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July 2013

August 30, 2013

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Thoughts From The Cottage

 

Dear Friends

 

When did a sermon last change your life, or even your views? 
Some years ago a British Christian Leader was visiting China and 
on a number of occasions met up with Chinese Christians. During 
one Sunday service the Chinese Pastor prayed for the persecuted 
church in Britain. This surprised the British Christian so after the 
service he asked the Chinese Pastor what he meant. The reply was 
simple, ‘we understand that in your country there are some Christian 
services in which not even a single person was saved’. When I 
heard that story at Spring Harvest in the Big Top it had a 
profound effect on the congregation. Periodically this story surfaces 
in my mind and leads me into thinking about the church in Britain.
 
The New Testament is full of stories of people meeting Jesus or, 
later, the Apostles and being changed. Throughout that period and 
for centuries afterwards the church was continually growing. 
What went wrong? Why did decline set in? The answers are too 
complex to do anything but scratch the surface here. One factor 
is that the church became comfortable and the norm for society, 
as a result it lost its cutting edge. As families grew up in the 
church there seemed less need for evangelism and it was easier 
to relate to ‘people like us’ rather than those outside. A liberalism 
of the worst kind crept in which ultimately led to a ‘believe what 
you like’ type of faith that inevitably watered down the gospel 
and left the church little more than a social club, albeit a very 
good one. All this is despite the good work of people like Dwight 
Moody, Billy Graham, Bob Gordon, Rob Frost, Jeff Lucas to 
name but a few.
 
I once heard a prospective minister describe himself as a liberal 
evangelical. He went on to explain what he meant. He said he believed 
in the authority of Scripture, the power of the Gospel to save 
and the necessity for a personal relationship with Jesus. As such 
he was evangelical but he was a liberal because he believed that 
there was more than one way to express and celebrate the faith. 
Evangelical means ‘pertaining to the gospel of the Christian New 
Testament and its doctrines and teachings’. Logically this means 
that all Christians are, by definition, evangelical. Liberal means 
generous, unrestrained and open to political or social changes. 
As a word ‘liberal’ only came into being in the 15th century and is 
the opposite, not of evangelical but of conservative. Therefore it 
is quite possible, indeed appropriate, for a Christian to be 
Evangelical and Liberal.
 
Sadly in large parts of the traditional church the Evangelical side 
has been dropped leaving Liberal Christians with nothing to hang 
their faith and social action on. Inevitably this has led to serious 
decline in numbers but the good news is that despite the decline 
of the traditional church in Western Europe the worldwide Church 
is alive and well and growing. Thousands of people are coming to 
faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour each week. These growing 
churches have a strong emphasis on a personal faith, the authority 
of Scripture and traditional Christian ethics. In them prayer, 
worship, home groups and evangelism are not seen as nice things 
to fit in if they can but as essential elements of their life. And 
of course in these churches people are changed and converted 
by the sermons they hear – because they expect to be!

 

Ian

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