Saturday 17 October 2015

Next Sunday is Bible Sunday. For many years it was the 2nd Sunday in Advent, but was in recent years altered to the last Sunday in October, and Churches have the option of celebrating it then, or just the normal Lectionary reading. As so many clergy now have so little regard for the Bible’s authority, less now recognise Bible Sunday as being special.

This has the unfortunate consequence of turning good and devout people away from the Church. I was speaking to a young man who came to this country from an African nation who told me he ‘was’ a Methodist. I asked him what he now ‘was’ and he said he attended an Independent Evangelical Church because they took the Bible seriously, which he found the mainline Churches did not seem to him to do.

So turn with me to Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, which is the Bible reading; it is so relevant to us today, and could have been written especially for us. It was written to Timothy by Paul when Paul was nearing the end of his life and was passing his ministry over to Timothy, a young and rather timid man. Paul wanted to warn him of the problems that may arise and also to encourage him. So let us study this passage this morning.

Paul begins by telling Timothy it is going to be difficult to be a Christian, for people will love only themselves and their money; they will be proud and boastful, sneering at God, disobedient to parents and thoroughly bad, and will think nothing of immorality.

We live like Timothy did in difficult times for the Church.
There is a total lack of restraint, rather like a car which has been parked on a hill and someone releases the handbrake causing it to go out of control. A reading of the morning newspapers reveals how much evil is in the world, people defrauding on massive scale, and using violence so freely.

In verse 10 Paul reminds Timothy that he has seen all the troubles Paul has suffered for preaching the gospel, how strong his faith is, how he was stoned in Timothy’s own town. We have seen how Christians are being harassed in the work place, who have lost their employment for acting according to their Christian conscience, or merely even for expressing a Christian thought. Whilst there has been no overt violence, Christians have been arrested for quoting verses which have upset some people, and indeed in non Christian countries Churches have been, and are being, burned down and Christians murdered and wounded.

In verses 14/15
We read Timothy was brought up in a Jewish background and so was taught the Scriptures from an early age by his mother and grandmother. It was customary for Jewish boys to be taught the Scriptures from age five. Whilst these would be the Old Testament, Timothy had also been taught by Paul and Peter, who between them had written most of the New Testament, so he would in fact have virtually the whole Bible as we know it in his knowledge.

There is a great tragedy in the fact that children are growing up here without ever hearing the stories of Jesus or the main biblical characters, as parents do not have the time, inclination or knowledge to help them. But it has not always been like that. I have fond memories of attending Liverpool Cathedral for Choral Evensong with my mother into my teenage years, and the Church has been with me right through life, and I was not alone in that.

Compare the situation in other faiths’ homes. Muslim children are faithfully taught the Koran and will never allow their holy book to be abused in the way our Bible is; similarly in Jewish homes, where children again are taught about Judaism and the Ten Commandments from an early age.

Verse 16 states. All Scripture is inspired by God. The important word is all. In other words, what we read is divinely spoken by God. He chose 40 men over many years, using four languages, and so guided and inspired them so that in effect it was God telling us what He wants us to know. We are to accept it as written; there is no option to just to pick out those passages of which you approve and discard those that do not suit you.

Each of us has a choice to make. Do we accept the Bible as it is written, or do we reject its authority? If we pass judgement on Scripture, we pass judgement on God, for it is either the Word of God or complete fabrication. The Bible shows us what is true and lets us know when we are going in the wrong direction and points us in the right way. The Holy Spirit uses the Bible to change lives in a wonderful way.

If we are to face the challenges of our time, the Church and all Christians have to be people of the Bible. If the Church really wants to stop the slide to a secular society, it has to adopt a more positive stand on Scripture. Christians have always believed and taught that the Bible is God’s Word, and it has been one of the foundational truths of the Christian faith.

Today the Church in the West is in decline, in stark contrast to Africa, Asia, and South America, where the Churches have memberships of thousands. The reason these Churches are so strong is because of the strong biblical foundation, and they have not been tearing the Bible away as we have in the West. They still believe it and boldly proclaim it, and God is blessing them.

Perhaps the most relevant advice to the Church could be that which Paul wrote to Timothy when he said ‘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. The Bible is a living book, and as we read or hear it being read, it is like God speaking directly to us. The Bible should have pre-eminence in all services.

But Paul warns Timothy that people will not want to listen to gospel truth and turn to myths; they will seek preachers who will say what they want to hear; how true this is to day. There seem to be plenty of preachers ready to oblige them and who in fact share the rejection of biblical teaching in order to justify their way of living. I cannot understand how a man or woman can stand in a pulpit to preach Scripture when their lives are not consistent with that teaching. Paul tells us that such people will have to answer before God and Jesus, and will be judged more severely.

I think it fair to say that there is often reluctance on preachers to be too faithful to Scripture to avoid upsetting people; there is a desire rather to make congregations feel comfortable. Consequently, the Bible is being modified and re-interpreted in order to align the Church with the culture of society when in fact it should be the guide to all our actions.

But the Church is not meant to be a sort of spiritual dispensary offering soothing word potions, and I believe the majority of people, especially those seeking spiritual help, would prefer true Bible exposition and moral guidance. How God must weep when He sees the Church singing His praise, pretending to be holy, whilst countenancing and failing to speak out on moral issues and totally ignoring His written Word.

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 yet people flocked to hear him in their tens of thousands.

The greatest revival of Christianity in this country came during the ministry of John/Charles Wesley which had such a dramatic revival in the spiritual health of the nation. If they were alive today they would have much to say at the way the Church has failed to proclaim the message they left, that salvation was through Christ alone, the value of a person’s life was measured by their faith and the manner in which it was lived out, and the doctrine of heaven and hell.

The Bible states, ‘For we have not followed cleverly invented myths when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
This tells us that our faith is not like other faiths which someone has made up but rather comes from God. Our faith is not just a legend; it was witnessed and attested to by the Apostles. We are saying that there is only Jesus who can fulfil the place of being the cornerstone of authority in the world. There is no other name under heaven by which a person can be saved. Only Jesus died on a Cross to enable us to have forgiveness before God. You can take all the religious names in history, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, whoever and whatever. The most that can be said of these men is that they were moral teachers and much of what they taught was right.

As Christians we recognise that there is some truth in other religions, and they have uttered fine moral teachings and precepts which have helped people. But there is something they could not do. They could tell us what is right, but not how to do so. That is the difference between Jesus and any other name, which is why we can never consent to considering any other name to be equal; no other has solved the problem of death. There has never been a force more powerful to assure the liberation of men and women from oppression and immorality than the power of the resurrection. This is the message we have to get across. The Church has to urgently recognise what its mission and indeed its purpose is.

These are dark days for the Church in this country which is seen by many people as totally irrelevant to their lives. There was a time when the church stood as a beacon of light in a dark world; a place where hope, inspiration and encouragement were given; that is no longer the case. What people fail to realise is that if Christianity is erased from public life it will create a vacuum which will be filled by something else less pleasant.
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 a good and moral life worthy of our Lord; it teaches us how God wants us to live and be in a relationship with Him; it corrects us when we are going wrong; and when feeling depressed and sad, encourages us to trust in Jesus to share our burdens.

I am amazed and saddened by how few Christians can say they regularly read the Bible for themselves. We even seem to have given up having Bibles in our Churches where members can follow the readings and the sermons.

The Bible is all about Jesus. 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

Whilst the preaching of Scripture may be one for the pulpit, every Christian has a duty to carry the blessings of the Bible to those not yet acquainted with it.

Paul stressed 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 and political issues, but not to the exclusion of spiritual matters. Whilst the Bible recognises our social responsibility, it emphasises the primary function of preaching the gospel, otherwise we just become another social institution with a spiritual touch, without any practical purpose.

Our purpose in coming to Church 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. When people do 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. Especially is this true when people come seeking spiritual nourishment and expect to find that satisfied with something profound. A conservative and serious approach is often more welcomed than a liberal one.

But a sincere follower of Christ, a true Christian, cannot live ignoring moral and ethical standards from Monday to Saturday and think a token repentance on Sunday will make matters right with God. A true Christian is one who lives their faith every day.

If ever the Word of God was needed it is never more so than now. It calls for people to turn back to God who is ready and able to meet the needs of everyone who turns to Him. The message we have for the world is for a stable and well balanced society. This is why we must contend for the faith.

I believe every local Church has to set its own course of evangelism, for there is no effective lead from the higher counsels of the Churches, where there are men and now women more interested in their own careers than the purpose for which they were ordained.

I wish every blessing for your Church, and pray that God may bring people to join in worship there.

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