Sermon 6 September 2020


Changing Times, Changing Church

It is surely a sign of inexhaustible significance that the Lord left behind a visible community and not a book (or a building – my addition) Lesslie Newbigin

When you look up the dictionary definition of church it states that it is a building where Christians meet, so before we go any further into this topic I want to make clear that when we speak of church we usually mean the ekklesia, that is the people of God, the assembly or the “called-out ones”. In other words, the people and not the building, the body and not the institution.

The other thing about the church is that it is not ours, it is not mine and it is not yours. It does not belong to the diocese, it does not belong to the parish, it does not belong to any denomination, it does not belong to the PCC or the vicar – the church belongs to the LORD. It the same way that he says to you and me that we are his beloved sons and daughters, so he says to the church that she is his beloved bride. Loved and precious.

Changing times

In 2020 the world is a very different place to what it was when I was born in 1962, and so the church is too. We live in changing times.

  • Pandemic and social isolation
  • Technological revolution
  • Increased secularisation
  • Disease of busyness
  • Transitory loyalty and commitment

Impact on church

Pandemic and social isolation

  • Not being able to meet, especially in small groups.
  • Not being able to sing
  • Not being able to visit
  • Being in phone contact with people we might not otherwise speak to
  • Time to think about what is important in life.

Technological Revolution

  • People can now access brilliant music and teaching online (can then compare with music and teaching in local church)
  • Attitude that goes with this is to chose what you agree with and to switch off or dismiss if assumptions are challenged
  • However, can also be introduced to new things – music, theology, courses etc

Increased secularisation

  • Christianity is dismissed or ignored as being irrelevant and passé making church going unpopular and those who go as “fuddy-duddies” or strange.
  • There is a hunger for “something more” which our personal stories can speak into

Busyness

  • Being busy has been seen as a good thing – almost a status symbol. If we are busy we have worth to our society. People try to pack in a heavy work-schedule, making a perfect home, sport and exercise, visiting friends and family, keeping up with the trends in the media and social media. Increasingly people struggle to make time to meet as church or even meet daily with God.
  • Children also have busy lives; in our local schools many children have a club or activity every day after school as well as over the weekend, and may have separated parents who they need to visit. This can mean there is no room for church.

Transitory loyalty and commitment

  • Increasingly difficult to find people who will commit to things on a regular basis – weekly church attendance has now become bi-monthly or monthly for most. This is not unique to church – lots of organisations reflect that attendance is irregular or sporadic. People go to a variety of supermarkets, change gyms regularly etc.

So what do we do about it?

We could hark back to “the good old days” and struggle on doing the same things but getting weaker and weaker or we can ask the Holy Spirit to show us the way forward.

Past Changes

Over the generations there have been some dramatic changes in how Christian communities have “done church”.

  • Early church met in people’s homes or by a river
  • Church buildings were constructed
  • Celtic Christians met round the fire
  • Christian communities were set up and monasteries became significant places
  • Constantine linked Church and State
  • Bible translated into the vernacular caused the Reformation
  • Suzannah and John Wesley set up the method of  small groups and accountability of faith which later grew into Methodism
  • Revival meetings
  • House churches, Cell church, Resource churches.
  • Worship as a stage event

Music has changed: chants, fiddles in the gallery, organ and choir, worship bands.

Buildings have changed: from peoples’ homes to specific buildings, no seating to pews to chairs, statues and stained glass to the simplicity of the puritans, pulpits and lecterns decreasing in size. Altars moving from the wall to the people. Etc.

 

Purpose of the Church

The church has always changed. But the changes are superficial, the nature and purpose of the church remains the same. This is because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). We can seek to bring about change but unless it is led by the Holy Spirit it is futile and hollow.

The Bible says that the purpose of the church includes:

  1. Giving glory to God (John 17:10 And glory has come to me through them. Ephesians 1:12 In order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.)
  2. Loving God (Matthew 22:37 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind)
  3. Loving our neighbours (Matthew 22:39 Love your neighbour as yourself.)
  4. Loving one another – as a witness to the world (John 13:34-35 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.)
  5. To carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20 Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.)
  6. To do all these things united and not simply as individuals (Romans 12:5 So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.)

Ingredients to make a good church

As the purpose of the church remains the same there are certain stable ingredients that are needed to produce a healthy church. Other things may be added but if a church is to flourish these are the stable ingredients: (See Acts 2:42-47)

  • Members who know in their inner being and not just their heads that in Christ they are forgiven, redeemed, loved and no longer face condemnation. They have experienced and know the grace of Christ.
  • The Bible – regarded as the Word of God
  • Teaching about God; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit where people can grow in their knowledge and love of God.
  • Fellowship – knowing people and being known – not simply by name but as people. Encouraging one another and being accountable to one another.
  • Breaking of bread – Communion but also sharing meals together
  • Prayer – getting together to seek God’s will
  • Worship
  • Generosity - Sharing resources and giving money
  • Giving to the poor
  • New people coming to faith
  • Holy Spirit

How do we need to change?

It is very easy to say that we must change to keep up with changing times and there are lots of superficial changes we could make. Pattern church has a slide in its building! All Souls in London has an orchestra! We could run children’s clubs, social events, courses and workshops of all variations but I would suggest that the main change that we need to make is to go back to the basics, to strengthen our sense of purpose and to make sure that we have all the ingredients to make a healthy local church. Where we have failed and let God and others down, we need to repent. Where we have accepted second best, we must strive to give the Lord the very best. And most of all let us allow the Holy Spirit to mould us into his image for the glory of God.

 

 


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