Wednesday 3 August 2016

In a few weeks time we come to the first Sunday in the Methodist Church calendar when members will be returning from holidays, some with hope and anticipation for the coming year, whilst others will have regrets at the empty seats where friends no longer sit, either because they have gone to be with the Lord, or just fallen away as so many have done.

One subject which should be on all our hearts is the future of the Church. It is reported that 100,000 members have been lost over the past ten years, which should be a matter of concern for us all. Irrespective of denomination, there is a falling away to dwindling congregations, predominantly now filled by people of older years and female.

It is estimated that only 2% of the population attend Church on a regular basis, yet this was not always so. We hear it said there are so many other distractions, yet these do not distract from other necessities of life. It is also claimed that the pressure of modern life restricts, but Muslim people face similar pressures yet manage to attend their services of worship.

This morning I want to speak on why the Bible is so important in the life of the Church, and the need to call people back to it. The
most essential purpose of the Church is to call people of this nation
back to the Bible, and all of us in the Church should dedicate ourselves to do this. I believe the state we find ourselves in is due the departure from the Word of God.

We often hear it claimed that all religions are the same and all lead to God. This is unequivocally discredited by the Bible. Jesus said,‘no one comes to the Father except through me.’ If we say that all religions are the same, we are challenging Jesus and so lose our right to call ourselves Christian.

Islam, for example, worships Allah and maintains God has no Son, denying the divinity of Christ. Whilst Islam has a stronger moral and ethical belief than many Christians have, and we respect their beliefs, we cannot equate equality.

If we have any concern for the future of Christianity in this country, we need to change direction from the present way we are going.

The purpose of the Church is to preach the gospel message contained in the Bible, which we acknowledge is the authoritative Word of God, and provide spiritual teaching from the Book. This is what makes us unique and special, if we fail to do so, there can be no purpose in there being a Church, we just become an irrelevancy. People need to be reminded of the part this Book played in the history of our nation. The true greatness was laid down by men in government who believed this to be the Word of the living God, as compared to government under David Cameron which seemed determined to overrule God, consistently departing from God’s truth.

Never has society exerted its own will against God as now. Trouble will always abound when God is rejected. The Bible states the way that God punishes people is by abandoning them to themselves, and says you have turned your back on me, so get on with things.

We are often told God is a God love, and He certainly is, but He is also a God of wrath, and you have to go far into this book before you get to His love. He is a merciful and patient God, but has limits and no nation or person can act with total disregard of His will. Judgement will come, but people don’t like to talk or think of it.

Turning then to the Bible passage, which was from Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy, we find a Letter which might well have been written to us today.

Paul is in prison and nearing the end of his life and wants the gospel to be continued to be taken out into the world. He is writing to Timothy who he has chosen to continue his ministry and these are the last words spoken or written by Paul.

In v 3 Paul refers to the evil in the world. We too live in an evil world where there does not seem to be any limit to which people are prepared to go to cheat, lie, and be corrupt, even to the highest level of public service. Added to this is the widespread breakdown of family life, crime (despite the massaging of figures) and crudeness of life, lack of honour and integrity, moral and social problems.

The Bible states, ALL Scripture was written under the direct inspiration of God and we are to accept it as written without being selective in any way. The Bible stands approved and needs no additions, deletions or corrections. It teaches us right from wrong as we live our lives, and to pass judgement on it is to pass judgement on God.
Some people may see the Bible as an old book full of Jewish history and folk tales, but the early Christians saw it as a life giving source which God inspired to be written by 40 men of different characters and occupations, and without possible corroboration, over a period of 400 years, and with only one message. Prophecies given were fulfilled many years later. The Bible is full of unity and diversity which has changed the lives of millions of people over the years.

We do not follow cleverly invented myths, and our faith is not something someone has made up. We are to avoid any tendency to accommodate the teaching of the Bible to suit modern culture. We must present the Bible as the Word of God, not men. Tell that God spoke about Himself, men, life. What He wants from a fallen world, how He expects us to live our lives.

Paul tells Timothy to go and ‘preach the Word, by which he means the whole Christian message in simple terms, that Jesus is Lord and that salvation is only obtained through Him. Paul warns Timothy not to give in to the prevailing fashions of the day, but to keep steadfast in the faith and speak boldly without anger or fear of causing offence.

The Bible states, that every preacher has the responsibility to preach the same message. Paul also emphasises we carry out our preaching in the presence of God and Jesus Christ, and whilst we have a tremendous privilege in being able to speak in God’s name, we bear an awesome responsibility, for we will be judged as to how faithfully we do so, and will have to account before the Lord one day. When we appear before the Lord He will not be interested in how wealthy or important we were in life. He will look at how we lived up to and kept His stated teaching.

In our preaching we are called upon to convince those who doubt; rebuke those who fall into sin by failing to live lives according to that laid down by God, so doing things out of line with God’s will; to encourage all troubled by fear. We can only do that if we truly believe and accept in the heart what God has spoken. We are not to give personal opinions, just tell what the book states.

The Bible states people will not endure sound doctrine. By this we mean that we are all under the judgement of God and salvation can only be obtained by accepting Jesus Christ as Saviour, who was sent by God, born of a woman by the Holy Spirit. By His ultimate death on the Cross to pay the penalty and atone for our sins, all who believe it was for us He suffered and gave His life, can be forgiven and accepted by God.

Some people will not want to hear that we are called to live our lives worthily according to the Bible’s teaching; they take the attitude that ideas have now been changed by society, and all the old morals and social ethics can be laid aside as long as you just accept the theory; this is not God’s idea however. The Bible was not just written for yesteryear.

How God must weep when he sees men and women singing His praise and hearing His Word on Sunday and living in direct contrast the rest of the week.

A preacher has to teach what people need to hear rather than what they want to hear, and do so without fear or favour, and as long as we do strictly according to the Bible, if we do offend anyone it must be asked why they are so offended. We are not to act like a spiritual dispensary offering soothing words, but to tell what God has commissioned us to say.

The Bible states we should not be ashamed of the gospel, but if people within the Church fail to accept the Bible, or live in a way contrary to its teaching, then it must be reasonably assumed they do not believe and are ashamed of it.

It often appears that those in high Office of the Churches, on whom the public mistakenly grant superior Christian knowledge, and whose duty it is therefore to give guidance, keep silent on those controversies of life which give most offence, and are afraid to speak out on moral and ethical issues for fear of upsetting politicians or damaging their career prospects. The Church should represent the conscience of society and face up to such issues.

What hope then is there for the future of Christianity? This depends on how the Church at large, ordained and lay responds; our services in many cases need to be upgraded. Like much of our national life, we our constricted by political correctness and are frightened that if we are too faithful to the Bible we will upset some minority faction, so we modify our words.

Commissions in trying to attract new members, introduce novelty services. We have tried different ways using clowns, animals, Messy Church, café Church, and other diversions, which whilst useful, they only survive as a one off, and fail to achieve regular attendances.

The intent of coming to Church should be to join with other Christians in singing praise to God, listening to His Word, having it fearless and boldly preached so there is spiritual nourishment for the week ahead, and to join in prayer for the needs of the world and ourselves. Ideally, the Methodist form of service allows for these necessities, with its freedom to present a coherent and meaningful form of worship. I have to admit having a different preacher each week is not always helpful as each could take a different approach to Scripture.

We have to accept that if you state you believe in the full authority of the Bible you will find many will oppose you, and even those close to you will challenge you, perhaps within your own family. You will be called narrow minded, bigoted or of having some kind of phobia. How disheartening to hear from pulpits that we must not take the Bible too literally; or that there will be atheists in heaven.
The time may come when those of us who stand firmly on the Bible will be frozen out, and attempts will be made to silence us.

The Bible is all about salvation and there is spiritual blindness in
refusing salvation, and it is a grave sin to keep others from believing. If a person wishes to go to hell that is a matter for them, but they have no mandate to take others with them.

All Christians at this perilous time need to think of what we can offer to God. To paraphrase a famous saying, ‘think not what God can do for me, but what can I do for God’.

Come to Church prepared to feast on sound teaching’ do not let anyone tell you that your life as a Christian does not count, it counts tremendously. Glory in what God has called you to do

The greatest revival in the history of this country took place under the ministry of Charles and John Wesley. The once great Methodist Church was built on a strong Biblical foundation. 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.

Their legacy has been passed down through the ages to the Church they founded. This should not be betrayed. Charles was one who wrote as he thought and he saw the importance of conversion and a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. He became vividly convinced of the message of salvation, and saw clearer than ever before how faith in Jesus Christ could change a person’s life. This was the message he would take to as many people as he could, particularly to the poorer classes. He preached that the value of a person’s life was to be measured by their faith.

I want to close this morning with the words of John Wesley. ‘I want to know one thing; the way to heaven, how to land on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book, at any price give me that book’

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