Sunday, 30 November 2008

Commitment to the Church?

It is true that commitment, or the lack of it, is one of the major concerns facing the evangelical church today. Christians find it relatively easy to commit to that which really interests them, and the church does not always appear far up their list.

Now this situation begs a very important question: Why do evangelical Christians find it so difficult, or even unnecessary, to commit to their local congregation? Why is their local church not as attractive to them as is the local football club? What is there about the local church that is a real 'turn-off' for Christians?

Situations differ, as do the personalities involved in these disparate settings, and while personality ought never to be the deciding factor in whether or not a believer is to commit to the church, it often is. Christians, according to Jesus, are to be 'salt' and 'light' in the world, and in the church they are also to shine as lights.

It must be stated at the outset that belonging to the local Christian (evangelical) church is not an option for the believer. At conversion, he has been united to Christ, and by necessary extension, to other Christians, who form the local congregation of believers. So that is axiomatic.

Now, why do many Christians not commit to their local congregation? Given the wide-scale departure of many congregations and denominations from the biblical faith, it is wrong biblically and totally unjustified for ministers to insist that believers commit to the local church. What exactly are they committing to, and do they not have the right under God to assess what goes on in the church against the Scriptures, and if these do not square up, then the Christian is under no obligation to commit to the local church. To do so would be a sign of disobedience to God's Word. Certainly within Presbyterian circles, every elder (teaching and ruling), and by extension every church member, ought also to bring every conviction under the word of God. If a believer is not convinced from Scripture that a certain course of action, belief or practice is "founded on and agreeable to the word of God," then He is being disobedient to God if he proceeds - just to keep the peace in the church.

If the worship of God in any given congregation is not according to the Scriptures - and this is NOT a discussion on the place of exclusive psalmody in the public worship of God - then every believer is obliged NOT to commit to that form of base worship. If the worship is all about meeting my needs, my experiences, my feelings, ME, then it is not the worship of God. How can any enlightened believer commit to that? If worship is more about drawing attention to the talent that exists within a congregation, then it cannot, at the same time, be directed exclusively to God. If the form of worship is determined by what will appeal to young people, then it is idolatrous worship. If it is merely the evangelical equivalent of 1960's rebellion against all authority - as in the Christian rock culture - then no learned believer is under any obligation to commit to that!

If the church is committed to unbiblical ecumenism, sees all religions as leading to the one living and true God, and treats with contempt the plain teaching of the Scriptures, again no evangelical believer is under any obligation to commit to that local church or denomination. Indeed, it is difficult to see how evangelicals can give any commitment to any ecumenical denomination, regardless of how 'biblical' any local expression of evangelicalism may be!

Again, if a church engages in the deliberate twisting of the plain teaching of Scripture, it is to be abhorred.

What then must evangelical believers commit to? Their first commitment must be to Christ, and to Christ alone as the Saviour of the world. Of course, they cannot commit to Jesus Christ as Saviour without at the same time committing to Him as Lord. This goes without saying. But the Christian's first commitment is to the Lord.

Following on from that, the Christian is to be committed totally to the Gospel that heralded the glorious message of salvation for a lost and dying world. Missionary endeavour must be uppermost in their minds, and support given to that necessary work. Evangelicals must contend for the faith as they speak the truth in love. They are to challenge the church when she fails in her God-given task of preaching that saving Gospel. This will inevitably mean that they make themselves slightly obnoxious at times, and bring upon them the wrath of the church. But so be it.

Then s/he is to be committed to living a life worthy of his Saviour, living as 'salt' and 'light' in a corrupt, putrefying and dark world. Evangelicals must also ensure that the money they give to the church is only going to support the truth. This is a conscience-stirring point especially for Christians within connexional churches that are dominated by theological liberalism, and its illegitimate offspring, ecumenism.

The Lord and the Gospel that reveals His saving grace to lost mankind is to be the highest commitment of every believer. Other things must be secondary to that!


How I came to Christ.

I was brought up in a Christian family, and my father was a minister of the Gospel. What a privilege this was for me! Since I was two weeks old, I attended church morning and evening. We lived in Keady, Co. Armagh for 8½ years, and we then moved to Tobermore Presbyterian Church, and lived there for 3½ years. Over these years, we attended many children’s meetings, and heard the Gospel at these meetings, at church services, and at home.

When I reached 12, things became difficult for my father in the Tobermore church. I started to see that the so-called Christian elders in Tobermore were saying bad stuff about my dad, and I knew in my heart the way Christian people should walk, and what they were saying about my dad was wrong.

That was the start of my downfall towards church and Christians. I hated going out to church there even though we had to. My dad was sacked by the church, and we moved to Magherafelt. I was in second year at the High School and things went well at first. I enjoyed school with my class mates, and we had good craic.

When it came to third year, I started to smoke, thinking I was in with the crowd, doing what they were doing. Things went from one thing to the next. When I left school, I got a job, and started out in the big bad world. I had to work to keep my car on the road. That’s when I started living for the weekends, and going out to night clubs, where my life got worse. I’m so ashamed of my past, but I knew somehow that God still loved me. He knew what was ahead of me, even though I didn’t want to know the Lord. He was the last Person on my mind.

I used to head up to my granny’s house, where she was like a second mummy to me. I was very close to both grandparents. My granny was a very godly woman who loved her Saviour. She would have always asked me, “What would happen to you, son, if you were to die? Where would you go?” I knew what I had to do, but I still was not interested in God, because I was really hurt and angry with the way the Tobermore elders treated my dad. I just did not want to be a part of that!

After a few years, I was still up to no good, and fell in with a crowd of people, and we booked a holiday in Ibiza. When the time came for my holiday, my granny was up at our home for two weeks. Little did I know that it would be her last time to be with me. The morning I was going on my holiday, I got the first sign that God was talking to me. He told me to get up and go and get saved, but I chose to go partying with my friends instead. What a big mistake that could have been! It was only God and the prayers of my parents and granny that kept me from terrible sin, and kept me alive!

When I came back from my holiday, it was only two days when I got a phone call to say that my granny had got a stroke, and that there was nothing the doctors could do. We watched for two days as my granny lay dying. This was really hard to watch. My mum said that when my granny died, there was the presence and peace of God in the room with her and my dad and my granny’s friend when granny went to be with the Lord in heaven.

Even knowing my granny was in heaven didn’t stop my rebellion. About a year after she went to heaven, I was unable to sleep because the fear of dying came over me, and this went on for many nights. I now know that this was God dealing with me, but I didn’t know it at the time. I can remember lying in bed thinking, “If I died now, I would never see my granny or my parents ever again.” That really scared me; but I still didn’t do anything about it. When I was at work, I used to think about my granny a lot, and the song that was sung at her funeral, the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord’s my shepherd,” used to keep going round in my head. Yet, I didn’t do anything about it, except ask my parents some very deep questions about spiritual things.

At this stage, I hadn’t been at church for some eight years, except for weddings and funerals. I couldn’t bear the thought of going to church – it was a waste of time in my eyes, knowing what these Christians and so-called Christian elders nearly left my brother, David, and my mum and me with no dad; even all that they did to my dad and mum, the interesting thing is that they never stopped loving God. This amazed me, and I could not see why they still loved the Lord after what happened. But it left me that I didn’t care what happened to me.

I started taking an interest in weight training and running, and one day when I was out running, I met a friend who had been to school with me. I hadn’t been speaking to her for years, and she was a Christian. We kept meeting each other when I was out running. The friendship only lasted a short time, and I hadn’t seen her until about a year later.

Then one night, my parents caught me drunk, and this made my mum very upset. I then said to her, “Mum, I am going to get saved at Christmas, because I can’t go on much longer living this kind of life.” It didn’t matter what I tried to do to get some kind of happiness – it just didn’t work.

This shows how much the devil was getting me into worldly things. I can tell you that the only way to find happiness in your life is to ask Jesus into your life, no matter how bad you think you are! Jesus loves you!

I used to say there is more to life than partying and living for the weekend. I told my friend what I said that he was into worldly things too. We went down the town one Saturday night, and we were rather away with it. I spotted the outreach team, so I went over to them and asked them a lot of questions. I knew that God was talking to me and my friend. When we were heading home to my friend’s house, I spotted the outreach workers so we went over to them again. We really were concerned about the way we were living our lives. A couple of months after that, I met my friend again – the one I met when I was out running – and we started out walking again, when I started talking to her about God. I told her what happened before I went to Ibiza, and that I was really scared of dying during the night-time. She told me that this was God talking to me, and that ‘God’s Spirit may not always strive with man.’ That really scared me! I told her that when God calls me again, I won’t be rejecting Him this time. I told her that I wanted to go to church. I also told my mum and dad, so I went out to church with mum and my friend, Cheryl. I was so nervous about going, and my hands were sweating like mad. I believe that I was under conviction of sin that morning. I loved it so much that I had to get going to church that night. At the end of the service, the minister said that if you want to get saved to just slip up your hand. It was like God was moving my hand to put it up, so I put my hands under my legs to keep them from going up. Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” was going around in my head that day. Come the morning at my work, all I could think about was Jesus, and nothing else. And the more I thought of Jesus, the more the tears came down my face. I told Cheryl I was going to get saved that night.

I texted my dad from work, and told him I wanted to get saved that night. He told me that I could get saved right now, where I was. The more I thought about getting saved, the more the tears ran down my face. What I was feeling was like making me very tense, so I sent my dad a text saying that I wanted to get saved tonight. My dad told me that I did not have to wait until tonight. There was no way I could have waited until I got home to get saved at this time.

It was coming up to my first tea break of the day, and the bell went off. I was trying not to cry, but I couldn’t hide it. My work mates were wondering why I was crying. I went into the gents, and by that time my dad had sent me a message. The date was Tuesday 5th June 2007.

The following is the conversation by phone 'text' that I had with my Dad:

SL: I can’t stop thinking about being saved. I feel like crying. I need to get saved the nite.

Dad: Stephen, just to hear you saying that makes me feel like crying, too. You talk to Christ and admit that you are a sinner who deserves nothing but hell. You tell the LORD you are deeply sorry for your sin, and ask to be forgiven and to be made God’s child. Thank him for dying for you, and trust him to save you. You can do that right now in your heart.

A few minutes later, I said to my dad:

SL: I have done that. I had to get up and head to the toilet as I was saying that tears were running down my face, and then the tears stopped.

Dad: May God bless you, my precious son.

SL: I want to buy a Bible. What one should I go for, one with the big print?

Dad: I’ll let you see mine when I get home.

SL: That will do. Have you told mum yet?

Dad: Not yet. It would be nice if you told her.

SL: I will do the nite. I still feel tears when I think of what I’ve become.

Dad: That shows how deeply God’s grace has touched you.

In the toilet that Tuesday, I experienced something that I had never experienced before. I knew that Jesus had come into my heart, and that I was now a child of God.

I texted all my friends and told them that I had become a Christian.

Now I love going to church, I love hearing the Gospel, I love listening to Christian music and to sermons on my phone, I love to read and study the Bible, and I love going to the prayer meeting.

My dad told me that for the months before I got saved, he and mum prayed for my salvation, and they reminded God of the promises He made when I was baptised, and they held Him to those promises. I am a Christian today, because God keeps His promises to save His covenant children. Now I want to live for Him, not for myself.