It is time the church reclaimed the Bible. There are a number of people writing to the papers and talking on the radio who make pretence of giving "Christian" opinions when they are merely trying on a smear of religiosity over their native prejudices. There is no excuse. Their lack of research and reading is in indirect proportion to their own self-importance. There is no excuse. Bibles in the easiest translations are readily available. Yet they constantly want to quote the words scripture to bolster their arguments which are far from being Christian.
1. THE WORDS OF JESUS ARE CLEAR TO US TODAY.
No-one should have any problem understanding the words of Jesus. They are remarkably clear, concise and memorable. The writing style of the Gospel authors reveal their own personalities, but the words of Jesus shine through.
The writers wrote after the resurrection of Jesus to tell the believers about the Lord. Luke records how he went about his task: Luke 1:1-4 "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah....." Luke indicates his careful research in gathering the accounts from eye-witnesses to teach his friend Theophilus.
Luke, both in his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles (his second book) is an extraordinary careful historian. Whenever scholars have ever doubted the accuracy of Luke's writing, further research or discoveries have proved that Luke was always right. Luke always dates the events carefully such as: Luke 2:1-2 "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)"
John's Gospel makes it clear that writing the words and events of Jesus was for a purpose: John 20:30-31 "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." So that we might have life, is the reason these Gospels are called "good news" and are not just biographies.
The teachings of Jesus have a remarkable cohesiveness. The congruency of His words testify to their authenticity. They are easy to understand. Among non-Christians, it is not the words of Jesus they cannot understand that troubles them. Their problem is with the words they can understand. No-one has a problem in understanding: Matt 5:8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." 5:16 "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." 5:20 "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." The words of Jesus are simple, clear and meaningful.
5:27-8 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." 5:43-44 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy" But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Those and 1500 other sayings of Jesus are clear and easy to understand. That is why the non-believer has trouble with them! If you live a life that does not measure up to God's expectation of you, you must silence the words.
2. SOME PEOPLE WANT TO CHANGE THE WORD.
So the first thing that sinful people try to do is to undermine the Bible as the Word of God. They either ignore it, mis-quote it or else question its relevance and authority. The Church lives under the authority of His word and cannot pretend it can live otherwise. That is why leaders in the Church must hold to the Word of God and obey it in their personal lives.
The attack on the scriptures comes of course from those humanists who despise the Christian ethic and want a moral free-for-all in which they can live without a sense of guilt. It is inevitably the moral restraints from which they want release. Then there are those scholars who want to be thought modern and broadminded and they ask: "Did Jesus claim to be the Messiah? Did he promise to return and usher in a new age? Did he commission His disciples to convert the world and establish a church?" "No. No. No," say the Jesus Seminar scholars in their book, "The Five Gospels". They do not want the words of Jesus inhibiting their lives so they simply argue He never said 82% of the Gospels as we have them.
Who made up these teachings then? Remarkably intelligent, controversial yet unknown people from the time of Jesus! That requires some effort of belief! Have these scholars discovered some tapes or manuscripts that no one else has seen? Or are they trying to refashion Jesus in a manner that suits their tastes? It may be simply a desire to be free from the clear injunctions of Christ.
Australians have a low level of knowledge of the Bible and journalists have a poor record of personal research. So when the media proclaims that this or that fact about Jesus has been declared untrue by supposedly scientific inquiry or modern understanding, Christian people are left to counter these statements. Then they are accused of being fundamentalist or reactionary when they do so.
We have seen that attack from a well organised gay lobby this week in the newspapers and radio programs. The public revelation by a minister working in the Assembly of the Uniting Church, (Rev Dorothy McRae-McMahon) that she is living in a lesbian relationship and feels no contrition or remorse and does not intend to correct the situation nor resign from her position, has placed the Uniting Church in Australia in deep compromise.
The Uniting Church must be obedient to the scriptures. In Dorothy's explanation of her situation there is not one word about sin, the necessity of repentance, the acceptance of forgiveness, the reality of conversion, the possibility of a new start with new life or the grace of God which can make a person new in Christ Jesus. The coming of Christ to redeem us from sin is totally ignored.
So too is the scripture's command for us to live in holiness and righteousness. But the church cannot ignore the scriptures. It must live under the scriptures. The church believes in accepting the sinner, but does condemn the sin.
I notice that Mike Carlton in Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald is again writing passionately about something revealing the danger of having a little knowledge and even less research. He makes a point of supporting Rev Dorothy McRae-McMahon's determined effort to remain in her position as a leader of the Uniting Church while at the same time living unrepentantly in a lesbian relationship. He writes, after attacking statements from Sir Alan Walker, myself and Rev Fred Nile, "I studied what was called "divinity" at school and a few bits of it have stuck. One naturally hesitates to quote the gospels to a trinity of such eminent divines as the Reverends Walker, Moyes and Nile, but they might like to check out John 8:7 "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
Well I am all in favour of checking out this word of Jesus. I believe if Mike Carlton had checked it out, he might have saved himself from looking foolish in quoting words of Jesus Dorothy McRae McMahon has refused to obey, which rules her out of leadership. When Jesus confronted a woman who had been living in sexual immorality and adultery, He accepted her but required of her that she sin no more. He did not applaud her as the Assembly of the Uniting church so inappropriately did. Instead Jesus made possible forgiveness upon repentance. Like Him, the church does not reject Dorothy as a sinner in need of forgiveness at all.
It urges her to repent. But it must reject her as a church leader who intends to go on sinning while she works as a minister of the Gospel. Dorothy is not rejected because she is a lesbian, but because, as a lesbian living in a relationship with a person to whom she is not married, she is at the same time seeking to give leadership in the church. Any person, male or female, heterosexual or homosexual, cannot continue as a church leader and openly, defiantly, continue to sin.
To accept her in leadership is to undercut the whole concept of sin and Christ's death upon the Cross to free us from sin. At the heart of the Gospel is the doctrine of conversion. We believe a person can be changed by Christ's power to become a different person. It means that it is possible to have a complete change of life and life style. Those who go on in their homosexual relationships show no evidence of that. No minister can be in a position of leadership who does not confirm the simple basic truths of the Gospel, that Christ has died for them, they have been forgiven and re-born, and they will live according to the Scriptures a life of holiness and obedience, avoiding immorality and lust.
Any other minister who reveals he is living in an adulterous relationship with a woman cannot continue as a church leader. He is immediately brought before the church's Sexual Misconduct Complaints Committee, counselled, told to change his life-style, and if he refuses is dismissed from ministry. The church cannot accept a proposition that because a person is a lesbian then that relationship is different and she can continue to lead. Lesbians have no inherent right to go on sinning.
While such leaders stay in their positions openly living in a homosexual relationship, they are destroying the morale and efforts of people in our congregations who have been converted, repented of their sin, ended their wrongful relationships, and who live lives which are faithful within marriage or celibate in singleness. The Apostle Paul would do nothing that would cause another to stumble. Any church leader openly sinning causes others to stumble, gives no example of the power of Jesus Christ to change us, denies the faith, and demoralises those who seek to live a life of holiness unto God. That is why Dorothy must change her habits or go.
So Mike, what was it that Jesus said to the woman caught out in immorality? John 8:7-11 "He said, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.".. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman , where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11 "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin." That is precisely what we say to Dorothy. "We do not condemn you. We do not stone you. But go now, and leave your life of sin."
Being is Christian is not easy, but the power of Jesus is sufficient for every situation. It is not up to us to seek easier lives by changing the rules, by making an exception for ourselves, or by denying the Bible does not say what we know it does say. We must pray instead for stronger wills, for the inner cleansing from sin through our faith in Jesus Christ, and for the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to face every situation triumphantly. The scriptures are clear. It is just that many people do not like what Jesus so clearly said.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
JESUS AND THE LOGIC OF HISTORY Paul Barnett Apollos 1997
IS THE NEW TESTAMENT HISTORY? Paul Barnett Hodder 1986
INTRODUCING THE NEW TESTAMENT John Drane Lion 1989
JESUS: AN HISTORIAN'S REVIEW OF THE GOSPELS M Grant S&S 1995
BINDING THE STRONG MAN Ched Myers Orbis 1994
RESCUING THE BIBLE FROM FUNDAMENTALISM J S Spong Harper 1991
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