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

December 28, 2014

The Metaphor of the Vinedresser, Part Two

Yesterday and today, we’re running back-to-back expositions from Jesus’ teaching in John 15, from the blog Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. Click the title to read at source, and take a few minutes to look around other recent articles there as well.

Fruit that Remains

rudesheim

Continuing a bit in John 15 because I love it so…

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (v.4)

A branch isn’t a branch if it isn’t abiding. It’s a dead stick. The nature of a branch is that is is a living, producing thing. The word “abide” is used more than any other word in this passage. The very nature of the word implies a consistent, constant action. A branch isn’t sometimes connected to the Vine, it either is or isn’t. Abiding allows the branch to draw all the nutrients it needs from the Vine, and over time the result is fruit.

Christ tells us to abide, not to bear fruit. He takes on the responsibility for the fruit – it is a natural result of an abiding branch! Trying to make it on our own is like a branch striving to develop grapes, it just isn’t natural. Our whole job is to respond to His ability to do it. Hebrews 4:11 tells us to “make every effort to enter into that rest.” Jesus is telling us, “relax, I’ve got this!” We never need to worry about the fruit our lives produce, we need to abide and let it happen. He wants fruit that remains. The word talks of fruits of the spirit, fruits of righteousness and holiness as examples of this. How amazing that our entire job is just to make sure we have entered into His rest, through our abiding. What a great way to live!

Here are some more things we learned about life in the vineyard;

  • Vineyards aren’t natural. There are things in nature that flower and bear fruit naturally, without our help, but a vineyard isn’t one of them! A well organized, productive vineyard is one of the most unnatural things that could ever exist. Left to itself, will bear virtually no fruit and go totally wild. Grapevines put their energy into making leaves, not fruit. They need much guidance and care in order to produce. Too many leaves block the sun and air. Our lives can become very “leafy” if we’re not careful. From the outside, things look green and flourishing, but underneath, we aren’t experiencing any real fruit. We aren’t commanded to go forth and be leafy – our job is to bear fruit! All the extra stuff has to be taken away if we are to have quality fruit.
  • A struggling vine makes the best wine. Natural instinct would be to take the very best care of the vines, water them and tend to them so they grow strong. In reality, a vine that feels thirsty once in awhile sends it’s roots deeper in search of water and grows stronger. A vine can be very dry in a drought year and produce very little. But because it’s forced to go deeper, the next years harvest is better than ever. Artificially watering whenever dryness comes leads to lazy roots that don’t ever get strong. Vines that struggle learn to go deeper. When drought comes, it’s not a problem. It may look dry on the outside, but deep down it is secure! God is more concerned with our growth than our comfort.
  • Fruit Is Different. Vines mature with time, and so does fruit. The kind of fruit produced depends on many things, and no vine will turn out the same. Thats the great thing about our Vinedresser. He knows when we need straightening out, watered, directed, cut back, etc. Soils are different. Climates are different. But if we abide, the end result is healthy fruit that He is proud to put His name on. One of our biggest mistakes is to compare our fruit with others. We forget the Vinedresser is customizing each one of us. He takes great pride in the vineyard as a whole, but He loves the individual branches and knows just what each one needs.

ABIDE. It simply means to remain, stay, dwell, and hold on. It’s a fact that the healthiest grapes are the ones that grow closest to the vine.

Fruitfulness glorifies God. His will is done when we abide and allow Him to work on us. We have a Vinedresser that is concerned with every aspect of our growth and maturity.

I’m so thankful He lets us develop deep roots that strengthen us.

I’m thankful He doesn’t allow us to go wild and leafy.

That we would enjoy the special place we are planted and bear the exact kind of fruit the Vinedresser has in mind!

December 27, 2014

The Metaphor of the Vinedresser, Part One

Vine and BranchesToday and tomorrow we’re running back-to-back expositions of a familiar passage in John 15, from the blog Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. Click the title to read at source, and take a few minutes to look around other recent articles there as well.

Welcome The Vinedresser

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. John 15:1-4

Years ago when we lived in Germany, one of our favorite things to do was to go spend time at the vineyards on the Rhine. Watching the vines change and grow as the seasons came and went was fascinating. Barren branches of winter gave way to leafy shoots in the spring. The summer brought ever growing fruit, which lead into the harvest of the fall. The whole process was amazing. We always joked that in some other life we’d own a beautiful vineyard and just hang out with the grapes all day.

This passage in John is a favorite of mine. Although most of my life I didn’t really understand it. After spending time in the vineyards and reading up on how good wine is made, I realized there is so much more to it than meets the eye. The process and science behind the scenes is fascinating. As I learned more, this passage became more personal and more meaningful.

Before anything else, Jesus establishes the relationship in the vineyard. Christ the Vine points us to God the Husbandman. We must remember we are branches – planted by Him in a specific place, cared for by Him and protected by Him.

He then addresses branches that aren’t bearing fruit. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away” (v.2). This verse has been taken totally out of context by most believers because of the wording. We think if we aren’t bearing fruit or performing, we’ve struck out. God is going to toss us out of His vineyard. But God the Vinedresser does not just throw out His branches! Jesus is speaking here to believers. We don’t get tossed aside. Where our translations say “takes away”, the real meaning of the words is “lifts up”. When vines trail on the ground and get covered in dirt, they can’t bear fruit. He doesn’t throw us out, He lifts us up out of the dirt!

Now for the branches that are bearing fruit: “and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” If we read this out of context, it seems like either way we are in trouble! We assume pruning/purging to be a painful, punishing process. We are bearing fruit, doing all right when all of the sudden we get whacked and lose half our leaves. We think when tragedy strikes we must be under God’s pruning knife. But here again, we have the meaning wrong. The word “prune/purge” doesn’t imply our Vinedresser runs around willy-nilly whacking at us poor branches. It actually means “to clean or cleanse us”. In a real vineyard, this is an important thing. Leaves and branches must be kept clean from insects and parasites that would kill it. That changes everything! It makes even more sense when you read the next verse:

“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (v.3) The WORD has made us clean! We see in 2 Timothy chapter 3 that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (v. 16-17). So it is through God’s WORD that we are corrected, lifted up, and instructed.

God’s type of pruning, like in a real vineyard, leads to mature vines. There is a process to it and thought put into it. The Word is His pruning knife. His Word is clear that He doesn’t need to use affliction to get us to bear fruit. Too often we embrace afflictions as His work in our lives when they are not. Those things can and should drive us to Him and they can teach us. But He has a BETTER way. Through His Word. He lifts us up, shakes us off and cleanses us so we may bear fruit.

As branches, our only job is to rely on the Vinedresser to do His work so we may bear fruit.  Before anything else, Jesus assures us that we are taken care of. He assures us that we are loved and made clean. When we understand that “taking away and pruning” are actually “lifting up and cleansing”, it changes everything! It should make us welcome the Vinedresser into our lives. We can be open to His work because He knows exactly what He is doing!

March 21, 2011

Andrew Murray’s Concept of “The Branch Life”

Today’s devotional is from Jeff Honnold’s blog, The Water’s Edge, where this first appeared under the title Living the Branch Life.

Two weeks ago I began a Thursday morning study with four other guys that has already been challenging me in ways I’m not sure I’ve been challenged before – and I am loving it.

We are currently working through John 15 one verse at a time.  Now, I’ve done Bible studies before but never to this depth – spending this much focused time on a single verse at a time. This week we are looking at verse 2:

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

– John 15:2 (NIV)

As we do this study we are reading Andrew Murray’s book, “The True Vine” that helps us to dig into this.  My reading today was looking just at the word “fruit”.  Here’s what Murray writes with regards to the purpose of the existence of a vine  is to bear fruit for it’s owner:

It is because Christians do not understand or accept this truth that they so fail in their efforts and prayers to live the branch life.  They often desire it earnestly; they read and meditate and pray, and yet they fail, and the wonder why.  The reason is very simple:  They do not know that fruitbearing is the one thing they have been saved for. (emphasis Murray)

I just keep re-reading this section.  As I read that I look at my own life and I keep asking myself, “Am I truly living the branch life”?

As if that weren’t enough to chew on he then goes on to say this:

The one object God had in making you a branch is the Christ may through you bring life to men.  Your personal salvation, your business and care for your family, are entirely subordinate to this. (emphasis Murray)

Wow.  Put those two together and I keep asking myself how much time to I spend trying to care for myself as the branch and not worry or even think about the fruit.

How about you?  Does this hit anyone else hard?

~Jeff Honnold