Wednesday 2 August 2023

 Acts 2 verses 42-47

     I saw an article in a Village magazine written by the Churchwardens, calling on people to support your Church.   I had previously, by invitation, written an article about the importance of the Church on the moral life of the nation, and also called on people to support their local Church.  Let us hope and pray that there will be some positive response.

     It has been a pleasure for me to have been able to come and take services here on several occasions during the interregnum, and my thanks go to Pat and Sara for their help and guidance. 

     On this my last visit, I want to speak to you about the Church in general, without any reference being intended to any particular Church..

     People generally have different attitudes towards the Church.  Let me begin by reading to you an extract from an article which appeared in one of our national newspapers some time ago:

 ‘In an average English village today, Anglican worship has become little      more than a dying bourgeois cult. A small cluster of motor cars may be seen outside the parish church when the service is in progress; the bells still ring joyously across the fields and meadows on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings, but fewer and fewer heed them, and those who do are predominantly middle-class, female and elderly. It must be desperately disheartening, and the Vicar often gives the impression of being dispirited and forlorn. Whatever zeal he may have had as an ordinand soon gets dissipated in an atmosphere of domestic care and indifference on the part of his flock. Small wonder, then, that in the pulpit he has little to say except to repeat the same old clerical banalities.

     That is a view I suspect many people hold, and if we are brutally honest, will have to agree is fairly typical of the scene in many places.  Congregations are largely middle-class, elderly and female, which however just goes to show the wisdom of elderly middle-class ladies.  Yet there are numerous Churches across the country, which attract large congregations of mixed ages, sex and class.

     We have to consider why this is so.   It is true that we are living in a post Christian age, where the majority of people have little or no time for God and His Church, unless they want a baptism or wedding and then they find God and His Church can be useful.  The majority of people however do claim to be Christians, yet do not want to attend Church.  There are of course the usual excuses, such as,

‘you don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian.’   

   ‘Can’t we read the Bible at home and listen to services on the radio?’  which they never consider doing anyway.

     There are very few people who would seriously deny there is a God, indeed the majority own up to believing in our God, but that is as far as they go.       

     Today, there are all kinds of organisations to cater for social needs, and the Church is often seen as a sort of social organisation with a spiritual flavour.  There are parts of the Church which encourage this image, as more attention is paid to that side than the spiritual.  So we should remember when the disciples sought out Jesus to attend to people’s needs, He replied that what He came for was to preach the gospel.  Whilst He did perform many acts of mercy, His main purpose of preaching was made clear That I suggest should be the attitude the Church takes, namely that we will engage in social activity and see the Church is the centre for that activity, but never at the neglect or reduction of our main purpose.

     The Bible sees the Church as much more than just another social organisation.  Paul gave instructions in several of his New Testament Letters as to how we should conduct ourselves in relation to the Church.  He called the Church a pillar and support of the truth, the household of God.  This means the Church ha a special importance in God’s plan.  It also means we ought to know how we are to live and function within that plan.

     So let us look at the model of a Christian Church, as seen in Scripture in that first Christian Church, and perhaps find a reason for the falling off by so many people today. 

     First it was a Bible based Church.  They were devoted to the Apostles teaching, it captivated them.  It was about Jesus, who He was, what He came to do,  how to obey Him and about His second coming  to judge the world.  In other words, the whole Christian faith. 

     A Danish philosopher once stated, whereas Jesus came and turned water into wine, the modern Church has managed to something altogether more difficult, to change wine into water. .  Many will agree with him as we have watered down the gospel of our Lord, so that people are confused as to what they exactly should believe. 

     The wonderful thing is, that we can be in the same position as those early Christians, as God has graciously left us with copies of those Bible classes.  It is called the New Testament.  A Church which is spiritually healthy, will make the teaching of the Bible its primary task.  And indeed, it is those evangelical Churches which are biblically based, and doctrinally sound, which are thriving.

     The writer was not wrong when he referred to clerical banalities.  I have been to many services in which Jesus, the Cross, and the Bible were never mentioned. The only justification for a sermon is to teach from the Bible, which of course requires time in preparation, research, study and prayer, which many preachers are not willing to give.

     Secondly, they were a caring Church, a Church of fellowship.  They shared each others burdens and needs.  Some were strangers from other places, now they are one in Christ and could live and talk with each other. 

     I was at one time in Mombasa where ships brought in Christian missionaries from many countries.   With Church members we would meet them coming into Kenya, and although we had never met before, we were able to get together and feel quite at ease with each other in a way we could never have done with non Christians.  Brothers and sisters in Christ. 

     The Bible uses several names to describe God’s people, and the most powerful is that of a family.  In families we are related to one another, a bond based on allegiance and fidelity.  A family consist of different ages,

  different sexes, different experiences and background, and it is God’s way of providing for His people to grow together.  This is why we need to come to learn the Bible from readings and sermons, praying together for our needs and the world’s, praising God as we sing together, sharing the bread and wine in Holy Communion, as we remember what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. 

     Thirdly, they were a committed Church.  They met regularly.  There are those for whom the Church is a second choice.  There are times in all our lives when personal situations arise which call for our attention, but for some, Church will take second place in our list of priorities, something which Jesus Himself condemned.    

     It can be so easy to go with the flow and give up, which is why the Bible urges Christians to be together. Each year hundreds of people give up worship.  There  many reasons, pressures of the world, ridicule from friends, family trouble, a bad experience at a church, all of which are expressly good reasons for going to church.

      Fourthly they were a growing Church as their numbers increased rapidly.  We must remember, Christianity spread throughout the ancient world without any radio, television, or any means of mass communication.  If we expect great things from God, great things will happen.  If we today want to see the Church grow, we have to be devoted to the task.

     When life gets hard for people, they are more inclined to think of the Church and for a lot of people life has become very hard.  The Church should be ready to offer its services and greet these people.

     When we have an election in which the parties post through our doors, letters telling us all the wonderful things they can offer. I believe this is what the Church should try doing as we have more to offer, and more truthful also  We used to do this in my Church.  In simple terms, let people know we care, have good music, tell Bible stories in plain words and would really like to see them. 

     It required effort, and only produced a small return I suppose, in view of the number we sent out, but Jesus in His parable of the sower, taught only one seed in five produced good fruit.  The American Churches do much to advertise their presence, and their congregations are strong. Business would not spend millions on advertising, if it didn’t produce results, and we are on the Lord’s business.    

     I readily understand the problems that exist with village Churches, where the Vicar has more than one Church to care for, and it is not my place to make suggestions, but I am sure in many cases a more concentrated effort could be made.

     In spite of living in a world of opposition, we must hold fast to the faith in which we

believe. and draw near to God with a sincere heart.  We are under so much pressure by press, television to turn away from fundamentals, and government legislation works against us. The messengers of secularism and multiculturalism, are given so much attention.

      As you enter into a new era in your Church history, with your two daughter Churches, I pray that it will be a time of great happiness and fellowship, and that you will prove to be a  Bible based Church, caring, committed and in all, a growing Church. 

     May God Bless you in your work for His 

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