Saturday 17 February 2018

I want to turn to a verse in Acts of the Apostles, ‘almost you persuade me to be a Christian’.

The question I would like to look at this morning is, ‘what is a Christian? The word Christian was originally a term of derision against the first followers of Jesus, and it is fast becoming an abusive term in this country by public officials who want to eradicate Christianity, and all expression of the faith, and all it stands for, from public life.

In the simplest terms a Christian is a follower of Jesus. However, it is not that simple. Most people would say it is being a good and honest person, but many atheists are honest and good people, sometimes more so than many who are regular Church attendees.

During many years of ministry I have interviewed many people regarding baptisms, weddings or funerals, and the most common statement made is ‘we don’t go to church, but we are Christians’; or,’ ‘you don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian as long as you are a good person’. This is always volunteered, sometimes aggressively.

People like to divide the world into two groups the good and bad, with ourselves of course in the good category. God is believed to judge the bad but would not judge us. It is too easy to see people behaving worse than us, which convinces us we are fine.

A motorist may drive at 80 miles an hour along the motorway where the speed limit is 70, but when he finds others passing him he feels he is not that bad after all. The point is, some are offending worse than others, but we are all offending in some way. We may not plant bombs like some do, but the tongue can be equally explosive in its own way. So let us consider Christian living.

People have this mistaken idea that being born in a Christian country, to Christian parents, in a Christian home, means that one is therefore a Christian. You cannot inherit Christianity.

Jesus was on His way to the Cross when He spoke to His Apostles and told them He would be leaving them. They were devastated and Jesus told them to trust Him for He was going to prepare a place for them in heaven. He was talking to men who had been His devoted followers who obeyed His commands and accepted His teaching, not to all and sundry.

He said there were many rooms in His Father’s house, meaning heaven, and He was going to prepare a place for them. This meant there was the prospect of living for ever with Him there.

When Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for them this was referring to the fact He was going to the Cross to die for the forgiveness of sins for all people and by that death He was making it possible for them to go there.

If you desire to go to stay at a hotel in some foreign country you invariably go to a travel agent who arranges everything for you, and when you arrive at the hotel they have a reservation waiting. You cannot just turn up because you think you are entitled to stay there without some preparation.

Having taken hundreds of funerals there has never been any doubt in people’s minds that the deceased was going to be in heaven, pointing almost always to the verse where Jesus states He is going to prepare a place, which they confidently claim for themselves.

The Church has compounded such belief and in the funeral service liturgy, but of course it would be cruelly wrong to tell a grieving relative that they were misconstruing Scripture, but there is a duty and a responsibility for clergy to always interpret Scripture faithfully.

Jesus was very clear in His teaching that it certainly was not so. In parable after parable He spoke of two roads, of sheep and goats, of tares and wheat, of heaven and hell. Jesus speaks firmly and rather profoundly when He says not all who think they are to enter the Kingdom of heaven will in fact do so

The Church in general in its desire to be nice and friendly to all, with a craving to please society in general, has not always given sound teaching on this and some misguidedly preach that Jesus was giving a blank promise for everyone when He is clearly addressing His followers, and if we do not follow Him our end will not be in the rooms of His Father’s house.

When Jesus said they knew the place where He was going, Thomas asked Him how they could know when they didn’t know the way. This brought forth from Jesus that profound immortal statement, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.’

Some time ago I went to Birmingham and had to find an address. I asked a man walking on a road if he could tell me the way, and he answered, ‘it is pretty difficult for you to get there on your own, but I am going that way and could take you’. He got into my car and we went directly there. That is what Jesus does for us. He says you can’t get there on your own, but I will direct you, guide you, and take you myself. He is saying there is no other way. This is an exclusive offer.

To say this is not generally liked as it is seen as being too restrictive, too bigoted and intolerant, and to be judgmental is not liked. Consequently some clergy will not quote it, whilst others just will not accept it. Frankly, I think if any man/woman does not accept this verse then they should not be allowed to preach for they are betraying the Lord who said it, and the Church which they serve.

Jesus said He was the truth. If a person is to teach moral truth that person must have an impeccable reputation and have no hidden misdoings. Only Jesus can claim moral perfection, which is why He can say ‘I am the truth’.

Thirdly Jesus says ‘I am the life’, meaning the opposite of death. He is the source of life and gives life to His own. Just as death mean separation from.

Whilst it may be comforting to believe that we can all get to heaven regardless of one’s beliefs, and we like to please our fellow men and women, it is quite cruel to mislead if it is not true. It is like telling a blind person standing on the footwalk of a major road it is safe for him to cross when ready.

If we say to someone who has no Church commitment, has only a tenuous belief in Jesus Christ, never reads a Bible or prays, that they are going to heaven, we are leading them astray.

Others say if you just follow your conscience you’ll be fine, but consciences become dulled and hardened. Taking the lead from politicians, people can look you in the eye and lie without any qualm of conscience.

You see the Bible is all about commitment. We are reminded of the superficiality of commitment in our own time. Less than 10% of people think God worthy of one hour per week to visit a Church. Yet if you were to ask people their religion, the vast majority would reply C of E and seriously consider they were Christians. They would be mortally offended if you suggested otherwise. Very few people seem bothered to think of Jesus, even less to do anything about it.

In every action of life we are confronted with a choice, where we must make a decision to do one thing or another.

It can be hard to be a Christian in this country at the present time and many find the going too hard and strenuous and the opposition oppressive. We have come to a state in this country now where a Christian person may not express a personal view based on sincere religious belief if it might offend someone. Any open expression of our faith is likely to lead to suspension or dismissal from work, and even the most innocuous adverse comment upon human behaviour will raise hysterical shouts of phobia or bigotry. There is so much harassment of Christians which is not reported here, and you have to listen to the American news channels to discover what is going on in this country. This does not apply apparently to other faith speakers.

I cannot understand how we can share in multi-faith worship and maintain Biblical integrity. Whilst I believe we should respect other faiths and try to live amicably with them, in view of the unique teaching of our Lord (here set out in verse 6 that He alone is the way to God) we cannot justify sharing in multi faith services when our beliefs are so different, and it is matter of recognising the unique authority of Jesus.

Only Christianity maintains that Jesus Christ as divine and salvation was earned by Jesus on the Cross. But we have the words of our Lord Himself, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’. Jesus is quite unequivocal.

I do admire the devotion and loyalty of Islam. Muslims in Islamic countries are Muslims in the full sense of the word, and they find difficulty in understanding how people who live in Christian lands reject their faith so completely. Why, on the Lord’s birthday so many get drunk and engage in orgies. They will fight and defend their faith, and the men will not feel embarrassed or ashamed to be seen going to worship. Put many Englishmen in a Church and they feel lost and disorientated.

Jesus warns us that there must be a clear acceptance of His teaching and total obedience to it. Just to recite a creed and attend Church is not enough. Whilst Church attendance is an essential, however much it is part of Christian life itself, this does not on its own make you one. There are many ‘almost Christians’ in our Churches.

We honour Jesus by calling Him Lord and sing hymns expressive of our devotion to Him. The lips that sing His praise should never be the lips that challenge Holy Scripture.

The temptation for us, as Christians, is to say what makes us popular. Too many preachers have forgotten about being authentic; about being true to the Gospel we have been entrusted with by our Lord; to be true to our values, and to proclaim them without embarrassment and fear.

We have reached a point where Christians are becoming frightened to speak out. We have the situation where the government, and a Conservative one at that, forbidding parents from withdrawing their children from explicit sex lessons where transgenderism and homosexuality are taught, or being abused if they voiced opposition.

Can you imagine the outcry if LGBT activists were told they must not speak of same sex marriage; yet we who support man and woman marriage are almost forbidden to speak in favour of traditional marriage. We are supposed to be good little people who keep to ourselves and not to bother anyone else

It's time for the Church to wake up and speak and making clear what we believe and why, how we think and act, not just in theory, but also in practice. Sadly there are not many in high office who have the courage and the will to speak out.

No comments:

Post a Comment