What is the church for? The author looks at this question and answers it by stating that the church is for God, the church is for the world and the church is for people. The church should help people to have a Christian mind, a Christian lifestyle, support them for living the Christian life, and give them opportunities to serve.

Source: The Monthly Record, 1997. 8 pages.

What is the Church For?

Fathers and brethren, what on earth is the church for? I wonder have you ever been asked such a question? The church is such a minority group today that many people have no idea what the real purpose of the church is. Does it exist for a few people who need a religious crutch to help them face life? Does it exist to provide the few reli­gious rites of passage left in society: chris­tenings (so-called), marriages and funer­als? Does it exist only to condemn sin and to try to stop people having what they consider a good time? These popular views betray an ignorance of the nature and purpose of the church. Sadly the church itself is often to blame for such misunderstand­ings.

What then is the church for? The ques­tion may be understood in two senses. What is the purpose of the church? And what is the positive message of the church, as op­posed to what is it against? These questions are closely related. If the purpose of the church in the world is merely a negative one — to condemn the world, while separating from it — it makes little sense to enquire what the church stands for.

But I believe that the church has a very positive purpose in the world, and I believe that the more positive a message we present to the world, the more successfully will we fulfil that purpose.

The Church is for God🔗

Firstly the church is for God. The church exists because God has purchased it with his own blood (Acts 20:28), that is by the atoning death of his Son, Jesus Christ. It exists to glorify and enjoy him. It is indeed true that God is for the church (Romans 8:31:  "If God is for us, who can be against us?"), but we must beware of a human-centred view of the church in which God is there just to provide what we want. In these days, sadly, the gospel is often presented largely in terms of how it will meet our felt needs (for meaning, fulfilment, enjoyment, material security) while our greatest need of all, forgiveness for real sin and guilt and reconciliation with a holy God is often ignored. Thus God is dethroned in the church and it becomes just another human institution, with its agenda determined by the current fads and fashions of society. But the church is primarily for God, for his worship and service and for witness to him, and it is only when God has his rightful place in the church that our needs are truly met.

It is on the subject of witness to God (being for God) that I want to focus now. What kind of God do we portray to the world? Does what people around us see, hear and know of the church give them a right view of God? Opinion polls indicate that the majority of people still believe in the existence of God. Yet the very word God means different things to different people and we must be aware of that as we tell others about him. The older generation may have an idea of God being like a stern judge or policeman, always finding fault, never forgiving, and only interested in a few very holy people whom he has chosen to save. More common is the view that God is like a benign, indulgent grandfather, who will overlook our faults and guarantee us a place in heaven at the end. Still more com­mon is the view that God started everything going at the beginning, but science has shown that the universe can run very well without him and so we live in a closed system and have no need for God. You will notice that these popular ideas come from perversions of the revelation of God which arose from within the church: Hypercalvinism, Liberalism and Deism.

Even more common than these nowa­days is some pantheistic idea of God. This can be traced to the influence of Eastern religions and New Age. It has been pointed out that, while in some forms of Eastern religion the aim of the devotee is to gain fulfilment by losing self in God, the aim in New Age thinking is to realise that one's self actually is God, very appealing to the self-centred "me generation" in which we live. The current concern about pollution of the environment and conservation of the earth's resources and living species has given a boost to the popularity of pantheism. It is seen by many, especially young people, as giving a satisfactory basis for their concerns.

So how are we to be for God at the end of the 20th Century? We must proclaim him as he has revealed himself to be and portray him by our lives. Our basis must be the revelation we have in Scripture of God as Sovereign Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer and Judge, who enters into covenant with his people and reveals himself in word and action for their salvation, one God in Trin­ity, infinite yet personal, loving and just and revealed most perfectly for us in the Lord Jesus Christ — Immanuel, God with us. As David Wells says in his important book God in the Wasteland (p.131), "The only way in which we can be God-centred is to be Christ-centred".

Our insistence on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as God incarnate and the only Saviour is based on the consistent teaching of the New Testament. For instance Jesus himself said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). The apostle Peter said, "Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). This position is known as exclusivism. It is unfortunate that this word has so many negative connotations - as if the purpose of the gospel is to exclude people and as if the Church is some kind of exclusive club for those who make the grade. Exclusivism rather means that God is revealed in Jesus exclusively and salva­tion is found only by faith in him and his atoning death on the cross of Calvary. The scope of the gospel is universal in the sense that it is to be proclaimed indiscriminately to all and all are called to believe in Jesus for eternal life.

Some have tried to soften the distinction which exclusivism inevitably makes be­tween the saved and the unsaved by some form of inclusivism, which teaches that while people are indeed saved only by Christ they may be saved without necessar­ily either hearing about him or consciously believing in him. These views range from tentative suggestions that some who have never heard of Christ will be saved if they live up to the light they have or are truly seeking God, to a virtual universalism which says that all will be saved by Christ irre­spective of faith. The New Testament evi­dence is against any such down-playing of faith. It is indeed true that "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13), but Paul goes on with relentless logic to ask how can they call on the one they have not believed in and how can they believe without having heard of him and how can they hear without someone to tell them. Of course we must never limit God's sovereign power to save whom he will (especially in the case of infants and those otherwise mentally incapable of re­sponding to the gospel); but, according to what God has revealed to us, faith in Jesus Christ is essential to salvation. It is our duty and privilege to preach the good news to everyone in order that they may believe and be saved. Inclusivism always weakens the missionary commitment of the church.

Perhaps the prevailing religious view today is that of pluralism, which states that all religions are equally valid. This appears in various forms: at the popular level it is expressed in the simple home-spun belief that we are all climbing the same mountain by different routes and will all end up at the same destination, namely heaven; at the more scholarly level it ranges from the belief that all religions are equally revelatory of God and have their own salvific value to sophisticated attempts to see Christ present in all religions in some form. These views depend heavily on relativism, which denies that there is such a thing as absolute truth. For the relativist it is pointless to compare the truth claims of various religions. If these truth claims are valid for the adherents of other religions it would be the height of arrogance for Christians to claim that only Christianity is the truth.

It is in this context that it is so important for us to declare and defend the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. One of the best ways to do this is to get people actually to read the New Testament for themselves. The present-day ignorance of the Bible is appalling. Thus people are readily taken in by the latest wild theories about Jesus propounded in various popular publications or television pro­grammes. The New Testament, which we believe to be utterly reliable historically, portrays Jesus as radically different from any other religious leader or teacher in history or in myth. The history of his incar­nation and birth, his life of teaching, mira­cles and service, his death and resurrection and his fulfilment of Old Testament proph­ecy are unlike any other story. The amazing way in which his pathetic disciples were transformed following the resurrection and their very early belief and declaration that Jesus is Lord, thus equating him with Yahweh the God of Israel who rules the universe, have no parallel elsewhere.

We must warn people against the "new hermeneutic" of postmodernism, which teaches that no written text has objective meaning but takes its meaning from the reader and his or her context. At the same time we must be aware of our tendency to read into Scripture our own cultural presuppositions. However, our belief in the infal­libility, inerrancy and perspicuity of Scrip­ture gives us confidence that the Bible can still speak to ordinary people. Thus we have no hesitation in asking people to read the Bible for themselves, preferably in a good modern translation, as it is still the sword of the Spirit, able to pierce the heart and mind of unbelief.

We accept the validity of the concept of pluralism in the sense of the existence of various cultures, religions and world-views (what Don Carson calls "empirical plural­ism"). But we emphatically deny that all religions are equally revelatory of God and that they all lead to salvation in the end. This, of course, leaves us open to the charge of intolerance, a charge which we reject. In the present day everything is tolerated ex­cept the claim to have absolute truth. How­ever, while we are confident that we have the truth in Jesus Christ, we very readily uphold the right of others to believe and practise their religions, provided their prac­tices are within the law of the land. It is no coincidence that religious toleration flour­ishes more in countries most affected by Christianity. Admittedly it took the church a long time to see the need for toleration. But any element of coercion to believe in Christ is foreign to the gospel.

These forms of inclusivism and religious pluralism inevitably lead to a toning down of the mission of the Church. And yet we have to ask ourselves, "Are we, who pride ourselves on our belief in Jesus Christ as the only saviour, as zealous as we ought to be in fulfilling the great commission of our Lord to go and make disciples of all nations?" I fear we are not.

To be for God, then, is to declare God's sovereignty over all of life, to proclaim his free offer of salvation in Christ to all people and to show forth his character in our lives. I will return to this latter aspect in a later section.

The Church is for the World🔗

Secondly, the church is for the world, the world understood as the created order. Christianity is not a world-denying faith. This is God's world and he has a redemp­tive purpose for the whole creation (Ro­mans 8:20, 21). This reminds us that human sin has had an effect on the cosmos. God said to Adam, "Cursed is the ground be­cause of you" (Genesis 3:17). If God has redeemed us in Christ in order to reverse the effects of the Fall in our lives, eventually to perfect us in his image, does it not also follow that we are to work in the world to reverse the effects of the Fall on creation? We know that we ourselves will not reach perfection in this life, and that this created order will one day perish and be replaced by the new heavens and the new earth. Mean­while we are to be good stewards of what God has committed to our care.

Thus the church is for the responsible care, conservation and development of the material world. We reject the oft-repeated charge that the creation mandate given to mankind to fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28) is to blame for the ecologi­cal crisis of today. Certainly mankind's dominion over the creation has been abused and often the church has not expounded this principle as it ought. But rightly under­stood, the Biblical doctrine of creation and the creation mandate provide the best prin­ciples we have for the responsible steward­ship of this planet.

The church is also for the world in the sense of human culture in all its rich variety — for example art, literature, music, crafts, science, technology and politics. These hu­man activities have all been affected by the Fall, but this does not mean they are beyond redemption. In a later section I will suggest how the church may encourage Christians in these areas of life.

But what of the world viewed as human beings in rebellion against God? Yes, the church is for the world in the sense that we have a message for this sinful world. We are to be as salt and light in the world. God so loved the world (of sinful mankind) that he has sent his church to bring the good news of his Son to everyone.

It is often said that before you bring the good news, you should tell the bad news about sin, judgement and Hell. This is true, but sadly this can so easily degenerate into self-righteous condemnation which alien­ates rather than attracts. The world is con­demned already, because it has not be­lieved in the name of God's only begotten Son, Jesus (John 3:18). The church is called on so to preach, live and serve that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, right­eousness and judgement.

In order to communicate the gospel effectively, we have to try to understand the mind-set of the people around us. The thought world of today is shaped by both modernism and what has come to be known as postmodernism. Os Guinness, in his stimulating little book Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, (p. 108) claims that, although modernism, the optimistic, rationalistic and humanistic inheritance of the Enlightenment, has lost its hold on the mindset of people and given way to pessimistic, relativistic, self-centred postmodernism, what he calls modernity (the application of the ideas of modernism in the global systems of technology, com­merce and communications) is still very much with us. Thus, for example, while many people rebel against the reductionist and mechanistic practice of modern West­ern medicine and seek a more holistic ap­proach in alternative medicine, often with an Eastern or New Age transcendental fla­vour, they would still take the benefit of a "hi-tech" coronary bypass if they needed one.

This is fascinating, because it gives us a point of contact with those who live their lives at one level in the rationalistic world of science and technology, while quite hap­pily espousing the most irrational beliefs in such things as astrology and paranormal phenomena. We can point out that modern science arose out of a Christian worldview and that it was the rationalism of the Enlightenment that separated faith and sci­ence. We can point out that the rationalism and reductionism of modernism has not only failed to provide an adequate basis for morality, ethics and human government but has given rise to such totalitarianism, suf­fering and abuse of human life this century as has never before been seen. The relativ­istic and self-centred thought world of postmodernism offers no hope of control­ling the tremendous dehumanising forces unleashed by modernity. Only a return to a robust biblical faith can give the intellec­tual basis for such an enterprise. Don Carson, in his monumental book The Gagging of God (p.184), argues among other things, for a new approach to Christian apologetics, bringing together the best aspects of presuppositionalism and evidentialism, as necessary to face the challenge of postmodernism.

We must not be afraid of engaging in the world of ideas, while at the same time recognising that it is often the emotional distress of ordinary people that reveals the deep failure of modernism and postmodernism to satisfy the human soul. Thus we must be prepared to sit with peo­ple, empathising with them in their personal situation and communicating to them the timeless truths of the Bible in categories appropriate to their world-view. And this brings me to my third point:

The Church is for People🔗

The church consists of people of all ages and conditions, and it is the welfare of people that must be foremost in the church's programme. But the church exists not only for its members but for those outside it. It is not a club which is only for the initiated. What then is our duty to those outside the church?

As I have already emphasised, our first duty is to tell them the good news of Jesus. This must not be done in a condescending way but in a relationship of complete ac­ceptance of others and involvement in the life of our communities. This inevitably means that we have a duty not only to evangelise but to seek the welfare of people at every level, moral, material and social, as well as spiritual. The church must not only speak out against the dehumanising influ­ences which destroy human lives but also be active in counteracting them in practical ways. We could think, for instance, of the dehumanising tendencies of modern capi­talism where the only aim seems to be return from investment of capital regard­less of the effects on the lives of individuals, on society or on the environment.

But I would like to touch on two other issues that cry out for a Christian lead from the church: the sanctity of human life and social justice.

I qualified in medicine in 1967, the year the Abortion Act came into force. I well remember my Obstetrics and Gynaecology teachers assuring me that the effect of the Act would only be to legalise what was already beginning to take place — abortion in a small number of "hard cases". How wrong they were! Thirty years and 4 million abor­tions later, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the effect of the Act has been virtually abortion on demand.

At the other end of life the situation is also alarming. The vocal pro-euthanasia lobby is sensing victory on the back of recent land-mark court decisions regarding the withholding of feeding from patients in the Persistent Vegetative State and lenient deal­ing with doctors and relatives who have administered lethal doses of drugs to termi­nally ill patients. They point to recent prac­tices in Holland and legislation in the North­ern Territories of Australia as possible models for Britain to follow. Recently legal experts have been asked to draw up models for possible legislation.

It is all too easy when debating this subject and defending the traditional Hippocratic and Christian view, to be seen as cold, callous and even hypocritical. For instance Christians have been accused of inconsistency because they are against abor­tion and euthanasia, while supporting a just war theory. While I believe this argument can be answered, we have to take such criticism seriously. The fact that these are the two most striking areas in which the sanctity of human life is being attacked in our own country does not absolve us from being concerned about the other ways in which it is being attacked here and else­where, especially in the Third World. For instance the very high infant and child morbidity and mortality in many parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America is a reproach to the world. The causes, of course, are complex and solutions will involve not only short-term aid but long-term structural change, such as cancellation of Third World debt, fairer trade agreements, the limitation of the availability of weapons of war and the encouragement of more accountable demo­cratic governments in those countries.

If we are really serious about the sanc­tity of human life, we must be involved in the fight to save life from wanton damage and destruction on all fronts, not just a few. This will stretch our minds and our hearts. It will involve grappling with economic, political and human rights issues. It will involve challenging established views, not only with regard to bio-ethics in its nar­rower application, but on a much wider ethical agenda. I believe it may be Counter-productive to stress only one issue such as abortion, however important that issue is in its own right. We have to win hearts and minds on a much wider front if we are to be effective in winning the battle in one area. We should give whole-hearted support to agencies which not only campaign in a responsible way against abortion but are actively involved in caring for women faced with problem pregnancies by giving coun­sel and support. We should support the availability of better palliative care for the terminally ill, which has been shown to be so effective by the hospice movement, while we also resist calls for the legalisation of euthanasia.

The biblical basis for the sanctity and dignity of human life, including antenatal human life, is the fact that we are all made in God's image. This alone gives value, meaning and purpose to human life and is the only answer to the sense of meaning­lessness and worthlessness which afflicts so many. And the fact that God gave his own Son to share in the human situation in all its suffering and vulnerability and to reconcile us to himself by his death gives added incentive to care for the weak and defenceless.

What then of the church's duty to our own people?

Sadly it is often the needs of buildings that take up much of our time and money as a church. Buildings are usually necessary for the work of the church, but they must be subservient to the needs of people. I believe we are in danger of allowing our church structures and traditions to displace the real needs of people from the top of our agenda. What are the needs of our people? We need teaching which is practical, applying the truths of Scripture to present day problems; we need the encouragement of a supportive fellowship to live the Christian life in the freedom for which Christ has set us free; we need to provide avenues for service and witness appropriate to our gifts and oppor­tunities.

The agendas of our Kirk Sessions and Presbyteries should be dominated by how to meet these needs and thus make us more effective in our mission for God in the world. Instead we trundle on through a mass of inherited procedure, filling sched­ules, making reports, occasionally dealing with cases. All of these procedures were set up with the best of intentions. The fault lies not so much in the structures and proce­dures as in the people who operate them. We are in danger of losing sight of our main goals. The structures and procedures are our tools, not our masters. The leaders of the church, ministers, elders, deacons, are primarily servants of the church, and our model is Jesus himself, the chief Shepherd.

What then should be our priorities in meeting the needs of our own people? I would like to highlight four: helping them to have a Christian mind, encouraging them to live a Christian life-style, supporting them in their daily life and witness in fam­ily, community and work-place and giving them opportunities to serve God through the church.

A Christian Mind🔗

Romans 12:2 tells us that we are not to be conformed to this world's pattern. Rather we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. While acknowledging that mind in the New Testament means more than our mental faculty, this does point to the need for us to think in a Biblically directed way and to apply that thinking in every area of life. It was Harry Blamires in the 1960s who coined the phrase "to think Christianly". Some Evangelicals in the last 30 years such as Francis Schaeffer and others have given us valuable insights as to how this might be done. Os Guin­ness, in Fit Bod­ies, Fat Minds, claims that the last group of Christians to think in a Biblically directed way were the Puritans and the Evangelical mind has been in retreat ever since.

I can almost hear many of you heaving a sigh of relief. Surely we Reformed Chris­tians are not guilty of neglecting our minds? Are we not often criticised for being too cerebral in our expression of the faith? Sadly I fear we are just as guilty as other parts of the Evangelical world. Some of us are tempted to retreat mentally into a mythi­cal golden age of Puritanism or nineteenth-century triumphalism and refuse to grapple with the pressing issues of the day. Others of us imagine that, because we have an orthodox view of the Bible and theology, we are automatically immune from the pres­sures of the thought world of today. And so we are unconsciously affected by current forces such as secularism, materialism, con­sumerism, relativism, evolutionism and pragmatism. Vinoth Ramachandra, a Sri Lankan Christian, has written a powerful critique of these things as modern idolatry in his recent book, Gods that Fail. An idol is anything that displaces God from the centre of our lives. We must beware of the subtle forms of modern idolatry.

What then does it mean to have a Chris­tian mind? It means to be so in love with God that all systems of human thought are judged in the light of his word by the help of the Holy Spirit. Thus to think Christianly is a spiritual and not just an intellectual exer­cise. At the same time it is rational and not mystical. The Christian mind recognises that all truth is God's truth and that we do not need to fear the exploration of God's crea­tion by science. While we recognise that sin has an effect on the human mind, we do believe that by God's common grace, unbelieving scientists are capable of discover­ing truth. Scientific theories are to be judged on scientific grounds. What we have to watch out for is the leap of faith from scientific theory to a philosophy based on that theory, for example Evolutionism based on the theory of evolution.

The Christian mind does not plough a lonely furrow but seeks the help of other Christians in applying God's word to to­day's problems. At the same time it does not result in a monolithic party-line which must be toed by every believer. The Christian mind insists on the responsibility of knowl­edge. Os Guinness points out that never before has so much knowledge been avail­able as in this age of information technol­ogy and yet it is value-free and can be used in any way that society approves (if it gets the chance to voice its opinion at all). Only the Christian mind can lead to responsible action in the light of current knowledge. Are we helping our people to think through the issues of the day in a Biblically directed way, or are we spoon-feeding them with traditional answers which might not even be addressing the questions they face?

A Christian Life-Style🔗

We must encourage Christians not only to think in a Biblically directed way, but to live in a Biblically directed way, to have a Christian life-style. The use of the word style is perhaps unfortunate, because it of­ten connotes a self-consciously adopted facade, more style than substance, which is so characteristic of postmodern fashion. While the Christian lifestyle is not an arti­ficial facade, it does involve a conscious effort to live the whole of life according to Scripture. It does not happen automatically and we are all affected by tradition and the culture around us.

Here we must resist the inevitable ten­dency either to revert to some form of legalism or to lapse into some form of antinomianism. I believe the answer lies in the cross of Christ. Jesus calls us to follow him by denying ourselves and taking up the cross daily. We are to put on Christ, and that means taking the form of a servant. Jesus was obedient to the Father's will to the extent of dying on the cross. God has prom­ised to put his law in our minds and write it on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). The law of God is no longer an external threat which we obey as a duty, but an internal guide as the Holy Spirit applies it to us and enables us to obey it in love. Love is obedience.

What then should characterise a Chris­tian life style? Purity, humility, honesty, reality, self-denial, self-control, frugality and generosity with regard to material things, an attitude of service rather that of expect­ing to be served and a responsible steward­ship of all that God has entrusted to us. We should be characterised by contentment with our lot and joy in the Lord rather than by the covetousness, discontent and victim-mentality of our society. At the same time we should be burning with compassion for those enslaved by sin and with righteous indignation on behalf of the weak, the de­fenceless and the exploited. As our society becomes less Christian and more secular, pluralistic and individualistic, Christians should be more recognisable by their life­style.

How do you practise self-denial in the present day context of self-promotion and self-centredness? Does it not lead to a loss of self-worth? Not if we find our sense of worth in Christ who dwells in us by his Spirit. We can live confidently and asser­tively, not on the basis of our own rights and abilities, but because of his authority and enabling.

Support for Living the Christian Life🔗

The church is a family or community and this is of extreme importance in these days when traditional family and community structures are breaking down. Often the minister is the last person people facing problems in marriage or at work would think of approaching. Why is this? Is it because they have the idea that the church is there just to find fault and to condemn rather than to listen, to understand, to help and to heal? Do they think that the church is only for the successful or even for the hypocrites who cover up failure and that there is no place in the church for honest failures?

The church must be seen to be a caring community giving unconditional accept­ance to all and not offering pat answers in a judgemental way. We must find new ways of supporting the lonely, the aged, the sin­gle parents, the unemployed and also those who face various problems in their work situations. Perhaps we too readily overlook this latter group. Those in employment face many pressures and may require help in applying their Christian faith in their work situations. Our two Sunday services and one midweek meeting might not be the only or the best pattern for the supportive type of fellowship which is required. Per­haps a mixture of whole congregation meet­ings with smaller group meetings of various types such as study groups, Bible studies and prayer fellowships would be appropri­ate.

One group which needs a lot of support in these days is our young people. We all know only too well the pressures they are under to conform to the world around them. We are grateful for the special efforts our church has undertaken through camps and conferences and more recently through Free magazine and the Big Free rally. Our young people need to have more support locally than is presently available in many places. Many young Christians drift away from the church because the church appears to show little interest in them apart from criticising them. We should show more understanding as they come through the various stages of growing up, especially those who are ac­tive in the youth scene of music, art and other cultural activities.

Opportunities to Serve 🔗

While we believe that our whole lives, including our lives at home, in the work place and at recreation, are to be for the service and witness of God, and not just our specifically religious activities, we ought as a church to provide more opportunities for Christian service. At the moment this is largely confined to the ministry, office bear­ers, Sunday School teachers and annual camps and missions, as well as overseas mission work. We are grateful for those who give of their time and energy in all these areas. There are other areas of service which we could identify depending on our local situations. The WFMA and the Mis­sion Support Groups have shown what can be done in harnessing enthusiasm for sup­porting mission work overseas. Is it time to have some central organisation more per­manent than Highways and Byways to help resource and organise local mission effort in our congregations?

I believe there is a reservoir of gifted people, including young folk, who would be willing to take up specific tasks in our congregations if we were properly organ­ised. I can almost hear you say, "Why then is there no response when we ask for help with door-to-door visitation or tract distri­bution?" Is it perhaps because people lack the training and the confidence for such direct forms of service? People have to be encouraged and nurtured, their gifts recog­nised and appreciated and appropriate op­portunities for service pointed out to them. For instance they could invite non-Chris­tian friends to their homes to watch a Tear Fund or Care video and, through discussion of the various matters raised, this might lead to the formation of a Bible study group. Going to church has become such a ne­glected habit that ways must be found of meeting people on neutral ground, before they make the huge step of actually attend­ing a church service.

I have given an all too sketchy survey of what I believe are the church's main re­sponsibilities and opportunities today. If I have made you think about these matters I will be happy. If I prompt you to action in any of these areas I will be delighted. If you all agree with me on every point, I will be surprised!

Fathers and brethren, as we meet in General Assembly the eyes of the world are on us, and that is challenging: will we worthily portray to them the God we pro­fess to serve? The eyes of the church are on us and that is daunting: will we show forth the love, humility and righteousness they expect to see in the servants of Christ? The all-seeing eye of the Lord is on us and that is both frightening and comforting: fright­ening because he sees us as we are in ourselves, yet comforting because he sees us as we are in Christ. He has promised to guide us with his eye upon us (Psalm 32:8). May we not be like the brute beasts which have no understanding, but may we re­spond to his leading with heart and mind aflame with love for him and for one an­other and a desire for his glory above all else.

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