The Church (week 9, Back to Basics series)

The video for this session can be watched at the bottom of this page.

So, we are back to basics, focusing clearly now on how to live this life into which Jesus has invited us.

We have talked about Jesus, the Son of God, who showed this through amazing demonstrations of his authority – authority only God could have.

We talked about Jesus’ death on the cross, and how in his death, the sin of the world was transferred onto him; he took that sin to the grave, and left it there.  Because of Jesus, we have been set free from the power of sin.

We talked about how new life in relationship with God is not about us measuring up, but about Jesus measuring up for us.  It is not about what we do, but what he did on the cross.

We learned the ABCD of this invitation into life through Jesus – (a)cknowledge we had a sin problem, (b)elieve Jesus is the answer for it, (c)ount the cost, because this will change our whole life, and (d)ecide yes or no to follow Jesus.

We learned that when we say yes to Jesus, God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to life in us.  We then have a whole-of-life journey opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit that we might be made whole.

We have discussed more, but these are the primary steps we’ve followed.  And today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate that day the Holy Spirit was first poured out on followers of Jesus.

This is sometimes hailed as the “birthday of the church”, and to some degree I suppose it is.  The development of “the church” was a very complex thing, but this certainly got things off to a bang.

However in our day, lots of people have the sentiment that they want Jesus, but not the church.  I want to give the church a bit of a shake-down this morning, but in the end I still think God is with his church.

So what was the earliest church?  It started in Jerusalem where this Pentecost event occurred, and didn’t move out until believers were chased out under threat of prison or death.  They went lots of places, and this was actually the cause of the first spread of Christianity, still mainly among Jews.

The second movement was after Saul was converted, then known as Paul, and he took the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles (ie everyone) throughout much of the Roman Empire.

The third movement carries us through most of the first century AD, where the church has spread across the known world, largely unorganised, meeting in homes.  These are the churches Paul wrote to, the surviving letters appearing in the new testament of the Bible.

The fourth stage is an organising stage, taking us several centuries.  It is complex, and a study all of its own.  They develop authorities, larger centres, start meeting in recognisable buildings, establish leaders (bishops), get together in several “councils” to debate right and wrong of the faith, and eventually become the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The fifth stage sees an argument over where the centre of Christianity should be – the churches in Rome and Constantinople argued their cases, and out of their disagreement the Roman Catholic Church (universal church, centred in Rome) and the Orthodox Church (the correct church) were born.  Both exist to this day.

A long time afterwards, another clear stage sees many splits from the Roman Catholic Church during the so-called “Protestant Reformation”.  The arguments are against doctrine, excessed and bad practices in the established churches. The Lutheran Church was born from Martin Luther’s objections against the Roman Catholic Church.  The Presbyterian Church was born from John Calvin’s objections to the Roman Catholic Church. The Methodists were born from John Wesley’s objection to the Church of England, which itself was born from the King of England’s demand for a divorce (not so robust an argument).

The Pentecostal revival of the early 20th Century was born out of particular activity of the Holy Spirit what didn’t find a welcome home in the established churches, hence new churches was born.

There have then been splits inside many of the protestant churches, creating the mess we have today.  It is a long and troubled history.

HOWEVER … all the evidence is that God is still active in the church wherever people turn to him in faith with their hearts.  The invitation of Jesus into life is still here, as is the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who believe.

The natural and supernatural signs of God’s presence and activity still follows the churches along with all our faults.  The love of God can still be found in churches where the people have their eyes and hearts on God.  Supernatural acts of God are still quite common, even if you don’t hear about them much.

I still believe that the church is primarily God’s greatest hope for the world.  At our best we display Jesus and offer his life to the world.  At our best everyone is welcome, and anyone can reach Jesus in this place.

And above all of that I still firmly believe that what the people of this world need more than anything else is the life that God offers; it is what we were made for, what we subconsciously long for, and that alone which can truly make us whole.

This is the gift of the God – the Holy Spirit – to life in us and among, to make the family of God – the Church – what is can and should be.  And that Holy Spirit is most surely here with that purpose in mind.

Many weeks ago I said I was keen to pray with anyone who felt there were things in their life that the Holy Spirit needed to reach, to heal or make whole.  Today I repeat that offer, but extend it in regards the Holy Spirit I general.

Video of week 8 of Back to Basics – Fullness of Life – runs 22:09.