Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘The Church’ Category

What Have We Done to the House of Prayer? 

A Sermon Preached on Sunday, August 28, 2011, by

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.,

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 

 And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.   And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him,   And could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him. (Luke 19:45-48)

             One of our old hymns refers to our Lord as “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”  Our Lord was meek and mild, referring to himself as meek and lowly in heart.  He describes himself as the good shepherd who takes tender care of his sheep.  He is the one who was so filled with compassion for the multitudes that he healed many of those who were sick and possessed of evil spirits.  He showed tenderness and love for people such as lepers, adulterers, and even a thief hanging on a cross.  But out Lord was also capable of being very stern and even caustic in his speech.  He could look at a crowd of scribes and Pharisees and call them hypocrites, white-washed tombs, serpents, and a generation of vipers.  Of all the incidents in the life of our Lord, the one that seems to be most out of character for the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” is the one desribing his driving of the money changers out of the temple.  We know the story of how on Palm Sunday he went into the temple and surveyed the scene.  Jesus knew what was going in there at that time, and he could have driven out the money changers then.  Instead, he goes back to Bethany, and has all night to think about it.  Then, the next day, on Monday, he goes into the temple and cleanses it.  This was not some moment when Jesus suddenly lost his temper and started overturning tables.  This act was definitely a pre-meditated.  He looks around, no doubt with fire in his eyes, and begins to cast these people out of the temple.  Throughout the life of our Lord, I am sure that he saw many sinful things.  He was treated in despicable ways by the scribes and Pharisees, but we never see him reacting like this to any of the evil activities around him.  What happened in the temple that infuriated him so? He was angry because of what these people were doing to his house.

            According to our Lord, the temple, the house of God, was designed to be the house of prayer.  If you look at everything that went on in the temple, there were more activities than simply prayer.  We know that there were many sacrifices offered.  We know that there was music.  We know that in some parts of the temple precincts, teaching took place.    But it is interesting that our Lord does not say, “My house is the house of sacrifice.”  He doesn’t say, “My house is the house of music.”  He doesn’t say, “My house is the house of teaching.”  He says, “My house is the house of prayer.”  Why does he characterize the temple as a house of prayer above all else?  The temple was, first and foremost,t a place where people were to gaze upon the glory of God and worship him.  Prayer is our act of devotion whereby we lift the soul to God and seek his face and behold his glory.  In Solomon’s prayer when he dedicated the temple, he used language that indicated that prayer was to be the central activity connected with this place of worship:

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?  Yet have thou respect unto the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplication, O LORD my God, to hearken unto the cry and to the prayer, which thy servant prayeth before thee to day:  That thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there: that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall make toward this place.   And hearken thou to the supplication of thy servant, and of thy people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place: and hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place: and when thou hearest, forgive.  (I Kings 8:27-30).

What was the temple but a place where God was to be sought?  Even the sacrifices that were offered in the temple were designed to purify the people of God so that they might approach him in prayer.  The incense that was offered was a symbol of the prayers his people arising to heaven.    The central act of devotion in the temple was prayer.

          Christian worship is no different.  The reason we gather in our churches is to pray.  When Paul told Timothy what should be done when the people of God meet together, he said, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (I Tim. 2:1-2).  Prayer is the key ingredient of our daily lives and our public worship.

          Though this incident of the cleansing of the temple is recorded in the other gospel accounts, it must have been very special to Luke, because Luke, more than any other, is the gospel that emphasizes prayer.  Luke tells us, for example, that when Jesus was baptized, he was praying and the heavens were opened.  In Luke 5:16, we are told that Jesus withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.   In the story of the Transfiguration, Luke tells us that Christ was transfigured as he was praying (Luke 9:29).  Luke says that Jesus was praying just before he gave us what we call the Lord’s prayer:  “And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.  And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father…” (Luke 11:1-2).  The disciples knew that our Lord was a man of prayer, and when they saw him praying, they must have thought, “Oh, how we wish we could pray like that.  Lord, teach us to pray.”  In Luke 18:1, we read, “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”  Luke is truly “the prayer gospel.”

          St. Luke is the one who especially emphasizes that the temple was the place of prayer.  In the story about the birth of John the Baptist, we are told that Zacharias was in the temple offering the incense and that “the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense” (Luke 1:10).  It was as those prayers were offered that the angel Gabriel appears to Zacharias.   Then in Luke 2, we read that wonderful story of Anna who was in the temple day and night.  What is she doing in the temple?   “And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:37).  Anna was using the temple for its proper purpose.  It was to be a house of prayer

           These people whom Jesus casts out were not using the temple as a place of prayer.  There have been many explanations about why Jesus drove these people out of the temple.  Some have said Jesus was angry because they were using it as a place to make a profit.  He said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”    When he cleansed the temple in John 2 he says to those who sold doves, “Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.”  These money-changers were not there to seek the face of God in prayer.  They knew that sacrifices had to be offered in the temple.  Many people did not have the space, facilities, or money to raise animals for their own sacrifices, so they had to buy them.  These money-changers saw this system as an opportunity to cash in on the religious market.   There was nothing really wrong in selling animals for sacrifice, but theywere sinning in the money-exchange system.  Let’s say that you were trying to change pesos into dollars and someone gave you less dollars than what the pesos were worth.  You would have been cheated, right?  The money-changers were engaging in the same kind of activity.  When people exchanged their money, they were receving money in return of less value.  The money-changer were stealing from the people.  They had turned the house of prayer into a den of thieves, or a “cave of bandits” as one translation has it.

          Some have suggested that Jesus was angry because all of this activity was happening in the court of the Gentiles.  You remember that Gentiles could not enter the temple proper, but there was a court designated for those Gentiles who wanted to pray.  All of this buying and selling was going on in the court of the Gentiles, preventing the Gentiles from being able to worship.  In Mark’s account Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”  This buying and selling was preventing the “nations ,” the Gentiles from engaging in prayer to God.

          Some people have said that Jesus was angry about the hypocrisy of the people.  They were supposed to be there for prayer, but they lived in such a way that made prayer an act of hypocrisy.  The phrase, “den of thieves” comes from Jeremiah 7 where the temple is described as a den of robbers:

          The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,  Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the LORD.  Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.   Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.   For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour;  If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt:   Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.   Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit.   Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not;   And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?  Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD.   But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.

          In this passage, the Lord says that his people are guilty of oppressing the fatherless and widows.   Then engaged in idolatry, theft, murder, and then they would come into the temple and claim to be worshiping God.  They even put their trust in the temple, believing that since they came to the temple, God would protect them from judgment no matter how they lived.    The people in the time of Christ had done the same.  They were living ungodly lives, but believed that since they were the chosen people, the people who had the glorious temple, God would protect them.   Jesus has warned them that one day the Romans are going to come and destroy Jerusalem and the temple.    If the temple of God had truly been the house of prayer, then this judgment of God would not have come upon them.  But the temple was no longer a place of prayer.  It was a gathering place of hypocrites.   They said they were worshiping God while at the same time, by their actions, they were robbing God of his glory.

          Whatever might have been the reason our Lord was angry on this occasion, we can be certain that what has infuriated our Lord so much is that the people have turned the temple into something other than what it was intended it to be.  He was saying that his should be called the house of prayer, but they have made it into something else.  If our Lord were to visit our churches today, I wonder how he would complete that sentence.  “My house is house of prayer, but you have made it….”    What have we made the house of prayer? How many churches do you know of today that you would honestly refer to as “the house of prayer?”  They might be called many things, but not the house of prayer, because what goes on in there is usually anything but prayer.  There may be a few prayers sprinkled in the service between the other “main events,” but prayer is definitely not the focus.  If our Lord were to attend our churches today, perhaps he would say, “My house is the house of prayer, but you have made it a social club where you  gather to meet with friends and make business contacts.”  “My house is the house of prayer, but you have made it a place where teen-agers can hook up with other teen-agers.”  “My temple is the house of prayer, but you have made it an amusement park, a sanctified version of Disney World.”  “My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a rock concert.”  “My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it Broadway show.”  “My house is the house of prayer, but you have made it a three-ring circus.”

          Let me go further.  Sometimes, we put even legitimate things ahead of prayer.  For example, it is right to sing praises and have beautiful music in the house of God, but music is not the primary reason we are here, though the baby-boomers of my generation have made it the primary reason to attend a church service.    It is right to preach and teach in the house of God, but we must not elevate even preaching above prayer.  The great Anglican preacher Henry Liddon put it like this:

No well-instructed, no really spiritual, Christian thinks of his parish church mainly or chiefly as a place for hearing sermons. Sermons are of great service….  Still, if a comparison is to be instituted between prayers and sermons, there ought not to be a moment’s doubt as to the decision; for it is not said, “My house shall be called a house of preaching,” but “My house shall be called the house of prayer.” Surely it is a much more responsible act, and, let me add, it is a much greater privilege, to speak to God, whether in prayer or praise, than to listen to what a fellow-sinner can tell you about Him; and when a great congregation is really joining in worship, when there is a deep spiritual, as it were an electric, current of sympathy traversing a vast multitude of souls as they make one combined advance to the foot of the eternal throne, then, if we could look at these things for a moment with angels’ eyes, we should see something infinitely greater, according to all the rules of a true spiritual measurement, than the effect of the most eloquent and the most persuasive of sermons.  “My house shall be called the house of prayer” is a maxim for all time, and if this be so, then all that meets the eye, all that falls upon the ear within the sacred walls, should be in harmony with this high intention, should be valued and used only with a view to promoting it. Architecture, painting, mural decoration, and the like, are only in place when they lift the soul upwards towards the invisible, when they conduct it swiftly and surely to the gate of the world of spirits, and then themselves retire from thought and from view.   Music the most pathetic, the most suggestive, is only welcome in the temples of Christ, when it gives wings to spiritualised thought and feeling, when it promotes the ascent of the soul to God. If these beautiful arts detain men on their own account, to wonder at their own intrinsic charms, down among the things of sense; if we are thinking more of music than of Him whose glory it heralds, more of the beauty of form and colour than of Him whose Temple it adorns, then be sure we are robbing God of His glory, we are turning His temple into a den of thieves.

I hope you see what Henry Liddon was saying.  The church is primarily a place where we seek God, to behold his glory, and to have communion with him.  All of that is accomplished in prayer.  But if we elevate anything of these other things to a place above prayer, then we are not gathering in the house of God to seek his glory   We are there merely to enjoy ourselves the way we would at a sporting event.  Many American Christians go to certain churches because they like the style of music.  But the question must be asked, “Is that style of music conducive to quiet, reverent, humble, heart-felt prayer?”  If we make architecture or music the primary focus of our worship, rather than prayer, then we have made an idol of these things.  Any time we come to church with some other purpose to draw near to God in prayer, we are robbing God of his glory.  We have made this place a den of thieves by seeking our own enjoyment rather than the face of God.

          The church that emphasizes prayer may not be very popular. Such activity is not very exciting to most people.  Such worship is not very likely to draw the crowds, because for most people, nothing could be more boring and tedious than prayer.  It takes discipline to pray.  It takes focus and concentration to pray.  It takes a heart that loves God and truly wants to draw near to him to pray.  We may attract crowds with activities other than prayer, but if the house of God is not primarily the house of prayer, then it has no claim at all to being called the house of God.

          This story in the life of our Lord has an interesting conclusion.  Jesus says, “My house shall be called the house of prayer,” and next sentence is, “And he taught daily in the temple.”  When the house of God becomes the house of prayer, when you drive out of it the things that have no place there, when the house of God has been cleansed of those things that corrupt it, then it becomes the house of prayer, and it can become a place where the word of God can be taught.  Preaching and teaching without prayer, without seeking God, merely turns the church into a lecture hall, a place where we just engage in an intellectual pursuit of facts and knowledge, but with no real power to convict and transform.  A great deal of time is given in our church to the teaching and preaching of God’s word, but if this church is not primarily the house of prayer, then the preaching will be ineffective.  In Acts 4 we have one of the prayers of the apostles after they have been threatened that they should not preach in the name of Jesus anymore.  So, they pray to God for courage.  And in Acts 4:31, we read, “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”  No preaching and teaching the word of God will be attended with true spiritual power unless the church of God is the house of prayer.   Nothing that we do will be worth anything, unless we are the house of prayer.  The preaching will be powerless.  The music will only be entertainment.  The sacraments will be robbed of their intent, for what is the sacrament designed to do but lift our souls to heaven so that we might have fellowship and communion God.   May God give us grace that all churches in the days and years ahead will resist the temptation to become anything other than the house of prayer.  Amen.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The Temple

A Sermon preached on Sunday, April 9, 2011 by

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., at St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

(click here to listen to the audio recording of this sermon)

Text for this sermon pending

Read Full Post »

Perfected Love

A Sermon preached on Sunday, June 26, 2011 by

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., at St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

(click here to listen to the audio recording of this sermon)

Text for this sermon pending

Read Full Post »

Worthy to Wear White

A Sermon by S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.

Preached on Sunday, November 1, 2009

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, LA

Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy (Rev. 3:4).

Last week at our Youth Sunday School, we were having a discussion about the meaning of All Saints’ Day, and I was explaining to the young people why we wear white at this special time of the year.  I also explained that I also wear a white alb every Sunday, even if it is not All Saints’.  As I was describing the meaning of wearing white, I said that white represented purity of life.  When I said that, one of our young people said, “Wow!  That’s saying a lot about yourself.”     When she said that, it may me not ever want to put on the white alb again, because if it does indeed stand for purity of life, which one of us could ever wear the white alb in good conscience?

When we read verses like Rev. 3:4, “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy,” it confuses us a little.  After all, isn’t the whole point of the Bible, the whole thrust of the gospel, to show us that we are not worthy to wear white?  Don’t we emphasize over and over that we are not worthy of any of the blessings that God has ever given to us?  Don’t we constantly cry out with Jacob, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant…” (Gen. 32:10).  We are like the centurion who told our Lord Jesus Christ, “I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof” (Matt. 8:8).  Each Sunday morning, before we take Holy Communion, we say, “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.”   We say with John the Baptist that we are not worthy to even unloose the latchet of our Lord’s sandals.  Whenever we baptize a child, such as we did a couple of weeks ago, I present the child with a white garment and challenge him to bring it unstained to the judgment seat of Christ.  How could we possibly go through our lives and hope to arrive at the judgment seat of Christ with an unstained garment?  Whenever we think of all the sins that we have committed, doesn’t it seem that our garment will be so dirty and soiled that there won’t be a single speck of white showing through?

Yet, when we read the descriptions of Christians, both in this world and in the world to come, we find them described as wearing a white garment, which does indeed represent purity of life.    This passage in Rev. 3:4 says that there were some people there in Sardis who had not defiled their garments.    Then, we read  that those who have gone on to heaven are clothed in white garments.  “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment” (Rev. 3:5).  “And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.” (Rev. 4:4).  “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands” (Rev. 7:9).  “And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Rev. 19:14).  Thus, on All Saints’ it is appropriate to wear white since the saints are described as wearing it.

Still, knowing our own sinfulness, how is it that we ever get a white robe when we are so unworthy of wearing it?      First, though it is true that we are guilty of innumerable sins, the Christian’s sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ.  For our closing hymn this morning we are going to sing, “Who are these like stars appearing.”  The inspiration for that song comes from Rev. 7:13-14, “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?  And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  If we have white robes, it is because our robes have been washed in the blood of Christ.  If you were to dip a robe in blood, you might expect that it would come out red, but in God’s universe, when you wash your dirty robe in red blood, it comes out white as snow.  As we read in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”  It is true that our sins are many, but the promise of Scripture in I John is, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.   If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:7-9).    It is true that we are unworthy to wear the white robe, but we have been made worthy by what Christ did on the cross.  He shed his blood to wash us clean, so that our robes would be white, and that we might walk in heaven with him forever, in a robe as pure and white as that of his own, because any righteousness we have, any purity we have, comes from him, and him alone.  So, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, if you are placing your faith and trust in him, you are in fact wearing a white robe.  When you see us each Sunday wearing these white robes that symbolize purity, always see them as white, because they have been washed in the blood of Christ.

But there is another sense in which the Christian is worthy to wear white.  He is worthy to wear white because he lives a life that is worthy of a Christian.    Notice carefully what I said.  I didn’t say that we are worthy to wear white because we are sinless.  I said that the Christian is worthy to wear the white robe because he lives a life that is worthy of a Christian. This is what St. Paul meant in Colossian 1:9-11, when he wrote, “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;  That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;  Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.”  Notice how Paul says that the Christian can walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.  It doesn’t mean that the Christian is sinless, but it does mean that his life is characterized by obedience, by holiness, by a zeal and determination to please God in all things.   When we are fruitful in every good work, we are walking worthy of the Lord.   St. Paul said in Ephesians 4:1, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.”  You have been called to Christ.  You have been called to bear the name of Christ.  Now, walk worthy of that calling.  This is why the Lord gives us his Holy Spirit, so that we might be “strengthened with all might,” given the power to walk in obedience to the commandments of God.  In one of our readings for today, we read from one of the Apocryphyal books, The Wisdom of Solomon.  As you know, in the Reformed Episcopal Church,  we do not consider such books to be part of the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God and cannot use them to establish any doctrine, but we can use them as valuable tools of instruction in morals.  In the Wisdom of Solomon 3, verse 5, we are told that God proved those who have gone on to heaven.  He tested them and found them worthy of himself.  This is what happens to in the course of our Christian lives.  We go through many trials and tribulations, but through them all, we walk worthy of the Lord who has called us.  This is what our Lord meant when he said that there were people at Sardis who had not defiled their garments.  He didn’t mean that they were perfectly sinless, but it did mean that they had not departed from the faith.  The great sin at the church in Sardis was that they were pretending to be spiritually alive, going through the rituals and the motions, but they were in fact dead spiritually.  But there were some at Sardis, though not perfect, who nevertheless, were spiritually alive and were living lives that demonstrated that they were alive.

Though the Christian is not sinless, it can be said of him that, overall, his life is characterized by godliness and holiness.  We read of Zacharias and Elizabeth, “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6).  Does that mean that Zacharias and Elizabeth never sinned?  Of course not.  But it does mean that overall, their lives were characterized by obedience.  They walked worthy of the Lord to all pleasing.

The Christian’s worthiness to wear the robe is two-fold.  His robes have been washed in the blood of the lamb, and he lives a life that corresponds to the sacrifice that Christ made on his behalf, because Christ himself has given us his strength, a strength in the inner man, that enables us to walk worthy of the calling by which we are called.  “They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.”  How could they be worthy?  They are worthy because of what Christ has done for them and in them.

This morning as we gaze into heaven and experience the wonderful communion of saints, as I say, “Lift up your hearts,” and we are aware that we are worshiping now with all the saints on earth and all the saints in heaven, we should be a aware that they are wearing white.  By the eye of faith, see them now, “Clad in robes of purest whiteness,/Robes whose luster ne’er shall fade.”  But then, wonder of wonders, take a look at yourself, and by the eye of faith, see that you are also clothed in a glorious white garment, and fall upon your knees confessing your unworthiness to wear it, but at the same time, rejoicing that by his death, resurrection, and glorious ascension, Christ has made you worthy.  Amen.

Read Full Post »

Preached by Rev. Father Toms at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Baton Rouge, LA on September 13, 2009

Zech. 4: [8] Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
[9] The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you.
[10] For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth.

          As we look around us today at our congregation, we can see that compared to many other churches, we are quite small.  We started out almost seven years ago as a small congregation, and we are about the same size as when we started.  If some people hadn’t moved out of town over the course of these years, we would be a larger congregation, but we have remained relatively small.  As we look toward the future, we have to face the possibility that we might remain small.  It might be that we will never have that beautiful building of our own that we always dream of having, because we just won’t have enough people with enough money to buy land in this city and erect that truly, beautiful, gothic, Episcopal style of building which many of us envision. 

Whenever you think about our church, what we stand for, what we believe, and our style of worship, just from a human standpoint, our chances of  growing a large church are pretty slim.  Unlike most denominations or independent groups, we do not have a ready-made audience.  There aren’t thousands of people with a Reformed Episcopal background looking for a church home.  If people move to Baton Rouge from another city, how many of them are going to be looking for a Reformed Episcopal Church.  The chances are far more likely that they are going to be looking for a Catholic Church, a Baptist Church, or an independent charismatic congregation.  Normally, if someone is going to attend our church, it means that they have experienced a radical change in their beliefs. 

For people to come to our church probably means that they were used to a very different kind of worship that what we engage in here—from a kind of free, loose, easy-going, contemporary, folksy kind of a worship to one that is liturgical, reverent, and fixed.  For some people, attending this congregation would require a great change in their doctrinal beliefs.  Our beliefs about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Church, bishops, and salvation would require some people to adopt an entirely different way of looking at these doctrines than they have been taught.  So, here we are this little congregation, very conservative theologically, with a high church liturgy, getting higher all the time, that believes in baptismal regeneration and the real presence of Christ in the supper, that children should participate in communion, with a strong emphasis on preaching and Bible study, promoting a rigorous engagement with our culture, and not beyond having a drink or two.  Where do we fit?  We don’t fit anywhere.  We are a totally unique congregation.  Let’s face it.  There just aren’t that many people in this city looking for that kind of church. 

So, from a totally human perspective, we would have to say that our chances of attracting people are quite small.  As a matter of fact, we will have to say that no one is going to come here unless the Holy Spirit works in them in an extremely powerful way.  But unless the Holy Spirit does this, we are not going to grow just because we do something like a successful marketing campaign.  A transformation has to take place for anyone to attend our church.  A transformation in which a person accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through the instrumentality of this church, or a transformation that would cause Christians from other groups to completely discard some of their most cherished beliefs and opinions.  So, I’m just alerting you—we may be small for quite a while.

          But what I want to preach on this morning is this:  Is being a small church a bad thing?  In our text for this morning, the people of Judah are facing the enormous task of having to rebuild the temple.  It was going to be a slow work, but God gives them the promise that they will finish it.  But in the beginning of this great work, they were very discouraged.  It was a day of small things.  God challenges them not to despise the day of small things, the day of humble beginnings.  In America, we do despise the day of small things, especially small churches.  Judging things by American standards of success, we tend to look upon something small as being less than successful.  That is nowhere more true than in the way people look at the church.  In these days of the huge mega-churches, the churches with the largest congregations are looked upon as the pinnacle of success and achievement, and every church should strive to be a mega-church with thousands of members, and if you do not achieve that standard of success, then you are doing something wrong.  If we were worshiping in the right way, if we had the right programs and activities, if we had the right music, then all churches would be mega-churches, bursting at the seams.

          Now, I have pointed out to you in the past that these mega-churches are not nearly as successful as we think they are.  The fact of the matter is, that the back door on these churches is as big as the front door.  They get in a lot of new members, but they don’t stay very long.  And I have pointed out to you that just because these mega-churches are growing does not mean that the Church of Jesus Christ is growing.  Those churches are not being filled with the unchurched.  They are filling up with people who had been members of other churches.  We are not growing, we are just swapping members on a regular basis.  We think we are growing, but we are only adding members who were already members of other churches.  But it is not my intention in this sermon to put down large churches.  As a matter of fact, I would say that the Church needs large churches.  They have great ministries.  This week I was with my grandchildren at the school where they attend which is part of the ministry of a large Episcopal Church.  As I worshiped with them in that huge, beautiful sanctuary, I was filled with envy.  Would I love to have a building such as that?  You know it.  Wouldn’t I love to have enough money where we could build a huge educational complex that would be large enough to house a school that goes through the 8th grade.  Of course, I would.  Large churches have their ministries, and God bless them and their efforts.  But the small church has its place and its ministry as well.  At the present time, God has seen fit that we should be a small congregation.  It may be that one day we will grow into something larger, but if we do, it won’t mean that during this time we were doing something wrong.  The large church is not better than the small church.  It is just different, with a different ministry.  The small church is not better than a large church.  It’s just different, fulfilling the purpose that God has for it in the growth of his kingdom.

          The small church often feels inferior to the large church, and because of its feelings of inferiority, it is obsessed with the idea of growth.  How can we grow numerically?  How can we add new members to our church rolls?  Now, there is nothing wrong with a desire to grow, if we are desiring to grow for the right reasons.  If we are desiring to grow just out of pride so that we can think we are successful, then this kind of desire for growth is sinful.  At this church we desire to grow only for three reasons:  1) we want to see more people come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; 2) we want to see Christian people exposed to the truth of God’s holy word so that they might grow into mature Christian people; 3) to have the resources to be able to minister to the needs of people in their lives.  It’s not really growth, per se, that we are after.  We just have a desire for as many people as possible to be saved, grow in the knowledge of God’s word, and to have more opportunities to support good works.   But we can become obsessed with growth just for the sake of growth, and when we do that, we are often willing to compromise our beliefs and our practices.  Would we be a larger congregation if we changed our beliefs in certain areas?  Of course.  If we gave up our style of worship, if we gave up our beliefs on the sacraments, of course, we would be larger.   But we do not want to grow for the sake of growth.  We want more people to worship God in this particular way, which we believe is the Biblical pattern for worship.  We want more people to have a sacramental understanding of the faith that would enrich their spiritual lives.  If these things were not essential, then I would dismiss you and say, “Join one of the larger churches.”  But if our understanding of worship and practice is Biblical, it is worth persevering even though we are small. 

          As I say, we often feel inferior because we are small, but we are not inferior, not sinful, not unsuccessful, we are merely different, with a different ministry.  The small church has a ministry all its own, and we should not be ashamed of it, but rather glory in the ministry and advantages that a small church has.  Some years ago, Paul Madsen wrote a book entitled, The Small Church: Valid, Vital, Victorious.  We don’t see it that way, do we?  We always look at the small church as sick, lacking, in need of repair, irrelevant, waiting for that glorious day when it is large and can really do something worthwhile in the world.  But the small church can be a healthy, vibrant church.  We do not need to apologize for being small.  The small church is valid, vital, and can be victorious as a small church.

          One thing we can take some encouragement in is the fact that most churches, down through history have been small.  Even if we go back to the days of the New Testament, we must realize that the early church had no church buildings.  For a while, in the book of Acts, early Christians went to the temple to pray if they lived around Jerusalem.  Sometimes, Christians went to the local Jewish synagogue, but by and large they met in people’s houses.    On the day of Pentecost, they were meeting in the upper room of someone’s house.    In Acts 2:46, we read, “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.”  They were having the Lord’s Supper in people’s houses.    In Acts 8:3, when Paul is persecuting the church, where was the church meeting?  “As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.”  When Peter was delivered from prison in Acts 12, the Church was having a prayer meeting at someone’s house:  “And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.”  In Romans 16, we find Paul writing, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house” (3-5).   Paul writes in I Cor. 16:19, “The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.”  In Col. 4:15, Paul writes, “Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.”  In Philemon 1:2, Paul writes, “And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:”  Now,  I am not advocating the idea of house churches which are becoming so popular in these days.  As you know, some people are leaving institutional churches and forming groups in their homes and they are calling themselves “house churches.”  Very often, these house churches are simply independent groups who can’t get along with anyone else so they just form their own group in their own house.  I mentioned this house church movement to Bishop Grote one time and he said he had no problem with that if these groups were under the authority of an Episcopal bishop.  This is the way it was in the early church.  The church was meeting in houses all over cities such as Rome and Corinth, but they were under the authority and discipline of one bishop, so that they were believing the same thing and speaking the same thing. 

          Anyway, my point is that from the beginning, even when thousands were being converted, there were no huge church buildings with all of the activities that we seem to think are so essential.  The churches were necessarily small.  Because of persecution, Christians couldn’t even build church buildings to meet in.  We do find archeological evidence in the third century of a home that had been converted into a meeting place for Christians, but it is not until the 4th century, after Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire, that we find Christians building church building for the purpose of worship.    So the church was thriving and growing for 3 centuries without large church buildings.

          Even now, in spite of all the publicity that is given to the large mega churches, most churches are small churches.  Did you realize that in North America, ¼ of all Protestant congregations have fewer than 35 people in attendance on Sunday morning?  One half of all Protestant congregations attend churches where there are less than 75 people in attendance on Sunday morning.  Looked at in that light, we aren’t so below average after all.  We are an average North American congregation.  So, from the time of the early church, until the present time, God has used small churches.  What is it that the small church has to offer which people need, things that perhaps not even the largest of churches can offer?

          One of the advantages a small church has is that it offers intimacy, a family-like atmosphere.  I was reading an article the other day that pointed out that large churches tend to see themselves as institutions and the pastor as a kind of CEO.  But small churches see themselves as a family with the pastor as a father.  One of the problems a large church has is in getting people to know one another, to share their lives with one another.  So, in large churches, you will often see them trying  to foster fellowship by organizing into small groups, and of course, what you wind up with is a small church within the large church.  You have heard of large churches forming cell groups and in these cell groups they try to get together, have dinners together, have Bible studies together, etc.   In our church, we don’t have cell groups—we are the cell group, the whole church is the cell group.  Therefore, we have an intimacy across our congregation that would not be possible in a large congregation.  Unfortunately, many people seek out a large church because it is possible to get lost, it is possible to become anonymous, and when you are anonymous then  there is no responsibility and no accountability.  In the small church, it is difficult to hide.  If you miss a few Sundays, everyone knows about it, and someone is going to check up on you.  Because we are small, we function much as a family.  Families care about one another.  In large congregations, you will often hear the pastor and leaders to plead with their people get to know one another and care about one another, show love and concern about one another.  But in the small congregation, we all know one another.  We know the hopes, the fears, the dreams, the tragedies, and the disappointments of one another.  Like a family, we care about one another, and we discipline, correct, and encourage one another. 

          Two weeks ago, we had the baptism of Grace and Sophia.  Afterwards, I invited the whole congregation to our house for a time of food and fellowship.  Could I have done that if we had had a congregation of a thousand people?  Of course not.  But we were able to invite the whole congregation, rejoice together in the most important day of their lives.  And the people who were visitors, were so impressed, not only with the service, but the family atmosphere that they experienced while they were at our home with our congregation.  One of the advantages of a small church is that its worship and fellowship is usually intergenerational.  I mean we have all age groups worshiping together.  In some large churches you have children’s church, the youth church, contemporary church, the old folks’ church.  We don’t split up the congregation in these ways.  We are a family.

          Another advantage of the small congregation is that it can emphasize and put all of its resources into what is essential.  Large churches have many programs, and they may be good to have, but they are not essential.   The essential things are things like worship, and of course, here, the priority of our church life is worship.  There is nothing more important than the worship of almighty God.  People sometimes say that the chief task of the church is evangelism, but the chief task of the church is worship.  As a matter of fact, the reason that we do evangelism is to make people worshipers of almighty God.    When we invite people to Christ, we invite them to our church, and we say, “Look at our worship.  We want you to come to Christ so that you can do what we are doing right now—worshiping Almighty God—learn to worship him now because this is the way you are going to be worshiping him throughout  all eternity.”    In the small church, we may not have the resources to engage in all the various programs and activities that larger churches have, but we can worship, and since that it is a priority anyway, we can channel all our energies and desires in that direction.

          Being a small church also allows us to channel our energies into the preaching and teaching of God’s holy word.  One of the disadvantages of the large church is that people are so caught up in various activities, various fun activities, people have little time or desire to study the word of God.  You need a great deal of money to do some of the things that the large churches do, but all you need to study the word of God is a Bible and some time.  Since I am the pastor of a small church, I can give a great deal of time to the study of God’s word so that I can in turn teach you.  So, each week, I do a Sunday School lesson, a sermon, a youth bible study, and a men’s bible study.  Do you think I would have time to do that, adequately anyway, if this were a congregation of a thousand people?  Also, you have to realize that in order to be a truly effective preacher of God’s word, you have to know the people to whom you are preaching.  If I were the pastor of a thousand member congregation, how many  conversations do you think you and I would have had in the past year? Any? Other than, how are you doing today?  Good preaching and teaching comes out of knowing the hearts and minds of the people to whom  you are ministering. 

          Another advantage that a small church has is a sense of identity and asense of loyalty.  Out in the country, when you find a small church, people are loyal to the church because they have been members there all their lives.  They probably have a church cemetery and their family members are buried there.  They will never leave that church because their lives and the histories of their families are tied up in that church, probably the life of the small town as well.  It’s all connected to the church, and people are intensely loyal to it.  IN the city, it is usually different.  Some of the churches have families that have been there for ages, and they are loyal to it for that reason.  But in our increasingly mobile society, most people in churches these days are first generation members, they have been members of the church only for a few years or even for a few months.  Pretty soon, they will be moving on to another church because these large churches give them no real sense of identity.  The small church is usually different.   Most of you who are members of this church know why you are here, or you wouldn’t be here.  Why should you be here when the larger churches offer you  more business contacts, more programs, more opportunities, more activities, maybe even more of the kind of people you really like.  If you are here, in  a small church, unless you are here because you are being forced to against your will by your husband, wife, or parents, you are here because you feel an intense loyalty to our doctrine and worship.  Some people just shop for a while and then they are on their way, but those who truly believe what is being taught here identify with the church strongly, and find it very difficult to believe that they could possibly worship anywhere else.  Unfortunately, in a church like ours, some people visit for a while, but they aren’t really satisfied with something.  I have actually had some former members of this church tell me that they our church wasn’t really what they were looking for, but they had to take what they could get.  I always want to say, Thank you for those words of loyalty and commitment.  It’s sort of like telling your husband or wife, “You aren’t really what I was looking for, but I married you anyway until someone better comes along.”  Some people come here and they like the worship, some people like the sacraments, some people like the preaching, some people love the doctrine, but when a person falls in love the with worship, sacraments, preaching, and doctrines, then it doesn’t matter whether the church is small.  Your identity, your home, your family, is here.

          Of course, there are some dangers in a small church.  I don’t have time to mention all of them, but I will mention one that may sound like a contradiction of everything that I have said so far.  And that is, that sometimes the small church wants to remain small.  It is a great thing to have a family atmosphere in a church, but sometimes families can turn clannish and not want any outsiders to come in.  I started a church once and in the early years we built a strong family atmosphere.  But when we started to grow, some people said that they preferred it back in the days when we were small.    Sometimes, when people in a church have started something like St. Paul’s, when they have gone through the hungry years together, when they have suffered together, they have so many family life experiences, and they have formed intimate friendship, sometimes, not consciously, they make newcomers feel as though they can never really be a part of the congregations.  The small church has advantages, but it should never be against becoming large if God so ordains it.

          We are a small church, and we may always be a small church.  But just because we are small doesn’t mean that we can’t be a healthy, thriving church.    Like Zerubabel and the people of Judah, we have a great work to do.  Most likely, it is going to take quite some time.  IN the beginning the work is slow, but it is the work of God.  Do not despise the day of small things. 

Amen.

Read Full Post »

Sermon preached by Rev. Father Toms at St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge on August 2, 2009

Listen to Audio Recording

The Church: The Ark of Salvation

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.  The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.

 1 Peter 3:18-22

 A couple of months ago, there was a rather humorous piece by Ben Marcus in the  Harper’s Magazine in which he envisions a man who has retreated to a cave as a means to survive the all the hardships that we are experiencing in the world at the present time.  Someone comes to the cave to interview him and he asks this cave dweller, How long have you advocated the cave?  The cave dweller answers, “Advocate is the wrong word.  If I occupy a life raft out on the ocean, and people are drowning, I don’t ‘advocate the raft to the them…If the people in the water choose to survive, they will swim to me and petition the raft…In such a case, advocacy for the raft is hardly necessary.”  Then the interviewer asks, “So you don’t need to promote what people cannot live without?” Now, even though this little piece by Marcus is rather satirical about survival strategies, I love his illustration about the life raft.  If people are drowning in an ocean, a man in a life raft doesn’t have to stand up in the raft and beg and plead with people, “Please come to the life raft.  Please get inside so that you won’t drown.”  No, people are swimming, clawing, climbing with all of their strength to get in that life raft, because they know that if they don’t, they will perish.  “You don’t need to promote what people cannot live without.”

             I couldn’t help but think what a great analogy that is for the Church.  In our day, we spend a great deal of time, advocating the Church, marketing the Church, but in spite of our great efforts and campaigns, the Church is largely ignored.  Why is that?  People are convinced that they can live without it.  They don’t see the church as a life raft that saves those who are perishing.   Or in the light of our text, they don’t see the church as an ark that will save them from perishing.

             In our youth study on Sunday, we are looking at numerous things about the church, even church architecture.  A few weeks ago we studied how the portion of the church building in which the congregation sits is called “the nave.”  The word “nave” is connected with the words “navy” and “naval.”  The nave calls to mind a ship.  In years gone by, people thought of the church as a ship, a ship in which you would be carried safely to harbor.  Christians were thought of as being passengers in the ark, sailors on a ship.  All around them were the tempestuous waves stirred up by the world, the flesh, and the devil.  They would have no chance of making it toHeaven if they were not in the safety of this great ship, the Church, that God has prepared to bring his people safely home.

             We have come a long way from seeing the Church as necessary to helping us reach Heaven at last.    The Church is no longer the great ark that keeps the waves of this world from overwhelming and dragging us to the bottom of the abyss.  Instead, our image of the Christian life is the individual believer, in his own little row boat with a paddle, trying to cross the ocean.  Unfortunately, when such little people in such little boats meet hurricane force winds and gigantic waves they are easily capsized.  If so-called Christians no longer see the necessity of the Church, the non-believers certainly do not see the church as something that they cannot possibly live without.  Why is it that the Church is ignored?  Why is it that even Christians view the Church as optional, but not really necessary to salvation?  Why is it that people are not desperately trying to get into the Church?

            First, people do not see themselves as perishing.  As I said earlier, if people are drowning, you don’t have to make elaborate presentations to try to convince that they need to get in the boat.  They are desperate to get in, pleading with you to help them get inside the boat.  The sad thing is that those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are perishing, they are drowning.  They just don’t realize it. They don’t realize that by living contrary to God’s law they are ruining their lives and the lives of the ones they love.  They don’t realize that they are separated from the blessings of God and that they will be eternally separated from them.  They don’t realize, to use the illustration of Jesus, that they are building their house on the sand, and that one day, the winds are going blow, and the floods are going to rage, and the fall of that house will be devastating.  This is why I have encouraged you to make this year a year of prayer.  We must pray that the eyes of people would be opened so that they might see the terrible danger that they are in.  They think that they are on solid ground.  Surrounded by all the comforts of life, a healthy body, a good job, plenty of fun and games in which to indulge themselves, how they possibly be in any kind of danger?  People do not see that they are in danger because they are spiritually blind.  We must pray that the Holy Spirit would open the eyes of people so that they can see the terrible danger that they are in if they do not come to Christ.  If people see themselves in these perilous waters, about to be dragged down into the depths, we will have no difficulty persuading them to enter the ark where they can find safety.

            But there are some people who realize that they are drowning, and yet never come to Church.  There are people who ruin their lives to the degree that they realize that they are drowning in the sea of a troubled life.  Some people have seen through all that the world has promised them and they are disappointed and disillusioned.  They have become so depressed that they find little reason to go on living.  Other people have ruined their lives and their families in the pursuit of sexual pleasures outside the bonds of holy matrimony.  Others have given themselves to drugs and alcohol and have found themselves totally enslaved by their dependence on these things.  Each year, the numbers of those who find life to be hopeless and meaningless increases.  People are drowning all around us, and they know they are drowning, but they do not turn to the Church for rescue.  Why is that?  Obviously, they don’t believe that the Church can help them.  But why is that?

            Part of the problem is that Church itself no longer looks upon itself as the ark that carries the people of God safely to heaven.  For the past two hundred years, we have accepted as fact such statements as, “You don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian.”  “You don’t have to be a member of the Church to be saved.”  How far we have come since the days of the early church!  The Church must return to the three great statements made by Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage in the third century.  

(1) “He is not a Christian who is not in Christ’s church”; (2) “He cannot have God for his father who has not the church for his mother”; and (3) “There is no salvation outside the church.”  Now, don’t try to get around this by saying that Cyprian was referring to the invisible church composed of all the true believers.  Cyprian was talking about the visible church here on earth.  He was talking about the church that preaches the gospel and administers the sacraments.  Outside of that church, there is no salvation.  Speaking of our text for this morning he says, Cyprian–“Peter himself, showing and vindicating the unity, has commanded and warned us that we cannot be saved except by the one only baptism of the one Church. He says, ‘In the ark of Noah a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water. Similarly, baptism will in like manner save you” [1 Peter 3:20-21]. In how short and spiritual a summary has he set forth the sacrament of unity! In that baptism of the world in which its ancient wickedness was washed away, he who was not in the ark of Noah could not be saved by water. Likewise, neither can he be saved by baptism who has not been baptized in the Church which is established in the unity of the Lord according to the sacrament of the one ark.  “We have been so brain-washed, so deceived by the teaching of so-called Christians in the last 150 years, that those three statements sound to us like heresy, but up until around 150 years ago, those statements were accepted by almost all branches of the Christian Church around the world.   Among modern, conservative Christians, the dominant opinion is that salvation is merely praying a prayer to receive Christ.    You don’t need the church for that.  A radio preacher can tell you how to do that.  The televangelist can lead you in that prayer right in the privacy of your home, and you are set for heaven.

            If salvation is merely saying a prayer to receive Christ, then we are wasting our time here at this church, trying to be a church, because we are superfluous at best.  We may be a good thing to have around, but not really necessary for the salvation of souls.  Independent evangelists and para-church organizations get people to make hundreds and thousands of decisions every week.  If these people are really being saved, we need to close our doors, or at least, adopt their methods for getting people in and getting them to make decisions. Last weekend, you may have seen that Franklin Graham was in town with the Rock the River tour.  In the newspaper last week, he said, “We’re not trying to reach the choir; we’re trying to reach kids who would never put their foot in a church.”  Now let’s think about that statement for just a minute.  “We’re trying to reach kids who would never put their foot in a church. “ Why is that?  Why is it that they would never put their foot in a church?  Is it because the church wouldn’t welcome them?  Or is it because they feel that they are better than the people in the church?  You know how young people often think:  “All those people in the church are hypocrites, but I’m the real deal.   I’m not a phony and they are.”  

Or is it that they don’t like the music in the church?  They like rock music and they are not going to sit and listen to some music that they can’t stand.  Is it that they find the sermons boring and irrelevant?  Is it that they just aren’t interested in the things of God, not interested in religion?  So, how do you reach those kids.  You offer them the music that they like.  And while they are there moving to the grooving, and yelling, “Play that funky music white boy,” somebody jumps in and gives them a 10 minute talk about Jesus and they bow their heads, pray the prayer, and they are set for heaven. (I realize I should have used a more contemporary group than Wild Cherry, but the point is the same.  Lay down the boogie and then get them to say that prayer.)  Now, if that is salvation, if people are really set for heaven as a result of this kind of campaign, then we need to close the doors on this church, and get down there right now and rock the river. 

They did far more good for the kingdom of heaven last Saturday than we will do in this Church for the next hundred years.  You say, Well, we still need this church here.  For what?   So people can worship according to a prayer book that uses Old English.  Well, we still need a place to worship.  Hey.  You can worship on the river.  Anyway, what is the worship of 35 people compared to seeing souls saved forever.   Franklin Graham said that in that seven hours of music and testimony,  “These bands will be giving testimonies of what God has done in their life and I hope that during that seven hours there will be kids who will come to know God and faith in his son Jesus Christ “….  Kids on drugs will be freed from drugs, kids on alcohol will be freed from alcohol, kids living a sinful life will be freed from sin with a new life and a new beginning.”  Is there anything we are doing here that can even remotely compare with that?  If seven hours of rock music and a 15 minute sermon can accomplish that, then we are wasting our time here.  All of that is taking place without a church, without sacraments.  If all that can be accomplished without a church and without sacraments, then let’s do that. 

But this is what happens when you reduce the gospel, when you reduce salvation to nodding your assent to a few truths and saying a prayer.  If that is salvation, then these kinds of campaigns are all that is necessary and that is what we should be doing.  That’s certainly what I should be doing.  I’m wasting my time being a pastor.  I should just spend all of my time getting on radio and television, hiring myself a rock band, whip up the crowd into an emotional frenzy, get people to say that prayer and tell them that they are set for heaven.

            You see, this is a new kind of Christianity, a new kind of salvation. It really got its biggest boost from men like Charles G. Finney in the 19th century.  It is salvation apart from the church, salvation apart from the sacraments. You say, Well, I believe that we are saved by faith in Christ alone.  So do I.  But I believe in the Jesus Christ who is the head of his body, the Church.  Is that the Jesus you believe in?  I believe that we are baptized by one spirit into one body, the Church of Jesus Christ.  Is that the Jesus you believe in?  What modern conservative Christians believe in now is a Jesus without a body.  They have some kind of mystical, intellectual, emotional experience with an idea about someone called Jesus, but they have no relationship with his body, the members of which have been baptized into his body. 

Jesus Christ did not shed his blood mass evangelism campaigns.  He didn’t die for para-church organizations and campus ministries.  He didn’t suffer for Bible studies.  He gave his life for his church.  Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church,  not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.  Christ gave himself for the visible church here on earth.  When people were saved in the book of Acts, they didn’t join some mystical, invisible church.  They were members of a physical, visible body.  In Acts 2: 46] And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
[47] Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.  What Church is that one to which they were added.  Some invisible true church that nobody knew who the real members were?  No, that church that was continuing daily in the temple, breaking bread from house to house.  When Paul admonished the elders at Ephesus to take care of the church of God, what church was he talking about?  Some mystical, ethereal church.  No, we read, Eph. 20: Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.  The church that Christ purchased with his blood was that visible church that these men had to take care of, that visible church that they had to feed.  In I Tim. 3:15, Paul writes, But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.  What church is it that is the ground and pillar of the truth.  Some mystical invisible body?  No.  it is the visible church, here, that is the ground and pillar of the truth.  A church that has bishops, priests, and deacons to care for it.

            And that is why we are here.  We are the Church.  We’re not a Christian organization. We’re not a society.  We’re not a fellowship.  We’re not a Bible study.  We’re the Church: a body of faithful people where the gospel is preached, the sacraments are administered, and who are governed by bishops.  And since we are the church, we are the ark, that through the grace of Christ, brings its passengers safely home.  It is the Church that gives us birth.  It is the Church that nourishes us.  It is the Church that disciplines us.  It is the church that guards and protects us.  You say, Well, I believe Jesus does all of that.  So do I.  But he does it through his church.   Even the great reformers, Luther and Calvin were agreed on this matter.  Luther said, “Therefore he who would find Christ must first find the Church. How should we know where Christ and his faith were, if we did not know where his believers are? And he who would know anything of Christ must not trust himself nor build a bridge to heaven by his own reason; but he must go to the Church, attend and ask her. Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people; one must hold to them, and see how they believe, live and teach; they surely have Christ in their midst. For outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.[7]

            You see, we have turned what Luther believed upside down.  Luther said that if you would find Christ, you must first find the Church.  We have said, No, you must first find the rock concert, then find Jesus, and if you want to, if you feel like it, it would be a good idea to find a church.  Luther says, You must first go to the Church, because where else will find the truth about Jesus?  Outside the Christian church, there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.

            Calvin put it like this:  But as it is now our purpose to discourse of the visible Church, let us learn, from her single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels, (Matth. 22: 30.) For our weakness does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole lives as scholars. Moreover, beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for, as Isaiah and Joel testify, (Isa. 37: 32; Joel 2: 32.)  C

alvin, paraphrasing Cyprian that we read a moment ago, goes on to say,

“I will begin with the Church, into whose bosom God is pleased to collect his children, not only that by her aid and ministry they may be nourished so long as they are babes and children, but may also be guided by her maternal care until they grow up to manhood, and, finally, attain to the perfection of faith. What God has thus joined let not man put asunder (Mark 10: 9:) to those to whom he is a Father, the Church must also be a mother. This was true not merely under the Law, but even now after the advent of Christ; since Paul declares that we are the children of a new, even a heavenly Jerusalem, (Gal. 4: 26.). 

You see, you won’t read this by preachers of the 19th and 20th centuries.  Preachers of the 19th and 20th centuries ruined Christianity because they did exactly what Calvin warns about here.  They separated what God had joined together.  They separated Christ from his body, the church.  They separated faith and the sacraments.  They separated salvation and the church.  And not only did they separate them.  They taught people to despise and hate the Church and her sacraments.

            Now, what has been the result of this intense effort by conservative Christians to downplay the role of the Church and her sacraments.  Well, not surprisingly, people are leaving the churches in droves.  Why should they remain.  If the church is not the ark, if the church is not essential to our salvation, is it really that important whether we are members of it or not?  About 10 years ago George Barna did a study about what happens after people make these decisions for Christ:  Studies we have conducted over the past year indicate that a majority of the people who made a first-time “decision” for Christ were no longer connected to a Christian church within just eight weeks of having made such a decision. 

Dawson MacAlister, who is an expert in youth ministries writes  that  90% of the young people who are active in church youth programs drop out of church by the time they are sophomores in college.  The Southern Baptists have said that they are losing 70-88% of their young people after their freshman year in college.  Other studies have shown that 88% of young people who grow up in conservative, evangelical Christian home leave the church at the age of 18.  88%.  What is going wrong here?  Now keep in mind.  These are young people who have made decisions.  These are young people who have prayed the prayer asking Jesus into their hearts.  They aren’t like our little heathen pagan children  who don’t have a real, personal relationship with Jesus.  These are the ones who waited until they were old enough to know what they were doing, and still, 88% leave the Church.  Why should we be surprised.  The Church isn’t necessary.  These are the kind who drop out and become “spiritual”, not religious, who don’t need any kind of institutional Christianity.  Well, you taught them the church wasn’t necessary.  That it was just an individual personal matter between them and Jesus.  Why are you surprised now that they feel like they can do without any kind of religious authority in their lives at all.  On the other hand, what do we tell our children.  You leave the Church, you’re going to hell.

            Now, let’s think about this for a moment.  Think of all the money that has been spent in the last 40 years on youth programs, youth directors, church gymnasiums, fellowship halls, family life centers, etc.  Think of the hours and hours that have been spent in entertaining our young people.  And still, 88% are going to leave the church altogether, the minute they get through that door after their 18th birthday.  But recent surveys reveal something interesting.  A recent survey of teenagers show that when they went to church, only 26% were interested in learning about prayer.  Only 26% were interested in religious teaching.  Only 23% were interesting in participating in discussion about religion and faith.  Only 21% were interested in having a mentor to help them mature in the faith.  Only 19% were interested in a study class about faith, and only 18% were interested in studying the Bible.  Then what are they interested in?  Music and friends.  So, what does the Church do.  We provide rock music and a place where they can hook up.  But when they get 18, they can find their music and friends somewhere else, and they don’t need the church anymore.

            This past week there was a great article on the Time web site by a Jewish comedian named Joel Stine, some of you may have seen some of his routines.  But in this article he was talking about how he had been invited to Rick Warren’s huge mega church in California to do some improvisational comedy with their comedy team at the church.  Evidently, Rick Warren’s church has a night of improvisational comedy once a month.   So Joel Stein goes there and says that he was a hit because evangelical Christians just aren’t funny.  As he put it, I may not be the Woody Allen or Jon Stewart of the secular world, but in the land of the unfunny Christian, the one-joked Jew is king.  He says that he asked the people at the church why they had this night of comedy, and he was told that they did this so that they might could get people to come to church who wouldn’t attend an ordinary church service. 

Then Joel Stein says this,

“This made sense until I thought about the kind of person who would say, “I’m not interested in eternal salvation, but I’d love to spend a Saturday night in a small conference room watching Christian improvisational comedy!” 

You see, this Jewish comedian gets it.  He understands something that conservative Christians just can’t see.    This is our evangelistic strategy.    I know you aren’t interested in worshiping almighty God, but hey, we have volleyball.  We know that you aren’t interested in studying Scripture and learning to be a disciple, but wouldn’t you love to go on a swimming trip with some of our bikini-clad teen-age girls.  Hey, the important thing is to get them in right?  It doesn’t matter how.  One of my friends describes this evangelistic strategy as the “get them in and let God sort them out later,” kind of evangelism.

            People often ask me, “What kind of evangelism does your church do?”  I’m doing right now the only kind of evangelism that truly can be done.  That is, the church doing evangelism.   Evangelism is not presenting a few selected facts from the Bible, chosen by who knows who (who chose the four spiritual laws), and getting people to say a prayer after you have convinced that those four or five points are true.  Evangelism is confronting people with all the truths about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit as contained in our creeds, confronting them with their own sinfulness and their need of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, and their obligation to obey him in all things.  In short, evangelism is inviting people to enter the ark, the church of Jesus Christ, and believe all that the Church teaches concerning Jesus Christ, and submitting to the government and discipline of the church.  Jesus didn’t tell us to into all the world and get people to make decisions.  We’ve been doing that for 200 years and look at the results.  The command of Jesus was to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them, teaching them to observe all things that Christ has commanded.  That is evangelism, and that is carried on within the discipline and oversight of the church.   

The Church must be so bold as to proclaim once again as the Church fathers did and as the great reformers did, the Church is the ark of salvation. There is no hope that the world will ever take the church seriously if the Church does not take itself seriously.  The world may never take us seriously, I don’t know.  But one thing is certain, if the Church sheepishly implies that she is optional, the world will consider her to be irrelevant and unnecessary.  But if the Church will rise above the waves once again, proclaiming that she is the ark that can give shelter to those who drowning in sin, there is the hope that she will be taken seriously.    

You do not need to promote what people cannot live without.  People cannot live without the Church.  It is a fascinating thing that in the early history of the church, before one could be a full member of the church, they had serve time as catechumen’s, a period of study, prayer, fasting, learning about the Christian faith.  After being a catechumen, then one could join the church.  Sometimes, a person had to wait as a catechumen for three or four years before they were admitted to the church.  The incredible thing to me is that people were willing to go through all of that just to become members of the church. 

IN these days, we beg and plead, tell them what we have to offer, hoping they will be persuaded to become members of the church, being assured that not commitment at all is required.    Can you imagine what would happen if we advertised our church this way.  Come to St. Paul’s and begin our three years program in order to be admitted to as a member.  Actually, that might not be a bad marketing technique.  It might imply that that there was something here so special that it would be worth working for three years to have the privilege of membership.  No doubt, that is the way the people felt in those early days when they had to wait that long as catechumens. 

They were willing to work that hard, wait that long, because they felt that they couldn’t live without it.  You do not need to promote what people cannot live without.  The Church is the ark of salvation.  All those who refuse to enter this ark perish, while all who enter, and remain in the nave of the ship, will arrive safely on the shores of God’s heavenly kingdom.  

Amen.

Read Full Post »

Sermon preached by Rev. Father Toms at St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge on August  9, 2009

Jesus:  Inclusive or Exclusive

Luke 15:2

And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.

It is often said by those in the more liberal churches that they practice the radical inclusiveness of Jesus, while those of us in the more conservative churches practice a bigoted form of exclusiveness.  The argument goes something like this:  Jesus received people no matter who they were, no matter how sinful they were.  So, the liberal churches say that they are like Jesus.  They receive people into their ranks no matter what their lifestyle might be.  All are welcome.  Then, these liberal churches look at us and say that we are like the Pharisees.  We put up all these rules and regulations and we discourage people from entering the kingdom of God.  Like the Pharisees, we exclude people from the kingdom of God that Jesus would receive.

          But let us examine this argument in the light of Holy Scripture.  Did Jesus practice the kind of radical inclusiveness that these people say he practiced?  And, are those in the conservative churches guilty of the kind of exclusiveness that the Pharisees practiced?

          First, there is no question that Jesus invited all people to come to him.  He excluded no one.  And in that respect, we, even in the conservative churches,  are radically inclusive.  We boldly proclaim the gospel to every creature that all people can come to Christ regardless of how sinful they may have been in the past.    But when Jesus invited people to come to himself, he did not say, “Come to me.  There is no need for you to change your behavior.  You may continue living as you please.  You need not conform your lives to the standards of God’s holy law.  You need not conform your lives to what I teach.  I welcome you and you can continue living in your sin.”  That is not what Jesus taught.

          Our gospel reading for today is often used to teach that God welcomes all people into his family no matter what they have done.  That is true.  Though the prodigal son had wasted his inheritance in all kinds of sinful behavior, his father received him, killed the fatted calf, and celebrated his return.    But the point of the parable of the prodigal son is that he was received because he repented.  Jesus tells three parables in Luke 15:  the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son.  The point of all three parables is “there is joy in the presence of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10).    The Pharisees had been criticizing Jesus because he was a friend of tax collectors and sinners.  But Jesus’ point in being the friend of tax collectors and sinners was not so that he could tell them it didn’t matter that they were living in sin.  He became their friend in order to tell them to repent, and to assure them that if they did repent, he would receive them.    In Mark 2: 16-17, we read, “And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?   When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  Jesus is radically inclusive—he invites everyone to repent.  But he is also exclusive.  If people do not repent, he does not receive them.

          It is true that in Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  There is Jesus being radically inclusive.  All are invited to come to him.  But in the next verse he says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart:  and ye shall find rest for your souls.”  Yes, Jesus invites everyone to come, but he invites them to come and take his yoke upon themselves.  IN other words, he invites them to become disciples.  If you will become his disciple and follow his teachings, you will find rest for your souls.  But if you refuse to take the yoke, then you are not coming to Christ, and you will not find rest.

          It is often pointed out by some that Jesus looked at the religious leaders of his day and said, “the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”   Some people seem to think that that means the religious people were excluded while the harlots and the tax collectors found a place in the kingdom of God, as though they remained in that sinful condition.  But what did Jesus actually say?  He said, “Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.”  What was John the Baptist preaching that the tax collectors and harlots believed?  John the Baptist was preaching repentance, that people should forsake their sins and live righteously before God.    Jesus was not saying that the tax collectors could continue their dishonest practices and that the harlots could keep selling their bodies and they would enter the kingdom of heaven.    The reason the tax collectors and the harlots entered the kingdom of God was because they turned from their sin and rebellion against God.  The Pharisees were excluded because they refused to believe what John was preaching and they refused to repent. 

          In the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus demonstrates again how inclusive he is.  The king tells his servants to go into the highways and gather as many as they could find to come to the feast.    And we are told, “So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together as many as they found, both bad and good:  and the wedding was furnished with guests” (Matt. 22:10).    So, some people say, “See, Jesus includes everybody at the wedding feast:  the good and the bad.”  But let us continue reading the parable.   Jesus said, “And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:   And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.  

Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.   For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:11-14).  So, here is a man who responded to the call that goes out to everyone to come to the feast.  But in the end, he is excluded from the feast because he doesn’t have on the wedding garment.  And what is the wedding garment?  The wedding garment is two things.  It is the righteousness of Christ and the righteous acts of the believer.  When we were baptized, we put on Christ.  And the proof that we have put on Christ is that we live righteous lives.  As John put it, “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous” (I John 3:7). 

Matthew Henry described the wedding garment in this way: 

“Many come to the wedding feast without a wedding garment. If the gospel be the wedding feast, then the wedding garment is a frame of heart, and a course of life agreeable to the gospel and our profession of it, worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called (Ephesians 4:1), as becomes the gospel of Christ, Philippians 1:27. The righteousness of saints, their real holiness and sanctification, and Christ, made Righteousness to them, is the clean linen, Revelation 19:8. This man was not naked, or in rags; some raiment he had, but not a wedding garment. Those, and those only, who put on the Lord Jesus, that have a Christian temper of mind, and are adorned with Christian graces, who live by faith in Christ, and to whom he is all in all, have the wedding garment.” 

As you can see, Matthew Henry describes the wedding garment as “a course of life agreeable to our profession of it.”  In other words, you may say that you believe in Jesus Christ, but if your life does not conform to the teachings of Christ, then you are a hypocrite, and you will be excluded.  So, Jesus concludes the parable by saying “Many are called.”  There is the radical inclusiveness of Jesus.  Everyone is called.  But few are chosen.  Few respond to the call, and even among those who respond to it, few lead lives that demonstrate that they have truly heard and responded to that call.  Many are called, but only those who repent and believe are chosen.

          Another example of the radical inclusiveness of Jesus is the story of the woman taken in adultery.  She was caught in the very act of adultery and the people say that she should be stoned.  Jesus said, Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, and the accusers walk away, knowing that their hypocrisy has been exposed.  Jesus looks at the woman and says, Neither do I condemn you.  So, people say, See Jesus didn’t condemn the woman taken in adultery, so adultery must be all right.  But again, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”  Jesus didn’t say, Go back to your life of adultery and you will still be welcome in my kingdom.  No, he said, “Go and sin no more.”  Repent of your adultery. 

          We see another example of the readiness of Jesus to receive sinners in the story of Zacchaeus, a rich tax collector.  Jesus went to his house to eat with him, and the Pharisees criticized him for it.  But Jesus said, “This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9).  People say, “See, Jesus receives people like Zaccheus, no matter who they are.  But Jesus said, Salvation has come to this house, after Zaccheus had said, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” (Luke 19:8).  It was by his repentance that Zaccheus demonstrated that he was a true son of Abraham.  Remember how the Pharisees were always boasting that they were the children of Abraham.  John told them not to plead their ancestry.  God could raise up children of Abraham from stones.  What demonstrated that you were a true child of Abraham was repentance.

          So, even in these stories where the liberal churches claim that Jesus practices a radical inclusiveness, we find that the Jesus’ inclusiveness means that he invites everyone to repent.  And if people do not repent of their sins, they are excluded, and judgment awaits them.  As we read in Matt. 11:20-21– Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  So, whether you are a scribe, a Pharisee, a priest, a tax collector or a harlot, the message is the same, “Repent of your sins.”

          Sometimes, the liberal churches say, “Well, our doors are open to all the children of God.”  But who are the children of God?  You say, Well, everyone human being is a child of God.  They are children of God in the sense that God is responsible for their creation, but in Bible language the children of God are only those who believe in Jesus Christ.  In John 1:11-12, we read, He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”  Only those who have received Christ as Lord and Saviour are the children of God.  Others are excluded from that title.

          Yes, Jesus was radically inclusive.  He invited all people to believe in him.  He invited all people to repent of their sins.  He invited all people to become his disciples.  Jesus told us to make disciples of all the nations.  But just as Jesus could be radically inclusive, he could also be dramatically exclusive.    Just as he invited all to be his disciples, he could say, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.   And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37-38).  All those who do not love him supremely are excluded from the ranks of his disciples.    Jesus invites everyone to enter at the narrow gate, but he warns of a time when the door will be shut, and people will beg to be admitted into his kingdom, but he will say, “Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity” (Luke 14:27).  If people do not repent of their sins, they are excluded by our Lord Jesus Christ himself.

          This is a very hard teaching to accept, so those in both liberal and conservative churches have resorted to other methods in order to make Jesus more inclusive.  The one that the liberal churches usually take is to simply redefine sin.   If the Bible defines certain actions as sinful, well, you know, those were primitive people.  In our enlightened age now, we know that those actions are not really sinful.  And even if the Church has taught for 2,000 years that certain acts are sinful, we know better now.  So, people do not have to repent of these sins, because they are not sins anyway.

          Many of the conservative churches have taken another way to make more people included in the kingdom.  They do it by perverting the teaching of the gospel concerning grace.  For these preachers, their main word is Grace, Grace, Grace.  They argue that since we are saved by grace, not by works, as long as a person believes in Jesus, he can live any pleases and he will still go to heaven at last.  And these are people who believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God and who will use Scripture to prove their points.  But this is merely a conservative kind of liberalism.  The end result is the same:  Live any way you please and Christ will receive you.

          As we have seen in this brief study, that radically inclusive Jesus who receives everyone regardless of faith in him and repentance from sin is not the Jesus of Holy Scripture.    Such a Jesus is an idol invented by preachers to make the gospel more palatable to people who love their sin and refuse to repent.  Don’t let those in the liberal churches make you feel that you are narrow minded and bigoted because you believe that Jesus demands repentance from sin.  If you are narrow-minded for believing so, you are no more narrow minded the Lord Jesus Christ himself.  But the truth is, that those of us who believe the gospel of our Lord Jesus as he himself preached it, are radically inclusive.  We invite all people to come to Christ. 

We invite all people to our churches to hear the teaching of God’s word.  In that sense, we are inclusive  But at the same time, we proclaim that while Jesus receives sinners, he receives those sinners who repent, and love him above all things. 

Amen.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »