Sunday 1 November 2015

I want to speak to you this morning on the subject of ‘the Church’, and by that I mean the Church at large in this country irrespective of denomination.
]It is generally accepted that we have become a godless nation, where most people see no relevance to God or Church to be necessary in their lives. Both are treated like a convenience store which they can turn to when they want something they can’t get anywhere else.

Whilst it is not all about numbers, we must concede that without people attending, the Church could not exist. God wants the church to grow.

The church was established by God to teach biblical doctrine so we can be grounded in our faith. The bible states, ‘Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.’

The church is to be a place of fellowship, where Christians can be devoted to one another and honour one another, instruct one another; be compassionate to one another, encourage one another, and love one another.

The heart of the Christian faith is to know God. Jesus said, ‘this is eternal life that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ who you sent’. Jesus meant that you know God as your personal God, not just know about Him, and to achieve that you need teaching and doctrine.

The Church exists to spread the gospel which tells of Jesus; that He died on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins, so that we might be acceptable to God and have eternal life with Him.

Whilst we live in a different age and conditions, there is much we can learn from how the first Church began and became so successful.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter gave his sermon and spoke of a corrupt generation who had rejected God and so they were under God’s judgement and needed to be saved. Such a situation could be said to exist today and is a reality for us, and this is the reason Church congregations are so small.

Peter’s words had such an immediate effect that 3,000 responded as they were ‘cut to the heart’; in other words they were deeply convicted. They began to realize that life was not what it appeared to be, and that behind all the normal events of everyday life was the power of God. This is always what happens when the Spirit of God is at work. He makes us aware of the Lordship of Jesus, the fact that Jesus is Lord.

As we compare ourselves today to that early church, we need to ask ourselves if we are an accurate representation of the kind of church that God would have us be.

We read that the church was devoted to the apostles teaching; they were doing so eagerly, they were not coerced, they did it out of desire to learn. Secondly, it was not something that was a passing mood, there was perseverance.

The Bible states, ‘they were filled with awe; it was attractive worship as people went with wonder and excitement anticipating what God would do; unbelievers were amazed at what they saw and heard and made them want to know more.

Does the worship you attend always fill you with awe and excitement? Do you hear inspiring sermons which want you to hear more? Really?

From the very beginning God is seen as a speaking God. He spoke to men right through the Bible, so all teaching should be firmly based on the Bible. God appointed prophets to record His thoughts and how He expected His people to live. In the New Testament He chose the Apostles to record His Word.

God in His grace has enabled us to have that same teaching of the Apostles; it is called the New Testament. If a Church is to have any credibility it must have the Bible at the heart of its ministry, the supreme authority of the Church. We have turned away from the Apostles teaching which is why we are losing so many people, for without such teaching we have nothing special to offer and have become little more than a social institution with a religious flavour.

When people come to Church they have a right to expect to hear a sermon based on Scripture; not someone’s ideas or opinion; nor on a political issue.

Christians have had many disagreements and arguments, Methodism itself was the result of one such argument, but at the heart of all Christian worship has always been the Bible. This is because the Bible uniquely tells the story of God’s dealings with human beings culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Bible is the Word of God. There was a time when the meaning of that statement would have been absolutely clear and incapable of being misunderstood, but in these days words are being twisted and interpreted to mean almost anything.

Christians are meant to enjoy the Bible. It is meant to be a constant means of enlightenment, enrichment and encouragement, its dynamic influence bringing a deepening joy into our daily lives. Sadly, many Christians seem to fall short of that experience.

We now have preaching of the Bible by people who are living contrary to biblical teaching, and which is total hypocrisy and indefensible.

The problem is too many in the Church do not truly believe in the Bible, and don’t want to. Charles Wesley who did so much for Methodism taught that salvation was through Christ alone; the value of a person’s life was measured by their faith; and the doctrine of heaven and hell. How often have you heard a sermon on these subjects, which enable us to properly determine the various moral issues which are so prevalent in today’s society?

There is a very significant sentence at the end of the passage; and the Lord added to their number day by day. Every day, there would be new converts to the faith. That should not really be surprising. The apostles were getting the gospel of Jesus Christ out to the people around them by their teaching. They told of Christ coming to this earth in a unique way; of the miracles Jesus performed; how He gave up His life for us by dying on the Cross so that our sins could be forgiven by God, so assuring us of eternal with Him.

The Apostles taught that Jesus had said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ If words mean anything, this is an utterly exclusive claim by our Lord. Without him, and apart from him, there is no way to the Father in heaven. If you decide Jesus is not for you, God doesn’t have a Plan B.
‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.’
‘For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.’ These are the actual words of the Apostles.

In addition, unbelievers were seeing the grace of God being displayed in the lives of the believers and were impressed with what was happening and were attracted. God was using these things to draw people to himself and the church grew. This tells us that it is God who builds up a Church, for He alone can move a person’s heart to repentance and faith. Jesus said on one occasion, ‘No man can come unto me except my Father draw him’. God is drawing people to himself all over the world.

It is in God’s plan that His Church will grow. In that first Church it was growing all the time; from that little band of men, the Christian gospel spread across the world. It may reasonably be asked when all the empty Churches are seen, why isn’t God adding to His Church now? He is in Africa, South Korea, China and South America. I suggest it is because in Britain and other Western nations we are not teaching, and certainly not practising, the teaching of the Apostles.

These men were speaking in the name of and on behalf of the Lord Himself, who told them what to say. If we choose to teach and preach in a manner to align ourselves with society’s culture and ways rather than with what God has lain down, we cannot expect God to bless our ministry.

Paul commanded Timothy to preach the word, and by the word he meant the Scriptures, which is still the primary task for all preachers. He gave a clear instruction for all Christian pastors and teachers that they were commissioned to teach the truth and to refute error.

Jesus emphasised His mission was to preach the gospel and wanted His Church to do the same. Paul also gave the command to ‘preach the Word’ and warned that a time would come when people would not want to hear sound doctrine preached, but rather hear what the false preachers were telling them, and we have plenty of them in to-day’s Church. We have embraced, encouraged and even applauded ways of life that are in direct conflict with the Bible.

There is a reluctance by some clergy to speak out for fear of being labelled as a bigot or being discriminatory. This always likely to occur when someone wants to join the politically correct crowd and tell you sanctimoniously you shouldn’t say that, so there is the tendency to re-interpret the Bible to make it acceptable.

Obviously if we are faithful to Scripture we are going to upset many people, not out of a desire to do so, but simply because we will strike at their conscience. The Bible clearly states all people, even those who have never heard the gospel, have a sense of right and wrong. We have to tell of the consequences for them when this life is over.

If you were walking down a road and you saw a house on fire and also saw someone in side trapped, you wouldn’t just wave to them, you would seek to save them; so we have a Christian duty to try and save them spiritually.

A great fault in the Church today is we don’t let people know exactly what the Church truly stands for. There is an image of 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 Bible states ‘I urge you to strongly contend for the truth once given to the saints.’ That truth was that which is now written down in Scripture, which so many people want to amend.

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.

So what kind of Church would you really like to belong to? There is so much scope for innovation, but what I submit is essential is, music hymns (or songs) which are tuneful and so easy to sing; and a Bible based sermon, using a simple message devoid of all theological terms. Without those two key elements we will not reach out to the unsaved.

If you are old enough like me to have attended the great Billy Graham Crusades, or perhaps watch them on the religious television channels, you will appreciate these points. We cannot of course emulate what they produced in terms of either music or preaching, but we can see the effect and response such a format produced from those present.

People love to sing, and Methodists have a long tradition of being worthy singers, we must pray for worthy preachers.

It is a fact of life we live in a free and easy country where virtually no behaviour is considered to be morally wrong, and the moment anyone dares to criticise or suggest something is wrong, they are labelled as phobic or bigots. Unfortunately many people within the Church have adopted the way of the world, it has somewhat been accepted, and even applauded. This is so wrong; the Church should be setting an example and making its voice heard instead of secularists setting out their agenda.

A Danish philosopher once stated, whereas Jesus came and turned water into wine, the modern Church has managed to do something altogether more difficult, to change wine into water. Many will agree with him as we have watered down the gospel of our Lord so that people are confused as to what they exactly should believe.

There is a false Christianity around today. There are people who put on a Christian front. They act like Christians, they read the Book, and sing the hymns, but they have no reality of Christ in their lives. That kind of Christianity is worthless. If we want to be men and women of God, we are to follow the teaching God has provided for us. This clearly set out in the Bible and readily available for all to follow.

I want to close with words of John Wesley who once stated “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!

May God bless your Church, and by His grace add to your numbers.

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