Friday 15 September 2017

The teaching of the Apostles. (Acts 2. v42)

This morning I want to take you back to the time of the first Christian Church which set a model for all time. Without any of the wonderful technological discoveries we enjoy, the gospel spread across the world.

Regrettably today’s Church has not been as faithful in following the example they gave, and in consequence has not been blessed in the way they were. However, there are Churches which are thriving and can point to the fact that they have based their worship on the teaching of the Apostles. Turn with me to Acts Chapter 1.

Prior to His ascension Jesus said to His Apostles, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, ‘ teaching them to observe all that I have commanded; ’you will have power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth. Here in the words of our Lord is the purpose for which He founded the Church.

Soon after Peter addressed crowds at Pentecost and 3,000 people turned to Christ; the Church of Christ was born. They met regularly in fellowship, accepting and forgiving each other, and were devoted to the teaching of the Apostles, who were of course taught by our Lord Himself. The people were inspired and filled with awe; are you regularly inspired and filled with awe at your services?

The Bible states that God in consequence added to their numbers. In other words, God builds the Church when He touches a person’s heart and that person responds by accepting that Jesus died for the forgiveness of their sins and he/she turns and lives and worships according to the teaching of Jesus.

The apostles taught the truth about Jesus Christ – the Gospel. They taught about the way in which he fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures in order to bring people to salvation through His sacrificial death on the cross and His resurrection. They also taught how salvation in Jesus Christ was to be worked out in the life of the believer. They are not teaching something that they have made up in their own minds, but only things which have been revealed to them by Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Jesus had already made it clear to them that their teaching was to be consistent with His:

The church is built on the teaching of the apostles, which is nothing other than the teaching of Christ, made known through them and subsequently recorded in the New Testament. Together with Christ, the apostles and prophets form the foundation of the church:And by God’s grace we have that teaching today, it is called the New Testament.
Luke tells us a number of fascinating things about the new life that some people in Jerusalem began to enjoy. They would have been ordinary people who had visited Jerusalem on a pilgrimage from all over the Middle East, many would have been Jews, but they were 3,000 who had been touched by Peter’s word’s, and had turned as he had bid them and repented of their past life, been baptized and accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour.

The Bible states, ‘they were cut to the heart’; in other words they were deeply convicted. Throughout the ages God has opened people’s hearts and made them respond to His call to turn to Jesus. They then devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles.

Coming to Jesus is a two way thing; God calls, we respond, but the first action is from God who knows the secrets of our hearts and calls when He knows we are ready.

As the years went by the Apostles went all over the world teaching the truth. Our whole gospel message is based on the writings of the New Testament apostles.

What should occupy our minds is to consider if the Church is still preaching the message of the Apostles, and is it fit for the purpose Christ and His Apostles built it? That is a hard question to answer; in places yes, especially the Pentecostal Churches; but in the main denominational Churches, only to a limited extent. In order to justify that let us reflect.

The Church should be the moral conscience and voice of the nation providing spiritual disinfectant on the evils of society.

A recent Prime Minster chose to redefine the meaning of marriage to that given by God, suppressing all opposition. There has barely been a whisper from the Church to take God’s position. Indeed, leaders of the Church have openly campaigned for its acceptance.

We now have God’s created gender order being overturned with children of the tender age of six years being questioned as to whether they think they are of the proper gender. Again, rather than point out the biblical order, the Church is introducing special provision to prepare services of welcome for transgender people.

At General Synod this year, a bishop contradicted the Bible, in other words stating God was wrong, when he said something was not a sin, when the Bible unequivocally states the contrary. We should never suggest the Bible has got things wrong; we are talking about that which God directly wanted to be known. Can you imagine a Muslim cleric ever questioning the Koran?

These Church leaders are ever so anxious to write to the press about politics, climate change and food banks, but seem to have little thirst to make a stand on moral matters.

If you are not a (true) believer these things may not matter to you, indeed may seem trivial to mention, but to those who have chosen to enter a preaching ministry it is quite out of order to support, and even more so to practise.

Note also, Jesus gave strict commands on spiritual, moral, ethical and social matters, and all clergy vowed at ordination to honour the words of Scripture and banish false doctrine. Jesus said, ‘ teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’

Since preparing this sermon I have read of the Archbishop of Nigeria's experience. He was son of a Nigerian peasant farmer who by his own efforts became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Nigerian Army, and after a conversion experience became a priest, rising to become the Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Nigeria.

Having the integrity of his faith and Office, he gave notice in a courteous letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury that he would not be attending the next gathering of Archbishops of the Anglican Churchowing to the stance taken within the communion relating to homosexuality, same sex marriage, and the blurring of gender identity.This honourable man was subject to vile comment from a Church of England priest in London and a resigned priest in the most foul explicit language.

Paul warned that there would be those who would not wish to hear sound doctrine and would seek false teachers who would say what they wanted to hear and there are plenty of them in the Church today. Never forget, the church does not belong to men (or women) it is Christ’s church and he builds it through the teaching of the men who were His Apostles.

When we hear their teaching on a regular basis, not only does our faith grow, but also our ability to defend and help others to understand, especially those most closest and dearest to us who are not yet followers of our Lord. We may not remember all we hear, but will be inspired by the power of what has been preached. We will learn to be guided by the Scriptures and will come to know more about God and His Son and how we should live according to His commands.

Paul knew it would never be an easy task; that opposition would be met, but said we do not have a spirit of timidity, be strong. We should show no fear or favour and never ever be ashamed of our faith. But that is exactly what is happening in some of our Churches, especially in the Church of England. We are bound to preach what people need to hear rather than what some might prefer.

If we are to be the witnesses for Jesus, we must first be sure we have experienced His presence, and secondly tell positively what Jesus stated and commanded. It is not enough to say we know about Him, even the devil could say that, we must have accepted Him as Saviour and believed in all He did and commanded. We cannot amend or put on an application which He obviously would not have approved.

Being a witness is something that falls to all Christians to be and it doesn’t mean theological knowledge required, or being intrusive, we can be a most effective witness by just letting it be known we attend Church, which tends to show we are followers of Christ. If the Church is to survive in any meaningful way it is down to the ordinary Church members as there is now no one on the national scene with any notable charisma.

The responsibility for teaching falls principally on the clergy, and the Bible states a preacher is given a solemn task to preach in the name of God and Jesus Christ, and will one day have to answer as to how faithfully he carried out that privilege. God demonstrated how He responds to faithful preaching by the blessing he gave in the life of Billy Graham who preached to 220 millions of people in 185 countries, with gatherings of between 30-80 thousands a time and constantly quoted what the Bible stated.

We have to tell our faith is not something someone made up. There is testimony from people alive at the time of Jesus’ life on earth, and not only from His followers but from literary men of the time, and it has been recorded. The Bible has many prophecies in the Old Testament made many years earlier which most have come true. There are so many interlinked stories none of which have been contradicted, and not even the most sophisticated computer could excel.

Our Gospel is that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures. This which was an early Christian confession, give us the heart of the gospel and show that the resurrection is an integral part of the gospel. The reality can be verified by the Scriptures and historical evidence as the empty tomb and the eye witnesses

Only Christianity has a Cross at the centre of its faith. Only Jesus suffered an horrific death on the Cross, a death made for criminals who were made to parade through the streets with a crown on his head beaten 39 times with a leather belt fitted with metal studs to cut the skin, stripped of clothes and nailed through His hands and feet on the cross, and all for the sake of paying the penalty for the sins you and I commit.

He could have refused to go there, but went willingly so we could be forgiven and put back in to a relationship with God and made us fit for heaven, where we will live on day with Him. God said this is what man has shown and done to my Son; this is what I have done, and showed by raising Him to life again.

Let me close with the words of John Wesley,
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 very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book! O give me that book! At any price, give me the Book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me.

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