Unlike most of my posts which contain my sermons and are addressed to people fairly well established in the Church, this post is particularly addressed to those who are those outside the Church. I have recently been talking with a number of young Americans who, because of their busy lives and a general lack of interest, simply do not see the Church as a place where they want to invest their time. I hope to provide some reasons for them to think otherwise. I hope that those of you who are regular Church members will spread this post to your unchurched friends.
With the current rise in popularity of atheism, we might expect to find more people espousing that position, but that has not been my experience. I think we definitely see more people challenging the teaching of the Church than would have occurred in an earlier age, more people are skeptical about more matters. But of the people I have talked with recently, few have outright denied the existence of God. They only say that they are too busy, that they don’t see the need to be a part of an organized Church on Sunday morning, and they do not see that they are missing anything.
If asked, there are very few people who will tell you that they hope to go to hell. To those few, I really have little to say, other than that their success is virtually assured. Everyone else indicates that they want to go to Heaven, although there is a wide variety of levels of commitment to getting there. Some are truly committed to this goal, such that it is the central point of their life; they will almost certainly achieve their goal. My concern in this post is the large number of people who want to go to Heaven, but think that they can get there on their own terms. This last part is a distinct problem, and certainly assures that they will fail; we don’t get to Heaven on our own terms.
Most folks have some ideas about Christianity. They know the Christmass story, they know the Easter story, they may even have some familiarity with the Ten Commandments, the parting of the Red Sea during the flight from Egypt, the story of David and Goliath, the story of Samson and Delilah, and few other epic events of the Bible story. What they are generally lacking is a coherent picture of the entire Bible narrative as the history of God’s plan of salvation for mankind. This comes only through study and regular hearing of the Word preached in a consistent manner to present the whole picture and imprint it upon the minds of men. It is not something that we pick up quickly, in a single pass with an in–depth understanding. But there is more than that.
The Christian faith is described as a REVEALED RELIGION. The significance of the word “revealed” is most clearly shown in contrast with terms such as “made–up”, “invented”, “man–made.” It has been revealed to us by God Himself; it is not something created by man, but rather is a revelation of the Creator God Himself to His creation. As such, it is quite different from something that we might make–up ourselves and therefore be free to change at will. Because it is the revelation of God, we are not allowed to change any part of it. This is very difficult for many men to accept, and it is this matter that has resulted in much strife in many parts of the Church in recent years, but that changes nothing about the truth. What was true in the beginning, remains true, and always will be true. What as false, remains false, and always will remain false. We are powerless to change what is true and what is false. What God has ordained is far beyond our competence to change.
The idea of Revealed Religion is in complete and total conflict with the thinking of most of the “do-it-yourself” Christians who assume that they can get to Heaven by their own ideas of the Christian faith. The reason is that the Lord God has laid down very specifically what He has provided as the means for our salvation, and there is no other. Because the plan of salvation belongs to God and not to man, those who want to do it their own way are doomed to failure when they fail to meet the requirements of the plan of salvation. As Scripture says, Matthew 7:13-14 13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Many people outside the Church say of the Church, “they are a bunch of hypocrites, they are no more holy than I am.” They are speaking of the fact that people they know who are members of the Church do not appear to be any more sanctified, their lives do not appear to be made any more holy, than people outside the Church. So they say that the Church is made up of hypocrites, people who say that they are made free from sin, and yet continue to sin. It is easy to see how they may come to this conclusion, but it is a mistaken understanding. The Church is made up of forgiven people, freed from the burden of sin, and offered the opportunity to start each new day without the burden of regret and guilt for prior sins; that does not mean that members of the Church have been made perfect yet, but they should be working toward their own sanctification. This is a long process, one that goes on throughout our life and beyond before we are fit to come fully into the presence of God the Father. The point is that those within the Church are continuously living lives of daily repentance and receiving forgiveness of their sins, thus enabling this regular starting over with a clean slate. So how does all of this come about?
It begins with the rite of Christian initiation, usually called Baptism, in which we are first introduced to Christ’s Kingdom. This may be done as an infant, or at some later point in life, but it must be done once and only once. Each person is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. This phrase, called the Trinitarian Formula, is an essential part of baptism into the Kingdom of God. This leaves an eternal mark on the person being baptized, and they are forever thereafter marked as belonging to Jesus Christ. From that point on, they can begin to learn the ways of Christ and God’s plan of salvation for mankind.
In the company of the others of the local parish, a member of the Church has the opportunity to be a part of the Church family, a body of believers, who are all committed to Jesus Christ. They are all justified — made right with God — by their common faith in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. This faith is what enables them to approach the Father, in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, to ask forgiveness for their sins, with the assurance that their prayer is heard and granted. But they know that they must still do much work to bring their lives into perfect holiness before they can be received by God the Father in Heaven. Thus they work toward the sanctification of their own lives, day by day, little by little.
There were two things that Jesus specifically told his Church to do until He comes again. The first is to continue to Baptize new people into the faith, and the second is to practice the Holy Communion (Lord’s Supper) within each parish. The Holy Communion is something that those outside of a parish cannot possibly receive, and yet it is a specific command of Christ. It should be a part of our regular worship life, something that we receive frequently.
As we come to realize the value of the things discussed in the previous paragraphs, particularly Baptism and the Holy Communion as the on–going parts of Church life, we begin to realize that there is actually much more than just these actions involved. The Church is not simply a set of isolated events that take place for an hour or two on Sunday morning, but rather it becomes a whole way of life for us. It involves our whole selves, as we come to want to learn more about this miraculous God that cares enough for us to provide a plan of salvation for rebellious mankind, even when men have repeatedly turned aside. We want to know this amazing God, to love Him, draw closer to Him, to worship Him, to bend our will to align with His will for our lives. We want to glorify Him, to give Him praise and honor, to make all our lives be lived to His service.
We come to see that a Church service is not really about what we get out of it at all. It is not whether we enjoy the music, whether we find the preacher interesting or witty, or how nice the coffee hour is. It is not about what programs the parish offers, attractive though these may be. What really matters is the worship service itself. Does it bring you into the presence of God Himself? Is it true worship of the Living God? Or is it the congregation worshiping themselves? Is it worship or entertainment? You have a TV for entertainment; you go to Church for worship. Don’t accept any substitutes!!
For the eternal welfare of your soul, be sure you are actively involved in the life of some Christian parish, somewhere!