(Luke 5:1-11) J G White ~ 11 am, Sun, Jan 24, 2021, UBC Digby
Why Church? Why the Christian Church?
To save and be saved.
Certainly we of the Baptist brand have put it this way for our four hundred years of history. And when the two largest groups of Baptist Churches in the Maritimes united 115 years ago, we put things such as these in our doctrinal statement, in our Basis of Union:
Faith — Faith is a conviction of the intellect that God will perform all that He has promised and an implicit trust of the heart in Christ as a personal savior…
A Gospel Church — We believe that a church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel… In the more general sense, the word church is used to designate all whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
We are a fellowship of faith; we are a gospel church.
What attraction do we have for people? Most find no need of the form of salvation we are offering, if they understand us. They must be finding it elsewhere, or some are deciding they don’t need what we claim to have.
We who are here celebrate the better life and joy we have been given, and we seek to cultivate it. At our centre is the sense of being saved, and the mission to help others into this same salvation.
The many styles of Christian faith can be put in a handful of categories. Studying the Bible and sharing the faith are what our Evangelical tradition is all about. Other believers are more about the Social Justice Tradition – living a compassionate Life, caring, alongside God, for everyone and everything. Or some are in the Contemplative Tradition – a prayer-filled life. Another stream is the Holiness Tradition – seeking to live a virtuous life of obedience and purity and right. Yet another is the Charismatic Tradition – living a Spirit-empowered life characterized by the gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit of God. And another branch of Christianity can be called the Incarnational Tradition – living a sacramental life that ties the sacred and the secular together under God.
People of the evangelical stream hold salvation at the heart of things. This is certainly our ethos; even if we don’t always act like we are saved and trying to get others saved, this is the flavour of our traditions, in music, preaching, Bible study, and so on.
So, what is it we are talking about? What is it to be saved? This must be clear to us, for the sake of being clear to those outside.
I would simply call it a good connection with God. Not a broken connection, a weak connection, a partial connection. A good connection, a right relationship. How that happens to a person takes many forms. For some it happens dramatically, for others it is a gradual awakening.
Years ago I interviewed the great Atlantic Baptist pastor and church planter, Freeman Fenerty. He said, I liken conversion experience to two kinds. One where a stick of dynamite drives a man from one path to another, and the other like a flower blossoming, and mine was like that.
So Jesus uses many human servants, or teammates, to help Him make the connection with people, and set them upon a new path. Today we heard a scripture story about Jesus, a scene on the seashore among fishermen. After an awe-inspiring catch of fish, Jesus calls upon one fisher, Simon Peter, to follow him. He will be fishing for people. ‘Catching people alive’ (Africa Bible Commentary).
The scene here is simply of people meeting God by meeting Jesus. Peter, we see, feels totally unworthy and tells Jesus to go away. But Christ says to Peter he’s just the one he wants, come and follow and I will get you catching people, like your net caught fish. And that is indeed what happens.
When we ever dare talk with people about what our basic Christian message is, we can say it is about meeting up with God. It is about making the connection. A true witness to something is a person who simply tells what they saw, what they know, and not a bunch of other stuff.
One of the amazing evangelicals I have been reading lately is Watchman Nee, one of the greatest Christian leaders of the 20th century. His ministry was in his native China, and he spent the last twenty years of his life in prison there. Nee wrote:
What is salvation? Many think that to be saved we must first believe that the Lord Jesus died for us, but it is a strange fact that nowhere in the New Testament does it say precisely that. …We are to believe first of all in Him; not specifically in what He has done. (p. 325)
The first condition of salvation is not knowledge, but meeting Christ. (p. 326)
We come now to the single requirement demanded from us. Quite often people preach the Gospel to a person by using a number of “points,” only to find that the next day the person will say, “I have forgotten the third point. What was it?” Salvation is not a question of points! Salvation is not even a question of understanding or of will. It is, [as we have seen,] a question of meeting God–of people coming into first-hand contact with Christ the Savior. So what, you ask me, is the minimum requirement in a person to make that contact possible?
The basic condition of a sinner’s salvation is not belief or repentance, but just honesty of heart towards God. God requires nothing of us except that we come into that attitude. (P. 327)
If we were to take time, some day, to go around our circle and talk, we would find many different experiences of God. How we each met Christ in our lives is unique. Some events may be similar between some of us. How we explain it, how we tell what Jesus means to us, is also personal, but is secondary. The first thing is the actual meeting – that connecting with the Divine One that has happened to us.
Of course, many people keep seeking this, when they do not think they have quite found it yet. And out there, outside of the churches, many people are seeking God, seeking what is truly Real. We know that most people around here are not in churches. So God will be found by them outside of church. We know that. That is where they are looking.
Jesus took Peter and the others and wandered all about. Sometimes into Jewish Synagogues, yes, or to a wedding, or a funeral. But most of the time out along the roads and in the villages. This is again where people will meet up with Christ, even though He is here simply in Spirit.
To be saved, to be connected, is of interest to many people, I’d say. Looking, and wanting, and needing and wondering are important things for people around us.
People keep ‘working out their salvation with fear and trembling,’ as scripture puts it. Making a connection with the Holy is not just a momentary event – it happens over and over, and we seek it again and again. When we, a Christian congregation, are a spiritual resource centre for local people, we are ready to take people as they are, at their moment, and help them with their very next step.
E. Stanley Jones was an incredible missionary to India, and a writer, in the first half of the 20th century. He wrote:
Conversion is a gift and an achievement. It is the act of a moment and the work of a lifetime. You cannot attain salvation by disciplines–it is the gift of God. But you cannot retain it without disciplines. (p. 281)
To have salvation at the heart of our life as a church family, we will have a lot of good things to offer one another. Ways of praying. Ways of drawing close to God, and one another. Ways of learning and of obeying good paths. Ways of developing people, nurturing them. Church consultant, Reggie McNeil, says we are in the people development business! When we get to our Annual Meeting on Wednesday, notice, in every report and each decision, how someone is being nurtured. See God’s work.
We are a fellowship of people being saved because 1. we have met up with Christ, and 2. we keep on drawing near to God. Through all this, the Spirit transforms us. So a third thing is this: as a group we also can be revived. Just and we give credit to our Master for reconciling us, and for healing our souls more and more, so we give God credit for renewing us as a group, in this day and age.
So it has always been. The great 19th century Baptist preacher in England, Charles H. Spurgeon, preached this about revival, back then:
“O!” says one person, “if we had another minister. O! if we had another kind of worship. O! if we had a different sort of preaching.” You do not need new ways or new people, you need life in what you have. If you want to move a train, you don’t need a new engine, or even ten engines– you need to light a fire and get the steam up in the engine you now have!
It is not a new person or a new plan, but the life of God in them that the Church needs. Let us ask God for it! (p. 320)
So today, when we feel we need it, we ask for it. ‘Give new life to us!’ A big part of the life we are given, is the capability to help ‘catch people alive.’ Be ‘fishers of men and women.’ Like the fish in the net, caught from Simon Peter’s boat… he and his companions did not do it by their plan or skill. They were the experts, they were the fishermen, yet it was Jesus who spoke to them, and they slowly obeyed, and the catch was awe-inspiring.
It was just a sign, it pointed to the real mission. ‘Come with me, you’ll catch human souls now.’
Catching people alive today is a new challenge for us. The ones we are fishing for don’t want to be caught, eh? Do not forget who the Chief Fisherman is among us. No, not me, not Pastor Don. No, not Andy Stanley, or Francis Chan or the late Billy Graham. We have the same Captain that Simon Peter, John and Andrew had. We have Jesus. At His command we assist Him to save others.
At His command they are caught alive.
At His command we are saved.
PRAYER Let us pray.
Master and Maker of creation, You make us and remake us. You bless and rebuild the world. You welcome us into the saving work of Jesus. Do it again, we pray! Save us, and save others. May you catch people alive, in our shallow waters.
And in this week of prayer for Christian unity, we bless the other congregations who are our neighbours. May their people, their pastors, their buildings, their budgets, their work and worship done in Your name all be greater this year. Be our Team Captain, for the sake of our corner of the world. Lead us and inspire us, Christ, in this age.
In Your great name we pray. AMEN.