Summary: God went to any means necessary to show us His love, now He has called us to go to use any means necessary to show that love to our community.
New Year’s Revolution (By Any Means Necessary, part 2)
(This sermon is my own adaptation of John Wesley’s "Almost Christian" sermon)
I have often wondered why Christianity has ceased to be popular. Why are all of our denominations in decline? Why is it that 95% of all churches in America are plateaued or declining and of the 5% that are growing, only 1% are growing by conversion? How did this happen when just 40-50 years ago every person in America was in church? Even today some people misguidedly hold to the notion that America is a "Christian" nation. Not hardly when less than 20% of the population is in church on a given Sunday. A relationship with God is so important and so awesome that is baffles me that we’re failing to reach the new generations. America is almost identical to the culture the first Christians encountered in Acts. They’ll worship a doorknob if given half a chance. Leonard Sweet has made the comment that the older generations are the most churched in history, but the youngest generations are the most spiritual generation in history. They just aren’t looking for to fulfill that spiritual need in the church. Why not?
In our Scripture Paul notes in verse 3 that King Agrippa is familiar with the Jewish customs and prophets. This describes our culture still, at least in the South. I was reading a commentary in this past Monday’s Birmingham News where the writer was lamenting the fact that the South is still largely a Biblically literate culture, unlike the more "sophisticated" regions of our country. Even those who don’t go to church are largely familiar with many Bible stories and teachings. So, it’s not that people don’t know. They just don’t care. Why?
I’ve often said that the reason there aren’t more Christians is because of Christians. I read in seminary that someone (I think it was Niche, but I’m not sure) wrote "The problem with Christianity is that no one has tried it yet." John Wesley calls it the problem of the "almost Christian." They are all getting at the point that everyone talks about Christianity, but very few actually live it out. I want to explore this issue of the "almost Christian" and call us to start 2001 with a revolution, to stand up and say "we’re going to live out the Great Commission and take this world for Christ, by any means necessary." As we talked about last week, God came to earth because he decided he wanted to show us His love, by any means necessary, even becoming human. We’re now called by the Great Commission and the Great Commandment to do the same for our world. Paul deals with this issue in Acts 26.
1.) The "almost Christian"
People of Jewish heritage who have become Christians call themselves "fulfilled Jews." They have found the true Messiah, and you won’t find a more passionate Christian than a fulfilled Jew. Paul speaks of this when he talks with King Agrippa. I totally identify with Paul’s story. He lived out his life being a good guy, doing what he though was right, but he was totally missing the truth until Jesus, literally, knocked him on his butt. Once Paul found the truth and became a fulfilled Jew he was unstoppable in his passion for, and devotion to, Christ. John Wesley spoke of the same thing in his testimony. He described how he was the perfect example of a Christian when he was at Oxford. He did all of the right things and was seen as very devoted, and yet he said himself that he was only almost a Christian. In the KJV King Agrippa responds to Paul in verse 26 by saying , "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." He’s a "almost Christian." What is an almost Christian? Well, I’ll tell you based on what Wesley said, so blame him if you don’t like it.
The almost Christian has integrity First of all, the almost Christian is a person of integrity. They are what we would call a good person and a model citizen. They follow the law, don’t cheat anyone, and don’t lie. You know you can trust them. They don’t gossip or slander and they keep confidentiality. This is the kind of person that you can talk to when you’re really having a hard time and you know that your problems will stay in the room. They are also generous, giving to those who need it, especially during the holidays. Sounds like a pretty nice person, right? Well, it only gets better.
The almost Christian looks like a Christian The almost Christian is not only a model citizen, but the model church member. Paul notes this is verse 5 when he claims to have been part of the strictest sect of Judaism, the Pharisees. The almost Christian would have no vices - no cussing, drinking, smoking, drugs, sex or anything. They would follow the Bible as much as they possibly could in their conduct. They would never speak evil of anything or backstab anyone. They work hard to keep the peace with everyone. They would never willingly hurt anyone. Basically, this person lives by the Golden Rule of treating others like you want them to treat you. This would be the kind of person who is working at the church every time the doors were open, serving on committees, working in ministries, serving at food kitchens, and doing everything in their power to help other people. They would take worship very seriously, trying to engage in every part of the service (including staying awake and paying attention through the sermon), and this would be especially so in a communion service. They would eat at the Lord’s Table with a full sense of the seriousness of the occasion as opposed to seeing this as just a mid-service snack and praising God for a shorter sermon. They have a good devotional time, both personally and with their family. They avoid doing evil because they thing it’s the right thing to do. Wesley quotes a pagan philosopher who states, "Good men avoid sin from the love of virtue; Wicked men avoid sin from a fear of punishment." So, even non-Christians realize this aspect of living a "good" life. It’s not unique to us.