There would be something very awry with a church where every member was a Spirit-filled, totally committed disciple of Jesus walking in holiness. At first sight that doesn’t seem right – until you start to think about it. Such a church would by its very nature grow vigorously, reaching out to friends and family, neighbours and colleagues with the Gospel of hope and life. And these people would come with all their problems, a whole casebook of them!
This is what happened to St Michael-le-Belfry York in the 1970’s when David Watson was vicar. Soon they were swamped with people with significant needs. As you can imagine, all kinds of problems faced the church. David referred to the paperweight on his desk which said “Bless this Mess!” – it applied just as readily to his congregation. Evangelism causes problems. Part of David’s team in that era was a very young Phil Potter, who is speaking at our Vision Day in Southport tomorrow. Phil in those days was a musician, part of the outreach team from York which toured the country. I can recall going to one of their spectaculars at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool. For sharing the Gospel was at the heart of St Michael’s ministry, it’s what they did.
We had a great sports quiz and curry night on Wednesday – the whole event went very well, attracting more men than we dared to expect. A big thank you for those of you who made this happen. Sitting on my table were two members of the Sefton Christian Fellowship which as its name suggests meets in the Old Roan. Talking to them I discovered that they were a church plant from the Devonshire Road church in Toxteth.
Devvie Road has a history and a reputation – for going for holiness in a big way. In the era of David Watson, the church taught Christian perfectionism – such may be the work of God’s grace in the heart of the believer that it is actually impossible to sin. Years ago I actually met one young man from this fellowship who informed me that he had not sinned for seven weeks. I was tempted to do what the great evangelist DL Moody did when faced with such a claim – to pour a jug of water over the saint to test their saintliness.
However, in so concentrating on holiness Devvie Road became introverted and insular. In those days they would never have used the equivalent of Alpha. So I was delighted to hear that they have now moved on – and Sefton Christian Fellowship regularly use Alpha.
For sharing the Gospel of Christ is our key task. We are simply not allowed to make it secondary – even though it causes problems. Here was the key difference between Jesus and the Pharisees (who in many ways shared a similar theology with the early church). The Pharisees aspired to holiness, working towards a level of sanctity over the whole community that would trigger the coming of the Messiah. They had high standards. Jesus, in contrast, welcomed tax collectors and prostitutes, lepers and zealots, even women.
I’m told of a story some years ago when the pastor of a local church was in argument with a member of his flock. In exasperation he exclaimed – “Why don’t you go to Christ Church, Aughton. They’ll have anyone!”
I cannot think of a better strapline. “Come to Christ Church – we’ll have anyone!”
Looking forward to the Vision Day in Southport tomorrow, Harvest on Sunday and our Alpha launch on Wednesday. Phew!