and spoke plainly of heaven and hell, and people flocked in their tens of thousands to hear him.

The Sermon on the Mount ends with the threat of judgement, and can only be avoided by obedience to Jesus Christ and conformance to His teaching.

No comments:

Post a Comment