Monday, 11 September 2017

Building a healthy church

Ezekiel 33: 7-11 (page 721 in our pew Bibles) Confronted by people who object to the message of coming judgement, the prophet replies that he is like a watchman who has seen the enemy approaching and is issuing a warning to alert the people. If he were to fail in that calling he would be culpable.
Romans 13: 8-14 (page 948 in our pew Bibles) Paul writes "Love does no wrong to a neighbour therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" Works do not save us but we, as Christians are still to fulfill the commandments.
Matthew 18: 15-20 (page 823 in our pew Bibles) The formula for settling disputes are for the greater good of producing a united and coherent community and this results in more effective prayer when we are more united.

How do we deal with disputes within our own church congregation? Well there are guidelines for how to do it in Matthew this morning but what underpins the formula is a very specific understanding of the local church community as a “body” where the cohesiveness of all of our constituent parts is of the highest importance.

And when we talk of “coming to” church rather than “being” church, we betray the fact that in our minds the church is something “other” and outside of ourselves rather being intrinsic to who we are.

The plain fact of the matter is that this building is not the real church – this building houses the church which is all of us gathered together.

The danger of course is that we confuse the two things and end up caring far more about the physical state of the building than we care about the spiritual health of the congregation.

And the formula for settling disputes between ourselves is that we talk to each other first and if then there is still a dispute we get a couple more people involved and eventually the whole church has to make a decision.

It is natural that we try and limit arguments because we have the general spiritual health of the whole church to consider – but why?

Because the church as I’ve said is not this building, it is an organic living breathing entity with a corporate life that must be nurtured otherwise it withers and dies.

We need to be built up in three main ways, spiritually, theologically, and socially.
All need attention and the social side speaks for itself and is the reason we hold dinner clubs and Tynemouth walks and the MU and W3 hold various social events though the year.

Spiritual and theological nurture is more complex but each service is a part of the whole but also courses like Alpha and Christianity explored, and home groups like Dorothy’s group and the various groups I have led are a part of the whole thing.

What underpins all of that is a devotion to God’s truth no matter where that leads us.

Ezekiel was confronted by people who didn’t like God’s truth being prophesied by him and we heard Jeremiah complaining about just the same sort of thing happening to him last Sunday.

It is a lesson for us that God’s truth, however much it might run counter to the prevailing culture, must be preached no matter what and no matter how unpopular that may be.

The sort of God preached in some churches nowadays is just a big soft formless pink blancmange who never has a bad word to say about anyone or anything and offers no transformation , challenge or life.

And this does matter. The most recent British social attitudes survey makes grim reading that in just one year the amount of people professing religious belief has dived decisively below the 50% mark from 52 – 47 and alongside that, the statistics make worse reading for the C of E, in that against our decline, there is one group that has bucked the trend and has actually increased its share of the population and that is the independent evangelical churches who now make up 17% and growing of the total. This gradual long term shift of power is I think in part due to our neglect of the theological and spiritual. We have left a vacuum that others will fill.

But no matter what we do or say it must be done in love – genuine love and Paul reminds us of that this morning.

Whether that be in personal disputes or preaching, we must want the best for everyone, and that best is God’s truth..

When a community starts to coalesce around the central idea that we are a sacrament of God – that we are bearers of the Holy Spirit – and God’s light in a darkened world and not just a collection of diverse people who happen to meet once a week in church we fulfil our vocation.

Being strengthened by the Spirit through the Eucharist helps form us. As we will say later in this liturgy “Though we are many, we are one body because we all share in one bread”

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