THE CHURCH'S CONFIDENCE IN CHRIST.

When Nelson Mandela was put in prison, the South African government announced a 'National State of Emergency': tightened the existing laws on apartheid, and made new ones. Despite little hope of change for the good:  the A.N.C. or African National Congress, made a positive statement.
 
“Although we are a political organization; whose intentions towards the government are peaceful: we are regarded and treated as enemies. We must stick together; for it is only when we do so, that we have any hope of achieving what we are aiming at.
 
When we think, speak, and act together, we are taken notice of; we are listened to; and we do feel confident that, one day, freedom will be ours”.  Eventually: the confidence shown by the A.N.C. became fully vindicated.
 
A similar situation existed, in Jerusalem, in the earliest days of the Church. The powerful teaching and preaching ministries of the Apostles: attracted large numbers of people away from Judaism, and added them to the Christian Church. What to do about it all?
 
The Jewish leaders declared something like a 'National State of Emergency': and put Peter and John in prison, overnight.
 
When the Apostles were released, the following morning: they were threatened with worse to come, if they continued to preach Christ to the people. Disregarding the threats; they went straight back to their fellow Christians; and held a prayer meeting, which brought about dramatic results. Out of that fellowship; they were so strengthened by shared faith; and by mutual confidence in Christ: that they went onto the streets once more; to preach; to heal the sick, and to undertake all that the Lord gave them to do.
 
Through the close-knit community of believers: with its very strong, supportive fellowship: each individual believer was enabled to undertake far more than would have been possible, had he or she worked on their own.  Thus it was; that Peter, John, and the others, had the confidence in Christ, to actually minister in his name, in many and varying situations; with boldness; with authority, and with results.
 
Because they knew exactly who they were, to whom they belonged, and what they were about: the Apostles were effective in establishing the Church more firmly, and in helping it to grow. But: what of today?
 
Many of today’s individual Christians, and even entire congregations: do not have that ‘definite’ and ‘effective’ expectation of the Church: because they have never been encouraged to see, or take a firm hold of, its God-given, supportive and strengthening nature as a gathered body of believers.
Without a strong vision of togetherness and sharing: such Christians usually see faith as a personal thing: that they do their best to go along with. For some: the friendly background, of Church life, and practice, helps them along. Others seem to feel almost obliged to ‘go it alone’.
 
People who do not share faith and hope, at deep levels: have only their own understanding and experience to judge things by, and to build upon. All too easily: those with limited understanding and experience; develop an equally limited view of what the Church is really all about: making them unaware that full confidence in Christ is best revealed and experienced within the unity of the Church that he founded, and commissioned.
 
The lack of understanding, and small experience  – on the part of so many of today’s Christians – is greatly surpassed by an almost complete lack of interest in the Church, on the part of most people, throughout Britain.
 
There is a radical difference between the witness of the early Church, at Jerusalem, and today’s Church. Then: the people responded to the good things that they saw happening all around; things that encouraged them to listen to what was being said, and made them want to become a part of it all. Here, in Britain; in this 21st Century: there seems to be very little about the Church, that is so eye-catching; that it stops people in their tracks; and causes them to want to hear the message that Christ entrusted to it.
 
Although the Church does a good job, in looking after its own members: it seems, largely, to have given up, on the world all around. It seldom actually offers its God-given ministries, to the world that it claims to serve.
 
And the Church very seldom makes media-statements about God’s mercy, love and grace: and his good intentions towards the world that he loves.
 
Not surprisingly, in an age of amazing information technology: with its constant flood of communication: the Church hardly gets a mention: except, of course, when a whiff of scandal gives it front-page headlines.
 
Recently: I analysed one day’s television programmes. I found that B.B.C.1 & B.B.C.2: each broadcasting 24 hours a day, offered nothing at all that was even religious, let alone Christian. B.B.C. Radio 2 + Radio 4: each broadcasting 24 hours a day, offered, between them, a 3-minute‘Thought for the Day’ and a 45-minute ‘Daily Service’.
 
It is easy to blame the media, and to say what could be done: and just as easy to say what the Church should be doing – if it really got down to it. What does make things difficult; is when the Church, at whatever level, offers dubious reasons to explain why it is not promoting the Christ-given, Spirit-empowered ministries entrusted to it.
 
In 40-plus years of attending synods and conferences: I heard various reasons reported: one of which, seemed, to me, to sum up all the rest.
 
It said: ‘Faith is not a product. God did not send Christ into the world, to be like a salesman; promoting faith on a ‘Buy now: while stocks last’, basis. Nor did God call us to be salesmen, either. Instead: he expects us to welcome into our churches, those whom he sends; and then build them into our memberships’.
 
By divine gift: great faith belongs to the Holy Church of God, of which we are a part.  By the same divine gift: the fullness of confidence in Christ also, belongs to the gathered people, who form the ‘Body of Christ’.
 
However: the vision of what is best: is, so very often, obscured by habitual thinking that disallows the wider view of what is available. I believe that one very strong, habitual attitude; that obscures the wider view of what Christ has made available, to his people, and to the world, is this:-
 
Most Christians, when they come together in services of worship, meetings and rallies; have a sense of belonging and sharing; of a common faith, and all the rest of it, while they are there, together, under one roof.
 
Very few of them have such a strong sense of the power and importance of the gathered Church: that they come to see it; and themselves, as being in direct descent from the Church as Christ commissioned it; and in direct descent from the vibrantly alive faith that Peter and John experienced.
 
After services: very few of people will take home a lasting, spiritual uplift; and ongoing vision, that will enrich their lives until the next gathering. This is because they see 'Church' as an event that takes place once or twice a week, rather than as an ongoing Way of Living: and that, once the 'event' is over, you get on with ordinary life. This attitude creates the lack of confidence, to be found in the lives of so many Christians, and the congregations to which they belong.
 
Such Christians do not view the Church, as a living, God-empowered 'Body of Christ', of which they are effective members, and from which they reach out into the situations and events of the world with boldness, authority, and with God-given good results.
 
Instead, and so often, they see themselves as being on their own: loved by God, yes! – Sustained by faith and by prayer, yes! – Loved and supported by others, in the congregation yes!  - but spiritually, on their own.
 
Also: such Christians usually see the Church's ‘Confidence in Christ’, and other great, spiritual matters; as belonging to a mystical ‘elsewhere’ to which he or she may have recourse; through faith, prayer and all the rest; rather than seeing that those great matters are an integral part of the unity, purpose, belonging and sharing that Christ brought into being when he established his Church.
 
The Lord Jesus Christ, created an undivided Church: that soon became much divided: through historical, denominational schism's. However: I believe that far greater division is caused, every day, by great numbers of Christians who claim to be part of what Christ brought into being.
 
Their personal, habitual, misunderstandings, or lack of understanding, of what the Church is really all about: causes them to be altogether too content with the little that they have. Such contentment also causes them to fail to seek the true riches of Christ: and the fulfilment of his call of them.
 
Peter and John belonged to the very early Church, with its powerful and enabling sense of belonging. When they stepped out of the worship and fellowship meetings; onto the streets, and into various situations needing ministry; they were effective, because they had not left anything behind.
 
Instead, they took with them, onto the streets, all of the meaning, confidence and power that belonged to the gathered 'Body of Christ', from which they could not be separated by mere time and distance, and of which they knew themselves to be a living extension.
 
When the early Church stood up, and got counted, in ancient Jerusalem; the people all around, turned to it; and many placed their confidence in it; accepted Christ into their lives; and became added to the Kingdom of God.
 
But all of that: was then. What of the Church, today? How firm is its mutual confidence in Christ: and how clear is its vision of its Lord’s requirements? In Britain, today: the Church is faced with something like a ‘State of Emergency’. Perhaps we, too, need to make a definite statement; along these lines, and prayerfully work towards its positive conclusion.
 
“In a world that, largely, disregards us: we are a Christian body; whose intentions are peaceful.
 
We must develop a stronger and clearer sense of unity: for it is only when we think, speak and act out of mutual faith, and shared vision; that confidence in Christ, is best experienced and expressed. It is only when we are mutually strengthened and encouraged do so; that we have real hope of fulfilling what our Lord has called us to be, and to do”.    Amen.