A RENEWED CHURCH
Opening of Rebuilt Ararat Church of Christ.
1 Peter 2:4-10
13th February 2005
Our nation is facing dramatic change. We live in a land of peace and prosperity, with sound, democratically elected governments, with growing accountability from those in positions of authority, and a high level of personal morality. Yet such is the rate of change, the conflict with different cultural and religious demands, the decline in personal ethics, the threat of terrorism, the confusion caused by our traditional laid-back approach and new emphasis upon tolerance as the supreme virtue, that many people are fearful of the future. It is a changing Australia. But it still is our Australia. Is there anything to give us hope for the future?
In the same way the Church in Australia is facing immense change. It no longer enjoys many of the privileges it once had. Competing religions, especially fundamentalist Islam is making large demands for relatively small groups of people in the big cities. Political correctness causes many to shy away from supporting Christianity lest they offend someone. Traditional Christian festivals like Christmas and Easter cause many commercial businesses and municipal Councils to avoid publicity of the name of Jesus, or the erection of Christmas manger scenes. Schools want not only to be secular but atheist in their teaching. Many churches and Christians have ceased to be centres of the proclamation of the Gospel, becoming rather meek social clubs who would rather be thought of as nice than Biblical. Is there any hope? Can the church deliver cohesion and hope?
The Ararat Church of Christ always believed it was. It was made of stern stuff. In February 1915, six people covenanted together and signed a document: “We the undersigned immersed believers in Jesus Christ, agree to unite to form the Church of Christ in Ararat. And having covenanted with God do herby covenant with each other to take the New Testament as our sole rule of faith and to practice and faithfully observe the ordinances as therein revealed to us. We pledge ourselves to do all in our power to promote the peace, unity and prosperity of this church and to advance the Kingdom of Christ in all the world.”
The Church met in the Lyceum Theatre. In my time in 1965, one of the original members was still worshipping with us, Mrs T Boyle. Baptisms were conducted in the City Baths. In 1921 a tent Mission with E.C.Hinrichsen and Les Brooker was held. As a young man I knew them both. In February 1922 a large church was built and B.J.Combridge came as first full time minister. He was one of my mentors. A subsequent minister, Mr W.A.Wigney, was the minister later of Box Hill where Beverley and I grew up. The brick hall at the back was built during Mr Dick Ducket’s ministry. In 1965 we built the hall between the church and the old hall, the large kitchen and a new toilet block. A new manse was then purchased. I drew up a “Plan for Progress” which involved changes to the church which, today, forty years later, we open.
During that year we averaged over 80 present at both morning and even services, a Sunday School of 120 children plus 22 teachers, 50 boys plus 11 leaders in the boys Explorers, and 31 plus 5 leaders in the Good Companions, 35 in the Teenage fellowship, and Young adult fellowship. In 1964 I organised Teen Week, and in that one week, 261 adults made commitments to Christ. I baptised over 80 people in one year. It was a church that delivered hope to both believers and the community.
1. CAN THE CHURCHES DELIVER TODAY?
Some mainline churches are divided over lack of commitment to the Scriptures as the only revelation of God. Some churches are politically aligned and spokespersons speak to every issue along predictable ideological lines not supported by a majority of their members. Some churches have turned inward to personal feeling rather than confront the difficulties facing our nation.
The very organism that people should be able to turn to in confidence, is itself in crisis. These churches are showing signs of wear and tear and lack of direction. They adopt a religious pluralism that believes no one can be ever wrong and a post-modernism which declares everything is subjective, open to your own opinion. With these people, what is important is not the Bible, nor what Christians believe, but what is your story. They believe one view is as good as any other.
They believe everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes. Those attitudes will never help Australia. For these Churches, Christianity has become a form not a force. Faith is a performance not a person. It is religion not a relationship. They minister by remote control, preach by memory. They have no fire, no fervour, no friendship with the living Jesus.
These churches spend their time on what Kennon Callahan calls “protecting their place on the face of the cliff.” In mountain climbing, climbers can find themselves on the face of a cliff without a handhold or foothold ahead or behind. In that predicament many freeze. They cling for dear life. They fear any move could mean the abyss below.
Many churches become frozen on the face of the cliff. They cannot find anything in their history that would save them. They cannot see anything hopeful. They became preoccupied with maintenance, membership, and money. That kind of church has no relevance to the needs of Australia in the twenty first century.
2. IS THERE ANY HOPE FOR OUR FUTURE?
A crisis abounds in nation and church. Where is an answer? Only commitment to Jesus Christ offers us hope. Jesus made the laws of Moses tougher and the standard of morality among His followers harder. He was marginalised because of His teachings and His close association with the poor, the rejected and the leprous, put Him offside with everyone from the Pharisees to the Romans.
Yet Jesus Christ became, through the Cross and Resurrection, the Messiah of all. He will one day return to establish God’s Kingdom and reign on earth as in heaven. Our only hope lies in committed Christians, obedient to the scriptures, who pray for the governments and witness to their faith, and who are willing to live under the authority of the Word of God. Will our nation continue to decline or can individuals find in Jesus Christ the deep answer?
3. GOD CALLS HIS WITNESSES.
Christianity is not a way of life. It is not Western culture. It is not conformity to a standard of living. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ who sends us as His ambassadors of reconciliation. We need Christians who are committed to Jesus Christ, who live in obedience to the Word of God, and who are courageous enough to do the work of the prophet. Jesus confronted the economic and political power structures of His day, out of His commitment to God. He died on a Cross, not because He dared to change hymn-numbers, but because He cared for the poor and was prepared to confront and change practices and policies of injustice. That is what I am committed to do in the NSW Parliament. Chuck Colson said “What we do must flow from who we are. Christians must contend for biblically informed morality and justice in the halls of power. That balance keeps our ethics and our activism in proper perspective. I urge you to hold tightly to your courage and your moral convictions during the stressful days ahead. This is no time to wimp out!”
God promised: 2 Chron 7:14 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Peter encouraged the Christian of his day as they lived in an aggressive and non-believing world by reminding them that they were part of God’s Church, a ell of the ever lasting church, livings stones.
As you come to him, the living Stone — rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message — which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:4-10
Tomorrow, Monday, February 14 is St. Valentine’s Day, a day for lovebirds, named after a godly man who served Christ early in Church history. Valentine lived under Roman Emperor Claudius II whose reign was spent in war fighting rebellion and opposition. His devotion to war led the Emperor to declare that no young men of fighting age could be married. They needed to be focused on being soldiers. But a Christian priest named Valentine opposed Claudius’ decree and married young Roman soldiers in secret. When Valentine would not worship Caesar as Lord he was imprisoned. While in prison, he ministered the Gospel of Christ to his jailors. One jailor asked him to pray for his blind daughter. Valentine prayed for the girl and she regained her sight. When the news reached the Emperor that Valentine was making converts even while in prison, he had Valentine beheaded. Young Valentine sent a note to the healed girl just before his execution, signing it, “from your Valentine”. The power of love ultimately triumphs. Christians with that commitment will renew our church and revive our nation.