Saturday 21 January 2017

Turning to Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians.

This is the first of Paul’s Letters to this Church which was situated in the heart of Corinth, a trading and manufacturing centre. The city was a cosmopolitan and sophisticated place where there was sexual immorality, which likened it to the Soho of the day.

Within the city there was a Church which Paul had founded and it came to his notice that tensions had arisen in the congregation. The worldly view of spirituality and morality did not equate with the Church’s standards, but some members were influenced and were encouraged by false teachers. This was causing disunity and such grieved Paul who disliked Christians disagreeing. This is what caused him to write and give guidance.

In the opening verse of our passage, Paul calls on Christians to agree and be of one mind and judgement. We can only achieve this if we are all one in Christ Jesus. He alone is means of unity and the only way to God.

You will note how relevant this Letter has become to us as the same thing is happening here and other Western nations. Parts of the Church are embracing, encouraging and accepting society’s moral standards, which causes anguish to others.

In Accordance with Scripture the official Church position is that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. An increasing number within the Church are not willing to accept this, so disunity is occurring which can only damage the Church and our faith. When General Synod meets next month it seems inevitable that there will be disputes, which the press and secularists will love to exploit, as some will want to try and force the Church to accept same sex (so called) marriage. There is a duty on all Christians to put the will of God before all personal desires.

One issue which all Christians should be concerned is that of falling attendances. Whilst we have to accept that we live in a godless age, where the Church is a no go area to a lot of people, except of course when it suits their purpose, occasions arise which demonstrate that there is still a lot of feeling for the Church.

I have taken services at over 30 Churches in and around Bedford over the last few years, many in villages like Renhold, but congregations are small. The people live in beautiful surroundings with lovely homes, most in good employment, no anti-social behaviour as some people are forced to endure, so it is not unreasonable to expect them to be grateful for such blessings and give an hour to thank God for such.

There are of course Churches which have large congregations, which suggests logically they are doing something right, which other Churches are not, but they seem few and far between.

We get told there is pressure on combining home and business life which makes it hard to attend Church on Sundays, but Muslims seem to manage attending their places of worship it without much difficulty. I can assure however you if letters were sent to the homes of people in this parish telling them the Church was closing there would be an immediate outcry.

But above all people see mixed messages coming from Church Ministers as to what should be believed. Both Conservative and Labour Parties spent years in the political wilderness because there was no unity and people did not understand what they believed or stood for, and the same applies to the Church. Jesus said a house divided against itself will fall.

If we look at Eastern nations in the Orient and Africa, the Churches are growing at massive rate, and China once seen as the anti-Christ, has now more Christians, and committed ones, than any other nation on earth. In those places they have not been dismantling the Bible.

Jesus Christ said, ‘I will build my Church.’ In Acts we read the first Christian Church was devoted to the teaching of the Apostles, in consequence ‘the Lord added to their numbers daily’. So there is a message, follow the teaching of the Apostles, who were taught by the Lord Himself. God graciously provided us with a copy of their teaching; it is called the New Testament. That is the purpose of the Church, to preach the gospel, not social or political issues. When we do the Lord will bless and help us, when we fail and follow the world’s agenda rather than God’s Word, we fail.

When we try to please man rather than God; when we depart from the Bible by adding to or subtracting from, we are causing cracks in the foundation of Apostolic teaching; we are building on sand rather than rock.

If we allow ourselves to withdraw from plain speaking of the gospel we are failing our Lord and reducing ourselves as a Church to little more than just another social organisation, perhaps with a spiritual touch, in which case we have nothing to offer those lost souls seeking real spiritual help. We have to show that we do have something special to offer which no other organisation can.

Paul then rebukes them for following and favouring particular preachers. It is natural for us to have a favourite one, but there is also a danger that we may become attached to one who is not a biblical teacher. Paul was concerned and had occasion to warn that some people, who did not want to hear sound doctrine, were turning to teachers who would say what they wanted to hear rather than what they should hear.

Paul reminds that Christ was not divided and neither should we be. We can still worship in different ways as some like much ceremony and others a simpler method, as long as the doctrine of the gospel is the same.

Paul turns to baptism where some were boasting of who baptised them, when it is the act which is important not who the baptiser is. We have situations where people who never attend Church on a regular basis ask for a particular Vicar because of a past connection of some kind. But baptism in Paul’s day was not the charade it is today whereby a person enquires about baptism and is told to turn up at the Church on a certain date.

Baptism is the most sacred sacrament of the Church. In its original form it took place when a person made a public confession of faith, repented of past way of life, and turned their life to Christ. This was the way people entered the Church. At some point the Church adopted the practice of baptising the children of committed Christian parents, but it was never meant to be of the indiscriminate kind we practice.

What is more unacceptable is we ask them to make vows to bring up the children in the fellowship of the Church, by their example, which they promise to do without any intention of doing so, and we perpetuate this falsehood. How rare to find a Church with a Sunday school these days.

In the final verse Paul emphasised the importance of preaching the gospel in simple words so all could understand and believe, so contrary to some preachers who like to show their intellectual abilities. The Church of England had one eminent person who spoke in such convoluted terms few had any idea what he was talking about.

We must be committed to letting people know what the gospel is in simple, unabridged terms. There are so many people with cares and worries and the Bible offers encouragement and hope, but it must be preached without fear or reservation.

There is now a reluctance to be really faithful to the Bible for fear of being called a bigot, or accused of having some sot of phobia if one speaks out. If we face up to reality, we have modified Scripture to avoid offending other faiths or none. Secularists, humanists, and followers of Islam will not allow their beliefs to be suppressed, and neither should Christians;
believers have a reasonable expectation that the Churches will stand up for them and not surrender to the humanist agenda.

In the United States as well as here, we have had two leaders in recent times who have been more anti-Christian than any in my lifetime, both ready to make it harder through legislation, for Christians to express their faith. We can be called infidels by other faiths, but a law is about to be proposed in the U,K which will make it an offence for Christians to quote certain verses, even in Church lest they offend another faith or minority faction.

Fortunately after yesterday, we have two new leaders who are actually pro Church, and what America does today we follow shortly after.

As Christians we have to make sure our nation continues to hear about Jesus Christ and stop the attempts to push Him out of public life. We have to make sure an authentic Christian message is heard. At the moment people hear many different voices speaking in the name of Christianity, some of which are not faithful to the Bible’s teaching. The Church must awake from its slumbers, for people need to hear that the Christian message.

May the Lord bless us in this task, and may the Church here at..
be a part by making this place be a beacon of light in a darkened world.

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