Christianity 201

March 25, 2021

What is the Greatest Threat Facing the Church in Our Day?

A Shrunk Sermon from John 15

by Clarke Dixon

What is the greatest threat to the Christian Church moving forward in our land in our day?

Is it the pandemic? Some churches have really struggled, but most have been doing okay, we at our church are guardedly hopeful and also thankful for faithfulness among our people.

Is it changing values in society? Values certainly are changing, but the early Christians thrived in a world where people had very different values. Should we be forcing our values on everyone else anyway? The early Christians did not, they lived their lives in honour of Christ, and invited others to do likewise. There was no thought of forcing non-Christians to behave like Christians.

Is it the Internet? Now that people have become used to attending church from home while wearing pyjamas and drinking coffee, will people want to gather? Besides, on the internet people can tune into the exact style of Christianity they want, with the exact style of preaching and teaching they enjoy. On the positive side, people do like to gather, and many will find that what is lost by not gathering is greater than the convenience of online-only worship.

Perhaps the greatest threat is none of the above. Perhaps we find it in the words of Jesus:

If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.

John 15:18-19 (NLT) 18

Is the greatest threat to the Church, to Christianity, hatred from those who hate God?

Let us keep in mind the context of these words. Jesus is speaking to the twelve disciples here. Jesus goes on to tell them what to expect:

I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. This is because they have never known the Father or me. Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer.

John 16:1-4 (NLT)

The religious leaders did indeed think they were serving God by opposing the disciples and their message that Jesus was risen from the dead. Saul, who came to be known as the apostle Paul was a prime example of that. The disciples really did face opposition, as described by Jesus, in a way that I have not faced in my lifetime.

Some Christians do face that same kind of persecution today. For them the hatred is real. Thankfully, so are the promises of God. People are dying for living for Jesus.

But we are not facing that level or kind of opposition today here in Canada. No one [where we live] wants us dead for being believers. There are those in Canada who would be happy to see Christianity stamped out, but they are probably an even smaller minority group than those who attend church regularly. Outright hatred of God, of Christianity, of Christians, doesn’t seem to be big problem here in Canada.

Perhaps there is a bigger problem facing churches in Canada than hatred, a problem Taylor Swift sings about in a song

I forgot that you existed
And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t
And it was so nice
So peaceful and quiet
I forgot that you existed
It isn’t love, it isn’t hate
It’s just indifference

Taylor Swift • Louis Bell • Adam King Feeney (emphasis added)

Christianity was not likely on Taylor Swift’s mind when she wrote this song, but rather an ex. However, the song does point to a challenge facing the Church in Canada; indifference. People don’t hate us because we are Christians. They just don’t care that we are.

So is apathy toward God, expressed through indifference toward Christianity the biggest threat?

Over this past year I have heard many people say how they can’t imagine how people face these trying times without God in their lives. But some of the words of Taylor Swift’s song ring true for some people who may have been raised Christian but who have now rejected Christianity.

I forgot that you existed
And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t
And it was so nice
So peaceful and quiet

I forgot that you existed

Taylor Swift • Louis Bell • Adam King Feeney (emphasis added)

Some people have ditched Christianity and reported having a sense of relief. They have experienced a kind of freedom. But have they experienced freedom from God, or freedom from a kind of religion that didn’t help them experience God?

That brings us to one other possibility.

Maybe the greatest challenge facing the church today isn’t hatred, or indifference, or maybe it isn’t what is happening to the Church from outside, maybe it is what has happened to the Church on the inside.

Let us go back to the words Jesus spoke on the night before he was crucified:

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:1-5 (NLT)

Perhaps the greatest threat facing the Church in Canada is a group of people known as Christians. Perhaps we are the greatest threat when we don’t remain in the vine, when our faith is not centred on, and focused on, Jesus.

Jesus said “Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit” (v.5 ). Note that Jesus did not say
“If you double down on being religious, you will bear much fruit.” Doubling down on religion is what we sometimes do, especially when we feel threatened,

Doubling down on religion was the very thing the religious leaders were telling people to do in the days they were plotting the death of Jesus. Doubling down on religion was what the religious leaders thought they were doing when they were looking to kill the apostles. Needless to say, they were not bearing good fruit.

Jesus said “Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit” (v.5 ). Note that Jesus did not say “if you double down on your own understanding of the Scriptures, you will bear much fruit.” There were plenty of differing interpretations of the Scriptures in that day. Jesus did not say “if you double down on this particular interpretation, or that particular interpretation,” but rather “if you abide in me.”

The Scriptures are super important. They point us to Jesus. But they cannot replace Jesus.

I don’t talk often enough about our Baptist distinctives, and I’m pleased that our church family is made up of people from different backgrounds. Two are the distinctives are the “Jesus is Lord” and “The Bible is our authority.” Jesus is Lord, and not the emperor, Queen, or Prime Minister. The Bible is the authority for understanding faith and how we live out the Christian life, not church tradition, nor church hierarchy.

Having my ear to the ground in Baptist circles it seems to me that sometimes we have replaced “Jesus is Lord” and “The Bible is our authority” with “The Bible is Lord” and “Our tradition of how we understand the Bible is the authority,” or worse, “my interpretation of the Bible is the authority.” When we focus on our tradition, our interpretation of the Bible in all its details, we begin to divide. Not long after Jesus told the disciples to abide in him, he prayed for unity. Unity is found when we abide in the vine. Unity is threatened when we abide in our own understanding.

I love the Bible. In fact for years now I have been putting in the extra effort to read it in the original languages. But I don’t want to be known as someone who spends a lot of time in the Bible, though that is something I do. I want to be known as someone who spends a lot of time with Jesus.

The Bible can help us break through to beauty in our lives and in all our relationships, if we read it as people who are Christ-centered. But the Bible can also lead to ugliness if we are not Christ-centered.

Not long before Baptists, there were Anabaptists, a movement of Christians who in searching the Scriptures came to believe that baptism should be of believers, by immersion. They were persecuted by fellow Christians, who sometimes in a cruel joke would tie them to rocks and throw them off bridges into rivers, sending them to death by drowning, claiming that now they really had experienced baptism by immersion.

Now how is that kind of behaviour consistent with people who are abiding in Jesus? It is consistent with people who are abiding in religion, or abiding in a specific interpretation of the Scriptures that is divorced from Jesus.

When people who are not Christians hear about that kind of thing happening, they say “who would want to have anything to do with that?”

The biggest threat to the Church moving forward in Canada today is the same threat that the Church has faced in every time and place – we Christians who are not focused and centered on Christ.


You can watch a full video of the sermon on which this is based, or can see it in the full context of this “online worship expression

March 30, 2019

Spiritually, Don’t Wander Off

Tomorrow is the last day of year nine here at Christianity 201. Monday begins our tenth year. This is also our ninth time featuring the writing of Ben Nelson at Another Red Letter Day. He’s currently working through the book of Hebrews. This article is part one of two, there’s a link to the second one at the end. Or…simply click the title below to arrive at the site.

Drifters

Hebrews teems with promises and encouragements, wonderful reminders and strong theology. But it also holds a number of stern warnings. With the promises, it delivers consequences that need to be reckoned with. When taken as a whole, the book disrupts any leanings we have toward universalism and even shines the spotlight on eternal security for our scrutiny.

Aside: Don’t hang up on me. I’m not saying I don’t believe in eternal security, but our study will uncover some weakness in our pray-a-prayer-and-forget-it gospel.

Warning #1

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. Hebrews 2:1

First – notice the “for.” Again, this militates against chapter breaks, since clearly what follows belongs with chapter one.

But what part of chapter one are we “for”-ing back to? …pay attention to what we have heard. What have we heard? Let’s read a couple more verses and see if we get some more clues.

For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.Hebrews 2:2-4

The writer is taking us back to the first four verses of chapter one, in particular, verse two.

in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.Hebrews 1:2

Jesus, who is superior in every way to the angels and prophets spoke to us through His words and His life. He continues to speak to us through the testimony of those who walked with Him. Further, this testimony is confirmed to us by signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

These four verses actually hold two warnings.

1) Don’t drift.

I love that he uses such a visual word, drift. He’s not warning against a turn-and-run rejection of the gospel. He’s not warning about scoffers and skeptics. He’s warning about the kind of Christian that warms the pew every week but does not walk by faith.

He’s talking about dusty-Bible Christians.
He’s talking about when-it’s-convienient Christians.
He’s talking about Sunday-morning-only Christians.

They are drifters. They have not left the church or the basic belief system. But their life is not marked by faith. They live life with minds set on the things of the flesh. Every problem gets the natural solution, and prayer is the furthest thing from their mind until it’s the only thing left.

Paul talks about this in Romans 8.

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.Romans 8:5-8

Don’t skip over that. Here Paul speaks some of the most sobering words in all of the Bible.

This carnal mind, mind set on the flesh, is not indifferent toward the things of God. This drifter is actively hostile toward God himself.

Paul makes it clear in Romans 8 that this one who fills his or her mind with the natural world and its thoughts and priorities CANNOT please God.

Later in Hebrews, we will learn that only the life lived by faith and not by sight can please God.

Have you been drifting? Have you been walking by sight and relying on natural solutions for your day to day needs?

Get out of those waves that wash to and fro. Step out of that sandy-bottomed trap and get on the Rock today.

You can please God. You can hear those wonderful words – “Well done.” But it’s not going to happen by itself. You’re going to have to put your faith in Jesus.

Walk in the light.


  • Looking to catch up? You can find all of Ben’s posts on Hebrews chapter 1 here.
  • The second part of this article — Warning # 2 — is called Neglectors.

December 6, 2014

Ending the Year Well

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A year ago we introduced you to someone new with these words, “The Christian blogosphere is somewhat dominated by American writers, so I’m really excited to mix things up today and introduce you to Enoch Anti from Ghana. His blog is called Truth.” His theme then was appropriate to the end of the year, as is today’s, and for this one we’ve borrowed an October post from the same author which began with these words, “We are left with three months to finish the year.”

Well, now we have just three weeks, and we hoped he wouldn’t mind the minor edit. To read this at source, click on the title below.

Finishing Well: Lessons From Paul

We are left with three weeks to finish the year. Reminiscing, probably, yours will come with a sense of regret or accomplishment or a mixture of both. Whatever your sentiments are, I present you with three points from Paul’s life–what a great person he was–that will help you sail through the rest of the year with hope if you have regrets. Expansion if you have a sense of accomplishment.

These, I must say are no “wild insights”. They are things we know already, so let me say these are just a gentle reminder: 1: Forget Past Failures, 2: Don’t Be Complacent, 3: Focus On The Future. I will glean these three lessons from Philippians 3:13-14:

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Forget Past Failures

If Paul says “forgetting those things which are behind” we have to pay attention to him. He was a murderer. He has blood on his hands. To get a good picture of Saul(Paul); imagine him as head of any of the terrorists groups we have today. He hated believers of his day, persecuted and handed them over to be executed.

It was on one of such persecution trips that he met Jesus. Hear his own words: “And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him” (Acts 22:20). I believe Paul, as human as he was, had to deal with this regret constantly.

The devil might even take advantage and constantly whisper in his mind “You’re a murderer”. Remember one of the credentials of the devil is “accuser of the brethren”. Can you identify with the effects of having to deal with past regrets, mistakes and failures? It can be energy sapping. Dwelling on past failures can breed guilt and immobilise us from moving forward. Everyone, without exception, got things in the past they not proud of. But we have to rise above our past failures and press forward. “… reaching forth unto those things which are before … press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus ”

If you ever admire Paul–you should if you are a believer-remember he is not a product of his own achievements. He is a work of Total Grace. God’s grace made him. No wonder he taught us so much about grace. “By grace are you saved…”, he reminded his congregation in Ephesians. There is no pit of failure so deep grace cannot reach you. I recently spotted a book title “You failed and So What?”…that would make good reading I believe…

How bad have you fared? Put your regrets and failures behind and press on…PRESS ON! God is not done with you: “…he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1:6)

Don’t Be Complacent

“Don’t be Complacent”-that is so basic; nonetheless, I have indicated these are just gentle reminders and no “wild insights”. For those with regrets, I said in the previous post that “Forget Past Failures” and for you with a sense of accomplishment, I am saying today,”Don’t Be Complacent”

Paul, unlike the first twelve Apostles, was a scholar. He studied in Tarsus under Gamaliel, one of the best teachers of His time. He also belonged to the order of the Pharisees–the highest political and religious order of his time. A qualified lawyer; Paul never considered himself inferior to any of the first Apostles, though, he never walked physically with Christ. He asked “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant…” (2 Corinthians 11:23).

It is on record Paul wrote all his epistles before any of the earlier Apostles penned their gospels and epistles. So we are not looking at a man with average success in Paul. We are looking at a highly successful minister of the gospel. In today’s world, Paul would easily qualify for a “Mega church” pastor. Despite these feats, Paul had no room for complacency: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 3:12) What Paul is communicating here is that: “I have not achieved it yet”. “I have not arrived”. “I have not become all I was called to be”. “There are still territories to cover.” “There is more success ahead” “There is more work to do”.

Regardless of your level of achievements, don’t be complacent. Don’t settle for less “…press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”.

Focus on the future

“…reach forth unto those things which are before”. Life should be progressive; building on successes and learning from failures. The day the past becomes the standard, we stop growing, we enter a comfort zone and our purpose on earth gets clouded.

In Deuteronomy 1, we see a comfort zone situation where the Israelites, instead of moving forward, pitched camp in a comfort zone and stopped moving: “The LORD our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount: Turn you, and take your journey … and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them“ (vs 6-8).

Settling in a comfort zone when we are supposed to move on is equated to rebellion. In vs 26 of the same Scripture, Moses said: “Notwithstanding ye would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the LORD your God:” (vs26).

Paul, didn’t settle in complacency. Reach forth into the future. “Turn you, and take your journey…”. Move on.