Monday 25 April 2016

Sermon for an anniversary service, built on Act2 v36/47 and 2 Timothy 1 v 3/14.

As we sit here this morning, we must be mindful of the many people who have occupied seats here over the past 156 years, and be grateful for their witness which has enabled us to be able to worship today. We celebrate those
who came before us, and sometime did so through the most difficult times. In those halcyon days there were congregations we can only dream about, averaging 160 with 50 children.

As the years have passed, and especially since the late 1960s, Church attendance generally has declined, and is now at an all time low. The Church is seen by a large number of the population as an irrelevance, and the culture of society shows modern man has strayed away from the principle that there is a moral order of the universe. Many people today have adopted a sort of relativistic ethic that right and wrong are relative to their taste; that there is really nothing absolutely right or wrong, it just depends on what the majority of the people are doing. Such philosophy has invaded the whole of modem life.

But there has never been a time when all the population went to Church. Jesus told a parable in which he foresaw only one in four responding, but we would be delighted to attain that many.

When Peter made his famous sermon Christianity was newly born and faced massive opposition from a Jewish culture, yet three thousand people responded in response to his words.

In the 1960s it was a wild decade yet Billy Graham could come to this country from America and thousands flocked to hear him. He told them they were all sinners and unless they changed heir lives they would go to hell, but he also gave them hope. Ministers are scared stiff of mentioning hell these days. We have become paralysed by political correctness.

These two examples suggest that if something positive is offered, something to say to them which strikes at their hearts, people will respond. There are indeed, still Churches today around the country which have large attendances and are offering services which appeal to people.

The Church has not risen to the challenge; in too many instances it has failed to speak out on moral and ethical issues, and has allowed anti Christian legislation to be enacted which does not allow Christians to have an effective voice and exercise the same freedom of conscience and expression granted to other faiths.

It has to be realised and demonstrated that we are different from every other institution and organisation, and offer what no other human body can. Only the Church can lead men and women to God, and we can do this because Jesus Christ made it possible by His death on the Cross, by which alone we can earn eternal salvation and a place in Heaven.

Our primary task is to preach the gospel. If we do not do that there is no purpose for the Church, we just become another social body with a religious flavour.

In Chapter 6 of Acts of the Apostles, the Bible tells how the Apostles decided their priority was the preaching of the gospel, and in order to free them to do that, they appointed others to care for other needs.

We are here to tell about God and Jesus; about His unique birth, miracle works; His sacrificial death on our behalf, and how God resurrected Him as a foretaste of what can happen to us if we accept Jesus as our Saviour.

I think this can be a major problem. I have led people to Church having met them through a funeral, only to find when they attended they had to listen to the preacher of the day, who had nothing of any spiritual value, and I have thought to myself ‘that is the last we will see of them’ and it was so. We allow people to bring children to baptism freely and fail to take the opportunity at the service what baptism is all about.

For instance, I am here this week with a conservative, evangelical message, but next week or soon after, someone with a liberal approach may be here, a situation which arises in numerous Churches and understandably causes confusion in people’s minds as to who is right.

The once great Methodist Church was built on strong Biblical foundation. The greatest revival of Christianity in this country came during the ministry of John/Charles Wesley 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; by the manner in which they lived their lives, and the doctrine of heaven and hell.

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.

The Bible states, ‘for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power.’ We should not be timid and reluctant to speak out; we have the greatest power in the world, the power of God.

If anyone is afraid of speaking about the gospel it can only be because they are ashamed to do so. The Bible tells us not to be ashamed for we have nothing to be ashamed of, we are speaking on behalf of God

You may have had an experience in work in places when you feel ashamed that you are a Christian. You are afraid people will find out; you tend to keep it quiet and not say much about it in case they get unpleasant about it

The early church was a good model of what the church should be. 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. They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, who in turn had been taught by our Lord Himself. So what they heard would have been Jesus’ earthly teaching plus what He taught in His 40 days of resurrection appearances. The wonderful thing is God has graciously made possible for us to have that same teaching; He has left us with copies of those Bible classes, it is called the New Testament.

We are told they devoted themselves; they didn’t need persuasion or coercion, they were eager to learn. They were filled with awe, and their praise and worship was so inspiring others who saw and heard joined. I wonder how many of our congregations could say they were filled with awe and felt inspired. Too often in some cases it has been ‘we have to offer something’, without much further thought, and in others instances, ‘we have always done it this way’, which just shows a lack of commitment.

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.

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.

The Lord is still adding to His Church, massively so in Africa, South Korea, China and South America. He cannot do so in Britain and other Western nations whilst 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.

Some people are false Christians. making out they are more devout than they really are. They act like Christians, going to Church and taking part in the services, but they do not then live out the faith a true Christian would. 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. . We should be people of the Word, not people of the world. (cynics may say there is an L of a difference)

Writing to Timothy, Paul commanded him 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. He also emphasised that preachers did so in the presence of God and Jesus Christ, meaning that they will be held to account for the way they perform that task.

He also warned that a time would come when people would not want to hear sound doctrine, by which he meant the teaching given by the Apostles. There are people, and indeed within ministry, who are living in ways which directly contravene Scripture so do not want to hear or even consider what may strike at their conscience, accepting that they do have one. Sadly, such false teachers abound who are prepared to amend the Bible to accommodate such thinking.

It may be asked what s false teaching? When you hear a sermon or talk and you are unaware of the speaker’s background it is often helpful to check and see if what has been said can be verified from the Bible’ if not, then it is likely to be false teaching.

When people go to Church they have a right to expect the preacher will give them a simple and honest interpretation of Scripture. We go to Church to worship God, take part in fellowship with fellow Christians as we hear the Word read, and then faithfully expounded.

In the absence of any charismatic person of stature on the national Church scene, each local Church needs to promote its own agenda of evangelism. I wish this Church of yours every blessing and may the Lord richly award you for years to come and add to your numbers.

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!

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