Sunday 10 September 2017

This morning I want to speak on why the Bible is so important in the life of the Church. We prayed in the Collect prayer this morning, ‘who called your Church to bear witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself, help us to proclaim the good news of your love that all who hear it may be drawn to you’.

In the Bible we read, ‘Jesus said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore 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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ Here in the words of our Lord is the purpose for which He founded the Church.

In v 8 of Acts, Jesus is quoted saying, ’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.

Peter made his stirring sermon and as a result 3,000 people responded by turning to Christ. They repented of their sins and were baptised. The Church of Christ was born.

They then 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? From that small group the gospel spread right across the ancient world.

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.

It has been my privilege and joy to be able to take services at a number of Churches in and around Bedford, and few have congregations above 30. When I revisit some time later, I notice it is smaller. Some of course will have gone to be with the Lord, but other just have fallen away, perhaps disheartened by what they are not hearing.

The official statistics suggest that only three quarters of a million people attend church regularly out of a population of 66 million. We have to accept that Jesus stated we could only expect 1 in 4 to respond to the gospel, but we would rejoice greatly to have 1 in 4.

The fact remains in places the Church is doing really well yet in the main denominations not; and in Africa and the Eastern nations it is thriving. This of course, as I have suggested many times, there is faithful bible preaching. God is just not going to bless anywhere if there is wandering away from that Word.

Unless there is a return to the Bible the Church is going to be just a small group, for the Church was built on the Bible; it was a guide to this nation, our hospitals and schools were named after biblical saints, and it gave standards and values which were revered and practised. There are many who would like to see us removed from the public arena because of the guilt it pours on their lives, without realising what would replace Christianity. Islam has a much stricter moral and social code, which is more strictly enforced. The lack of interest in the Christian faith is a matter for great concern.

There was a time, and not so long ago, when each Church would hold a Bible study class, and whilst some Churches still do, it seems to be more the exception than the rule. It is essential however that this be led by someone properly aware of bible knowledge, ideally the Vicar or Minister in charge, but this is not always possible for a variety of reasons.

The New Testament is clear that the purpose of the church is to glorify God and to take the gospel into all the world. All this is clear, but there is a question we should all ponder; is the Church now fit for purpose?

Let us consider just two phrases from the words of Jesus. ‘ teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ and you will be my witnesses.

There are three words we read to think about. Witness; teaching; and gospel.

A witness is a person who can testify about something seen, or about which they have positive knowledge of. 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.

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 have bishops openly campaigning for ways of life which are totally inconsistent with the teaching of Christ. Some are so anxious to support alternative lifestyles that they actively encourage. It was even proposed in Synod that the Bible need not be the major influence of life in the community. Jesus gave commands for moral, social, ethical, and spiritual teaching, which we ignore at our peril.

We are called to teach the Word which God gave through the forty men He chose to inspire and write the Bible in His name. Paul warned the there would be those who would not wish to hear sound doctrine and would seek only those who preached what they wanted to hear. We are bound to preach what people need to hear rather than what some might prefer.

Furthermore, we should never suggest the Bible has got things wrong; we are talking about that which God directly wanted to be known. We may not understand all that is written in the Bible, I personally don’t, but as Billy Graham once said, I must accept it in faith.

We have an added disadvantage in that we can no longer create a good foundation with children, as school assemblies, where they exist in state schools are an aberration, and have to balanced by other faiths.

Our last word is the Gospel, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 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.

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.

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.

Why should there be such reluctance on the part of preachers to tell this story; why resistance to telling the full story of the Bible. The simple reason is they don’t have true faith. Jesus said not everyone does the will of my Father. There will come a time when I will say to them, I never knew you.

The words of Jesus are simple and clear. Proclaim, announce tell; be my witness. Let us always take pride in that we are followers of Jesus.

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