Last issue I dealt with the 4 essential activities of the healthy Church. These 4 things are those spelled out in Acts 2:42 where the original Church ‘devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.’
Notice there is no mention of evangelism, but I think it is obvious that the early Church concentrated on that, although maybe not in their worship activities, but in their everyday lives, as we see from details about Peter’s and Phillip’s activities, Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Luke and Titus’s travels, and as evidenced by the phenomenal growth of the Church in those early days.
Is there any reason why it’s not the same today? Our western societies are so materially-focused, so cynical, so anti-Christian and so inoculated by the god of this world, that what remains of the Church seems to have been beaten into submission.
People just don’t want to hear about their sinfulness, their rebellion against God and His action to save them. They are only interested in what’s new, what exciting new manifestation is some fringe group pushing this month, and not at all about their eternal future. What can be done?
The Message Does Not Change
Some Churches have given up entirely on presenting the authentic gospel message, others have watered it down to attract ‘seekers’ and others never mention the words ‘sin’ or ‘repentance’ so they don’t drive people away.
Some think the only way they can reach young people is to dress casually, employ a pastor who tries to emulate a stand-up comic and blast the neighbourhood with discordant noise purporting to be the gospel message in music.
What a joke, if it wasn’t so serious.
Unfortunately, many of them are claiming, ‘we’re not changing the message, only the method’. This is a total fraud. Any researcher will tell them that if you change the method of presenting a message, you automatically change the entire perception of the message you are trying to put across.
How can you teach the seriousness of sin, God’s love and the cosmic nature of Christ’s sacrifice, when He, as the Son of the Almighty God gave his own human life in order to keep us from the inevitable and wrathful nature of God’s coming judgment – His loving substitutionary atonement as theologians describe it – if you were to try to present that message in the context of flashing coloured lights, mind-numbing noise and jokey George [or Joyce] at the microphone?
That is why many don’t even try any more.
The Importance of Love
The key to the life of the proper Biblical Church and the way it acts in the community can be summarised in the words of Paul who paraphrased the Lord Jesus when he said: ‘… whatever other commandment there may be [is] summed up in this one rule: Love your neighbour as yourself.’ [Romans 13:9].
If Christians do not show love to one another all attempts to be right doctrinally and in action will be scornfully rejected by the world as hypocritical and inconsistent with the teachings we put forward.
This love is not the wishy-washy, emotion-driven, warm and fuzzy feelings of love spread around by the media and modern society, but the love involving hardship, sometimes painful and inconvenient giving of money and effort, and the very difficult putting of others’ best interests before our own.
Those who know me well will ask what right I have to be writing like this. My answer is that this is what we have been commanded by Jesus to do. Our target has been set very high but we must aim high and genuinely confess our failures to reach the target when our mortality fails us.
The Test of a Church
But the test of a real Church, based on the New Testament, is not just doing the right things or having the right doctrine.
In fact Jesus condemned prayer, charity and fasting that was done in the wrong spirit. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 and 7, He said that some at the judgment will say to Him: ‘Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’
The words of Jesus to the Church at Ephesus in Revelation 2 are very instructive for us today: ‘I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love!’
What is this first love? It is the strongest motive for good works – that we are doing them for Him, for His sake, and to please Him. He is our motive.
This type of love for Him can’t only be shown in enthusiastic worship, or flowery prayer or vibrant singing – it can only be shown in the context of love for one another.
As Paul says in Romans 13:10. ‘Love is the fulfillment of the law.’
Love for One Another
If our love for one another can demonstrate our first love for our Saviour, what then will constitute this love?
It won’t involve living in their pocket, but it may involve a short-term loan or a gift. It may involve doing voluntary work, giving someone a lift, supporting persecuted brethren, donating to Christian causes or doing a host of other things.
One thing is certain – it will involve good works which are only done with one primary aim: To show our love and gratitude to the One who saved us from what we naturally deserve – eternal punishment. If we are truly grateful for our salvation there is no other way in which we logically can live in the spirit of love and thanksgiving towards our Saviour and Lord.