38/97 9.11.97 Scripture: Acts 20:1-24
THE Rev David Brown, Uniting Church minister of a church in Malvern Victoria, was featured in the daily press, in articles and many letters since he claimed to be a homosexual. Actually his sexuality is irrelevant - the issue is whether he, as either homosexual or heterosexual, is sexually promiscuous, sexually active outside of marriage. Any minister who breaks the commandments of God constantly and knowingly has no place in the ministry, should be counselled, admonished and encouraged to repent and change, otherwise be stripped of his or her ministry credentials.
As with many other issues, the leadership of the Uniting Church has been silent on this matter. The Uniting Church is a very democratic body with interlocking councils of opinion, with no-one willing to declare the standards of God. We are a cruise ship with lots of passengers, some crew and no captain. Once a year or so we elect a first mate in rotation. The Uniting Church makes decisions by coming to a consensus on a matter. We assume consensus is the will of God. But often a majority is wrong.
Can you imagine God saying to Moses, "Now I want to inscribe on two tablets of stone ten suggestions. But not just yet. Go and talk with everyone first and see if everyone is happy with the wording and change it so it suits everyone." Not ten suggestions, but ten commandments! Can you image Jesus saying to the woman who was caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and make sure you next relationship is mature and meaningful." That is the criteria of "The Interim Report on Sexuality." Jesus said "Go and sin no more!"
The Uniting Church leadership is silent on the immoral suggestions found in "The Interim Report On Sexuality." By making the major basis of judgement our mature relationship, the Report opens the way for young people to indulge in sex knowing they have the blessing of the Church. It allows for de facto relationships to be blessed and for sex outside of marriage to be regarded as acceptable. A relational theology encourages the ordination as ministers of people living in homosexual relationships. There is no word of hope for people wanting to be changed and strengthened in their sexual struggles. There is no doctrine of sin and forgiveness and no commandment that Christians are to live moral lives. All that is required are meaningful relationships and a feeling that you are mature.
Where are the Uniting Church leaders saying "Sin is a reproach to God. Put away immorality and the lusts of the flesh." Where is the reminder that people live under the law of sin and death, and repentance is the way to forgiveness and freedom? Who is calling the Uniting Church members to live lives that are holy and acceptable to God? The leadership is dumb. One leader said this week on this report: "I am not here to say anything. I am here to listen!" Leadership must listen to the Word of God, but to speak to the believers. Jesus said "Repent." Peter said "Repent." Can you imagine Paul asking a crowd of people to check their feelings and maturity and do what they think best? He said "I preach that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds." Where is the voice of the Lord to be heard? In the rustle of consensus cards at Synod? People are baffled, angry, uncertain and want the voice of the Lord to be heard.
Compare our modern approach with that of the Apostle Paul. We have been following the travels of the Apostle Paul through the Book of Acts as he fulfilled his task of declaring the Good News. Last week we saw how the preaching of the gospel resulted in a riot in Ephesus. Paul felt that it was right he leave that city, and travel north back to Philippi, where Titus came up to report the state of the church at Corinth. Titus and others, maybe Paul himself, went over the mountains into the Balkans, by the Via Egnatia, preaching the Gospel.
He stayed in the region for three months. It was from here he wrote his second letter to the Church at Corinth. He also supervised the collection of a special offering to aid the poor in Jerusalem who were suffering from a famine. He then walked south to Corinth and stayed there during the winter of AD From here he wrote the letter to the Church at Rome, saying he was returning to Jerusalem to deliver the special offering and then would come to them at Rome, and go from there to Spain. Little did Paul know that his arrival in Rome would be as a prisoner of Caesar!
He returned with a group of young ministers, to celebrate Passover in Philippi and board a ship to take him across the Agean to Troas and back down to Ephesus. The crossing took five days. Paul preached in Troas and healed the young man Eutychus who is an object lesson of the dangers of falling asleep during a sermon. They sailed down to Miletus, the port city of Ephesus, to load cargo. A group of elders from the church at Ephesus came thirty miles to meet with Paul and we have a copy of his remarkable farewell address to them.
Paul had been with them for three years. They meant much to him. They stood by him when the mob in Ephesus wanted his life. Now, he was going to Jerusalem, hoping to be there for Pentecost, but not knowing what was going to happen after that, except he would never see them again. Paul's three great addresses and five defences we have in detail, were all to non-Christian audiences. This farewell address is the only one to a Christian audience, to a group of Elders.
In his address to the elders of Ephesus, Paul first reviews his ministry with them. Then he warns the church is going to face dangerous times. (Chapter 2 of the Book of Revelation shows how right he was!). Finally, he lovingly commits them to God. It is a very moving speech. "From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: `You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia.'" His ministry was a personal one. They knew him, saw him, heard him. That is how all ministry should be. I have little time for parish ministers who work office hours and never call into the homes of their people. We must live with our people, see them, know them.
Paul was a strong fellow, ready to face the mobs of Ephesus who attacked him, yet "I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews." He was compassionate and able to cry with the hurting. He was a humble servant. In those four verses there are four things every minister and church leader should be able to say about their ministry within the Church.
1. PREACH THE TRUTH
"You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you." It is essential to declare the whole truth of God. I preach a continuous exposition of the Word of God. It is much easier to grab a favourite verse from here tonight, next week from there, the next week something from the Psalms. This fills up the program but it does not feed people. But when you take a book of the Bible, break it open and work through it verse by verse, you will handle some things in Scripture that you will not want to preach about. There are things we may want to gloss over or walk around. But if you take the Scriptures, consecutively, and follow through verse after verse, you must touch every aspect of the Gospel and over a period of time proclaim the whole Word of God without omission.
We call upon the leadership of the Uniting Church to preach the whole truth of God publicly.
2. TEACH THE TRUTH
"but have taught you publicly and from house to house." The role of the pastor is also to teach. Paul said he preached in public and taught in homes. That is a balanced ministry. We encourage the public preaching of the Gospel and home group study. Whenever the church gets away from its Lord, is modernistic in its teaching, and fails to declare the Gospel, it becomes weak. Where a church declares the whole Gospel it is healthy, growing, vibrant, and full of the Holy Spirit. We have many Bible studies every week in the homes of believers, at our City School of the Bible every Tuesday and our Aldersgate Fellowship. The Gospel is preached in public but growth in faith is stimulated in the privacy of the homes.
Note the verbs describing how Paul preached: He "spoke boldly, persuading, arguing, pleading, holding discussions, warning, consoling, urging, encouraging, teaching, proclaiming, testifying, protesting, telling, admonishing, advising, exhorting.." We must used every approach to get the message out. We do not tickle ears, but declare the Good News, noting Paul's warning. "I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus." The Uniting Church leaders must give that same warning. This is a serious business in declaring the Gospel. Every Sunday we call people to turn from their sins to God and believe in our Lord Jesus.
3. OBEY THE HOLY SPIRIT.
"And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there." When we preach, we do so in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Paul said that he was going to Jerusalem in obedience to the Spirit, but all that he did in Ephesus was also in obedience to that same Spirit. Paul said that he did not know what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem. None of us know what is to happen. Tomorrow is not our concern. Today is our day of opportunity and that is why we proclaim the Gospel as though it could be the last time we have to declare it and you to hear it. This may be your last opportunity to repent from sin, to turn to God, and believe in Jesus Christ. Paul did not know what was going to happen, I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. Paul is speaking as a true pastor, with little security, with much uncertainty, and with trouble looming. It takes courage to obey the Holy Spirit.
4. TOTALLY COMMITTED
Paul had a tremendous commitment to Christ. It was to Him and to Him only. "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." With all of our energy and strength we proclaim that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, and it takes a great deal of vitality to say, "I consider my life worth nothing to me". This was not the first time that Paul spoke in this way. He told the Roman church, (Romans 12:10) "I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God."
Every pastor will say the same. We are called to declare the Good News that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. Paul's ambition was to complete his mission. That is the commitment of all in ministry. As long as God gives us breath we shall endeavour to proclaim the word of God.
When I was called to this ministry and I accepted, I said it was for the rest of my life. It is my great desire to complete my work. Jesus said John 4:34 "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." John 17:4 "I have completed the work you gave me to do." On the cross, our Lord said, "It is finished." Following the example of Jesus, the Apostle Paul was committing his life to finishing his work. In my turn I tell you that God loves you, cares for you, provides for you, and has redeemed you. That is Good News, and the task of every minister is to proclaim it. Your task is to repent of sin, turn to God, and believe in Jesus Christ. When you respond, you become a partner in declaring the Gospel.
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