Sunday Night Live Sermons
OUR BIBLICAL IMPERATIVES AND GOALS
My Favourite Scripture Passages
Twenty eight years ago this week, the Uniting Church in Australia came into being. It was born into much hope and promise. Today our denomination is in crisis. Membership is rapidly falling. Large numbers of people have left for other denominations. Whole congregations have turned their backs on their properties and walked away to start meeting under a new name in school halls. We have gone from being the third largest denomination in Australia to possibly the fifth. Former Sydney Presbytery Secretary, and current the Reforming Alliance Co-ordinator, Peter Bentley, said at Wesley Mission last week, : “I would expect that if the Next Assembly of the Uniting Church does not reject Resolution 84 and come out strongly to affirm Biblical standards on issues like homosexual ministry, that between 15 and 18 thousand members will leave the church. This is on top of all of those who have already left, some 6000 in the past twelve months alone.” The Assembly is in financial trouble. The NSW Synod has taken $2.5 million to fund new appointments in Aged Care following the sacking of many aged care boards and volunteers in the hope of getting a better return on our aged care facilities. There are deficits in the Synod office. Our Church has the oldest average age of any denomination. Two thirds of our members are females over 60 years of age. In spite of all the talk about ethnic congregations we are have the highest percentage of Anglo members of any denomination. We have the lowest retention rate of young adults of any denomination. We have condoned immoral lifestyles among some people in leadership. And we do not have any publicly identifiable leaders who care enough to commit themselves to strategic leadership. Thankfully, there is a starting point towards recovery.
An American lawyer sought an US Federal Housing Authority loan for a client. He was told the loan would be granted if he could prove satisfactory title to the land. The title to the property dated back to 1803. After sending the information to the FHA, he received the following reply: “Upon review of your letter adjoining your client’s loan application, we note that the request is supported by an Abstract of Title. However you have only cleared title to the property back to 1803. Before final approval can be accorded, it will be necessary to clear the title back to its origin.”
Annoyed, the lawyer responded as follows: “I note that you wish to have title extended further than the 194 years covered by the present application. I was unaware that any educated person in this country, particularly those working in the property area, would not know that Louisiana was purchased, by the U.S., from France in 1803, the year of origin identified in our application. For the edification of uninformed bureaucrats, the title to the land prior to U.S. ownership was obtained from France, which had acquired it by Right of Conquest from Spain. The land came into the possession of Spain by Right of Discovery made in the year 1492 by a sea captain Christopher Columbus, who had been supported by the Spanish monarch, Isabella. Queen Isabella, being a pious woman and almost as careful about titles as the FHA, took the precaution of securing the blessing of the Pope before she sold her jewels to finance Columbus’ expedition. Now the Pope, as I’m sure you may know, is the emissary of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God, it is commonly accepted, created this world.
Therefore, I believe it is safe to presume that God also made that part of the world called Louisiana. God, therefore, would be the owner of origin and His origins date back, to before the beginning of time, the world as we know it, and the FHA. I hope you find God’s original claim to be satisfactory. Now, may we have our loan?” The loan was approved.
The starting point is always the origins to find true ownership and whenever we want to find out how we as a church should operate, it is not by having a vote a members, or by adopting the current standards of society or by what some assembly should decide, for all of these have been wrong in the past. The only authority is to find the original instructions, written in the Bible, and to follow them. These are our Biblical Imperatives and Goals. I remember them by their initials: B.I.G.: “Think BIG!” But does the Uniting Church recognize Biblical imperatives and goals? “Yes, Absolutely”, say some of our Church leaders. “No. Absolutely not.” say others. “Maybe. Sometimes. It depends,” say others. So who is right? For a long time that question was unnecessary. Christians didn’t even need to ask such questions. But then the revelation that some church leaders in our Synod and Assembly Officers were living in immoral relationships including a Moderator and General Secretary, that some very highly placed leaders were committing adultery, and some were living in same sex relationships. They excused their behaviour by claiming to hold a modern attitude to the Biblical imperatives. These modern attitudes supported public statements that horrified members on issues like homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia and the like.
Christians were forced to answer that question about Biblical imperatives and goals. Christians should not have to answer ultimate questions of faith and commitment simply on the basis of newspaper stories of trendy clergy seeking to justify their behaviour. But we need to get back to the original instructions, accepted by the church for two thousand years. These are our mandates for ministry, our objectives to be achieved as a church, our requirements for growth, our commands given by the Lord for His people; our orders to be obeyed as soldiers of Christ; our instructions to be understood as disciples of Jesus; our call to follow as sheep behind our Shepherd. Our Biblical Imperatives and Goals are our guidelines to be followed as a true church of Jesus Christ as we minister in His name.
Our Biblical Imperatives and Goals indicate what kind of Church we need to be for the twenty-first century. We want to know God’s Word and obey it. We want to worship God more meaningfully. We want to share our lives with others more fully; share the hope of Christ within us; share our resources with those in need; be more mature, loving and competent Christians. Our Biblical imperatives and goals will guide us in the twenty-first century. Remember: Think Big!
1. WE ARE CALLED TO WORSHIP.
The Bible centres round the worship of God. Jesus said: “The time is coming and is already here, when by the power of God’s spirit people will worship the Father as He really is, offering Him the true worship that He wants. God is Spirit and only by the power of His Spirit can people worship Him as He really is.” John 4: 23–24
Paul wrote: “Because of God’s great mercy shown to us I appeal to you: offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to His service and pleasing to Him. This is the true worship that you should offer.” Romans 12:1–2 The public worship of God is the chief end of man. We are to lift our hearts to God through praise, adoration, reverence, obedience, thankfulness and awe. Here you worship God. The twenty-first century will see those who are young people now, as adults who march to the beat of a different drum. The church will see differing formats to meet the spiritual needs of differing people. We will lead worship in differing languages to speak plainly to those of ethnic backgrounds. We will hold worship services at different each day of the week so we may have a worship experience available to all. When we built Wesley Centre in the city, we built in the same building, Wesley Theatre, Wesley Church, The Lyceum, and John Lees Chapel so that four services could be held concurrently in the same building. Today we conduct fourteen services in the same building in six languages. You need to regularly worship God. Strong worship services are the powerhouse of the church.
2. WE ARE COMMISSIONED TO WITNESS.
Jesus gave his final commission: “Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all mankind.” After His resurrection He said: “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 The proclamation of the Gospel flows out of our worship of God. Witnessing is believers sharing the Gospel of Christ in word and deed with lost people, calling them to a commitment to Christ and membership in the church.
3. WE ARE CHALLENGED TO GROW.
The early Christians had to grow in their faith and understanding. After worship and evangelism comes discipling. Peter challenged them to “continue to grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 3:18 Paul said: “We shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature.” Ephesians 4:13 Christian education enables people, through Bible study under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to know and experience God’s purpose and plan in every aspect of living which stimulates individual and congregational growth. We have a Biblical imperative and goal to grow, in our numbers, our knowledge, our concepts of being the church and in our service as the Body of Christ.
4. WE ARE COMPELLED TO SERVE.
Christians must show the world they are good for something! Service is the price we pay for our place in church; it is the rent we pay for the space we occupy on earth. It is the using of God given talents in ministry towards building the Kingdom of God. Jesus saw Himself as the servant of the least, the loneliest and the lost. The servanthood of Jesus is our inspiration to serve people no matter what their need. Paul said “to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith we have; if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; if it is to encourage others, we should do so. Whoever shares with others should do it generously; whoever has authority should work hard; whoever hows kindness to others should do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:4–10
5. WE ARE COMMANDED TO CARE.
Jesus brought a totally new attitude into the world — the attitude of agape: caring love. That quality enabled his followers to care for even people they did not like, people who persecuted them, and people whose actions they despised. Jesus said: “Now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.” John 13:34–35. Ever since, Christians have known that “they shall know us by our love”. Christian caring is expressing compassion for others.
6. WE ARE COMMITTED TO GIVE.
God was the first to give generously through His acts of creation, His providential care, and by His provision in caring love of His Son, given to redeem us. Jesus taught the world to give. He gave Himself, His insights, His time, His healing power, and in the end, He gave His life. We must be prepared to give of ourselves also. We give because He first gave. “Each one should give as he has decided, not with regret or out of a sense of duty, for God loves one who gives gladly. And God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will always have all you need for yourselves and more than enough for every good cause.” 2 Cor 9:7 Some of us have put God to the test by tithing our income to His work, and found that we have never out given God, for He has “opened the windows of heaven and poured out on us in abundance all kinds of good things.” Malachi 3:10 Our Biblical imperatives and goals require our commitment to Christ. We love Him, and our community, and we want to bring our community to Christ. Jesus Christ is Lord. These are the Biblical Imperatives and our goals.