Wednesday 1 December 2021


 Matthew 18

 I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  These are the words of Jesus as He makes His way to the Cross.  He has met with His Apostles and asks them who they say He is.  They tell Him various names but Peter responded by saying ‘you are the Christ, the Son of the living God’.  Jesus

is thrilled by this answer and said on that statement He would build His Church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.

 When Jesus used the word ‘Church’, He was referring to an assembly of believers meeting together in worship.  The Church has a special place in the plan of God, and we have to know how we are to live and function within that plan

 Having delegated first to Peter and the Apostles to continue the work He had begun, Jesus now passes the responsibility down to us in our age to continue to preach the gospel, and every Christian has the duty to play their part in the spread of the gospel.   

 Every Christian who values and loves their Church must at times feel depressed at the level of attendances at Church, unless of course a baptism or wedding is desired, when people feel the Church can be useful and offer them something.  I accept that numbers are not the be all and end all of Church worship, or a verdict on any particular Church, but there must always be a need for every Church to consider whether the worship offered is as worthy as it ought to be.  In many cases I do not think it is. 

 There is much that can and should be done to make a Church appeal to non-members.  The building itself should look smart and be clean looking, which is not always so.  Selected men and women, recognised for their engaging personalities, need to be appointed to greet people attending, so that visitors feel we are glad to see them and make them feel welcome.  Regular members too need to be encouraged to speak and be friendly with visitors, rather than look at them as if intruders. 

 In Anglican Churches the services can be confusing to strangers as there are so many alternatives offered.  I have officiated at numerous Churches and not found the same service exactly at any two Churches, so an offer to help and guide may be appreciated. Having changed the worship of the Prayer Book to the Common Worship Book, which had meaningful forms of service, we now have Common Worship in which the formulators couldn’t make their minds up as to which Eucharistic prayer should be used. I used to advise my Church stewards to try and introduce a stranger to someone of like age and sex to make them feel more comfortable.  When leaving after the service, the Minister(s) should always be at the exit to meet people. 

 However, the most important part is that between the coming and leaving.  Services should be bright with tuneful hymns, perhaps altering tunes to hymns that are felt necessary, if the set one is of the mournful type.  I was at a service where for ten minutes a choral rendition of Purcell’s ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ was sung, followed later by Stanford’s ‘Te deum’, which is fine for the right place, but an ordinary parish Communion is not my idea of the right place. 

 I don’t think it is generally recognised how important music is in a service. Music stirs the mind and moves the heart.  In every Crusade, from Sankey and Moody, the Welsh revival, and most notably the great Billy Graham Crusades, the singing of hymns and spiritual songs has been a dominant feature to complement the inspirational preaching. The Evangelical Churches mostly pursue this format, which needs to be introduced into more Churches, and dispense with the philosophy that seems to pervade that as long we put something on it will suffice.

 The sermon has been relegated in importance,where once it was a central feature.  Sermons are there for a purpose, namely to tell the good news about Jesus Christ.  How can people be taught to believe the good news of the gospel if the Church fails to tell?  This is our business first and foremost.  The pulpit is there for the declaration of the gospel, and any Church which fails to respond cannot justify its reason for being there.  Ministers are to be messengers from God, bringing God message to congregations.

 Sermons often lack sound teaching however, with preachers watering down the message to provide spiritual potions, which will make people feel happy and guiltless.  One Vicar tells me regularly, sermons need to be nice and friendly so people won’t be upset.  This always amuses me, for Billy Graham use to preach to audiences of up to 80 thousands and beyond regularly, and tell them they were all a lot of sinners who would go to hell if they didn’t repent, and people flocked to hear him. 

 If a Church is a welcoming one, offers a well constructed service with tuneful hymns and an inspiring message, it will surely attract members.

 In the Church of England we have softened our messages, had all sorts of changes, all sorts of gimmicks, and we are still losing members. One Vicar was quoted in the (London) Daily Mail as telling people on Easter Sunday to stay in bed, eat chocolate and have sex. Don’t bother attending a stuffy building, it’s not cool or funky.  When you have men like that who needs the devil.  In any well organised institution that man would be looking for alternative employment. The statement was not only spiritually irresponsible; it was morally irresponsible for it was directed to people generally.

 Surely we need to rationalise our number of Churches.  At one time every village and neighbourhood had its own parish Church (in addition to Catholic and Free Churches) and congregations were strong enough to maintain them.  This is no longer the case, yet we are still trying to keep that system going.  To do so we have Vicars fleeing from one Church to another offering a token service which does no one any good, or a local preacher  who however well intentioned often has not been properly trained and rides his/her own hobby horse rather than preaching the Bible.

 It would be far more sensible and realistic to prune the number of Churches.  We have seen evangelical Churches drawing people from a wide area and offering inspiring worship, and similarly High Churches offering beautifully conducted and meaningful worship.  People find no difficulty travelling to supermarkets which are not on their doorstep, and with some innovative transport offers the Church could be in a like position.  

 The Bible states attending Church is not optional.  The Bible assumes people who are believers are connected to a local Church where they live out their faith. Individual or independent Christianity cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. Whilst Jesus is present bodily in heaven with believers, He is also present on earth by His Spirit so that when people are gathered  Jesus is amongst us just as surely as when He was present with His Apostles. 

 A problem has arisen of late; the once great Methodist Church provided a solid evangelical service in the image of its founders, yet now it has surrendered to the activist culture and approved same sex ‘marriages’, as other denominations have. I cannot tell you what the Church of England believes now, it is a mixture of ideas dependent on where you live.  Any true Bible based Christian must surely act in accordance with their conscience; in the words of Martin Luther, the great protestant revivalist, . If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.

 The Bible uses several terms to describe the Church, the most powerful being a family, consisting of people of different backgrounds, experiences, class, ages and gender.  This family extends right across the world, so that wherever you go you can have fellowship with other believers. 

 I lived in Kenya for two years, into which came missionaries of different denominations from various countries, yet we could meet and enjoy each others company in a way no other group of people could.  There is a uniqueness about the Church, was we are separated from the world’s standards and from the others of society.

 But of course the Church does not exactly encourage people, when it is seen to be unable to resolve theological and procedural problems quickly and quietly.  For a long period the Labour party was unable to attain office, because the public saw them squabbling and unable to determine what they stood for.  Then the Conservative party followed the same path, and they remained unpopular with the public.  So indicating clearly, that people have no respect for any body which cannot state positively what it believes in and stands for. 

 This is the situation relating to (at least) the Anglican Church, dominated by people with personal ambitions and desires which they are intent on pursuing irrespective of what damage is done to the Church at large.

 It has to be faced there are men with a personal agenda, who seem determined to undermine the Church.  The Leaders of the Church have firmly opposed ‘gay marriage’, yet, what is loosely called senior clergy, are challenging in a disloyal, irresponsible and shameful way, with no respect for unity within the Church or for Bible teaching.  This and other issues are liable to split the Church of England within, but separate it from the universal Church which includes Catholic and Orthodox Churches. 

 It would be less damaging if we followed the example of  the Anglican Church of North America and formed a new Anglican Church of Great Britain based on the same foundations as of our American friends.

 In the meantime each Church should strive to be true to its calling with vows honoured, and work independently of the national scene.  I firmly believe that if a Church is a welcoming one, offers a well-constructed service, with tuneful hymns and an inspiring message, it will surely attract members.

 Sunday last marked a new year in the Church Lectionary. May more individual Churches turn back to firm Bible teaching, and put forward nothing which is contrary to the teaching and commands of our Lord.

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