Wednesday 28 December 2016

"What is the purpose of the church?"
This Sunday is the first day of the New Year, a time when we all think of what lies ahead for us. There will be mixtures of anticipation or fear, joy or sorrow, hope or dread. There will be many resolutions made, some of which will last a day, some a little longer.

But what for the Church? Some of us however much goodwill we have, despair for we can already visualise more problems. Such will continue until all involved accept that the Church is here because God gave us it for a purpose. In addition, He gave us a manual as to how we must believe and act, which He inspired 40 men to write over hundreds of years, men from varied occupations using their own characters; it is called the Bible.

Why did God create the Church?
The church is a creation of God. Jesus Christ said, ‘I will build My church’. We need to follow His purpose for the church and His mission for it. In Acts 2, v42 we read, they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. The passage then goes on to state, ‘and the Lord added to their number daily’. From this we can reasonably believe that when the Church teaches that which the Apostles taught, God will continue to make that Church grow. We can also reasonably deduce that when it fails to give the teaching of the Apostles, it will not grow. Let us bear in the front of our minds that the Apostles were taught by the Supreme Teacher, our Lord Himself.

The church is to teach biblical doctrine and proclaim how God intends us to live, to know what is true and make us realize what is wrong in life. We preach that such perfection of life can only be obtained by people turning to Jesus Christ, who alone can bring us close to God, for there is salvation through no one else, Jesus is the only way to the Father. This is the teaching of the Bible, the complete manual for Christian living.

The Church is failing in many places by placing the teaching on peripheral issues, and in doing so is turning people away. If, like many of us did, vote to leave the European Union, at least three Cathedral Deans called us racists, and countless Bishops expressed their disapproval. Such was not only unwise, it was positively stupid, clergy should realize when they take open political sides they will inevitably alienate people who think differently; there was nothing remotely racist, many of those so voting are fully desirable of being friendly with European countries, we just don’t want them to rule us.

A favourite topic of preachers is climate change; this not an issue which merits itself as a subject for a main Sunday service. It is reported that such was a topic at a Remembrance day service, which upset some veterans who allegedly left the Church.

Whilst social issues are part of the Church’s mission, these are for attention at times out of the Sunday sermons, which is for spiritual teaching. The Bible states when the Apostles met after Pentecost they stated they would put others in charge of the social matters, ‘so they could spend their time in prayer, preaching and teaching’. This was also at a time when there were not the social services we have today.

It is good and commendable we can play a part, but I fear some Churches are providing such to alleviate the need of biblical preaching. A Church is to fill people’s spiritual need; they can go the appropriate place for all other needs. We have something special to offer, which only the Church can, and if not given there is no purpose in our existence.

A second purpose for the Church is to provide fellowship where believers can share and build each other up. Just as a father loves to have his children visit him, so our heavenly Father loves His (spiritual) children to visit Him, and we show our commitment by regularly attending worship. There will of course be times when we are genuinely unable to attend, but as a general rule we should aim to be in Church on Sundays.

According to our passage the church is to be a place where believers can observe the (Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist) the service of breaking bread in remembrance of our Lord’s sacrifice for us.

If we are to halt the falling away of members from the Church we must concentrate on teaching how to know and love Christ, and demonstrate that we represent Him and His values accurately, and vividly to the world.

At present there is too great an obsession on the subject of sexuality. God has given us all free will, and each person is allowed to choose how he/she exercises their sexual desires. We do not need to get involved in name calling; that is not for us to do. What we do need to do is tell faithfully what the Bible teaches on this subject. It is not a question as to what I or any other clergyman(woman) believe, we are here to say what God believes, and He has spelled it out clearly in Scripture.

The Church of England is behaving dismally and unworthily on same sex (so named) marriage. This is wrong biblically, and no amount of obfuscation or verbal athletics can refute or deny what is written. It is appalling that bishops are pleading for the Church to drop the ban on clergy so engaging in such unions, when as a matter of integrity and honour, they should be exercising discipline on those clergy who have ignored the Church ruling and entered into same sex ceremonies.

I read the Bishop of Liverpool is supportive of same sex partnerships and appointed two women bishops from America, (surely a theological oxymoron) who support same sex (marriages?).

The church’s mission is to present Jesus Christ to the world and the Bible exhorts pastors to be strong in the grace of Christ and pass on to faithful men who will be able to teach others. We are also called to shepherd the flock of God, exercising oversight according to the will of God; by example.

When I was ordained, as with every other priest in the Church of England, I had to kneel before my Bishop and affirm that I was persuaded that holy Scriptures contained all doctrine required of necessity for eternal salvation and I would instruct and teach nothing but that which may be proved by the Scriptures; that I would also banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word. Why then, it may be asked, is this not being faithfully adhered to in general?

There can be no clearer example of the value of faithful and bold bible preaching than that of Billy Graham, the most successful preacher of all time. For forty years he preached in 185 countries to over 220 million people. He told them exactly what the Bible said, and told them they were all sinners who needed to repent, for there were two destinations when this life was over, heaven or hell and a choice had to be made in this life, and they still flocked in their tens of thousands to listen to him.

Today in this generation of preachers there is marked reluctance to speak of hell; or be faithful to scripture on controversial issues for fear of being called a bigot or accused of having a phobia if you disagree in the smallest way with some vociferous minority. They are not flocking to the Churches in any sizeable numbers now.

A modern parable?

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