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Securing the church

So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires; walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you go…

How can a church be secured for the future, so that it is still there in ten or fifty years’ time?  In a gospel-challenging world, that’s a question which should weigh on us.
We could come up with various answers: ensure the finances are sound, appoint talented staff, make the services attractive, for instance.  Don’t get me wrong – there is much value in all of these. But none of these are the answer the Bible gives.
The words above were spoken by elderly King David to his son Solomon as the day came for Solomon to take over as king.  David is perfectly clear: obedience to God is what will secure the kingdom.
In saying this, the elderly king was not being original.  Centuries earlier, the LORD Himself had said this to Joshua when he succeeded Moses: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”  (Joshua 1:8)  That’s an unusual thing for a leader to be called to do!  But it was essential that Joshua led the people in such a way that they kept with God’s laws.
Now – a local church is not Israel, but it is part of the visible people of God.  And as such, the same principles apply.  In the searching letters to the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2-3, the risen Christ insists on fidelity to His word.  At another time of transition, look what Timothy was encouraged to do (2 Tim 2:2).
A church is created and sustained by God.  But if it departs from Him, why should He preserve it?
The Church of England would do well to heed this.  Faced with decline in numbers in many of its churches, leaders propose streamlining, updating and central control as ways to secure the future.  But there is a troubling lack of focus on God’s priority: sticking to the Word of God.
This past week, at the ReNew conference in Leeds, there was a moving interview with Bishop Jay Behan from the city of Christchurch, New Zealand.  Several years ago, that city was devastated by two earthquakes, which destroyed many church buildings.  Some congregations have never recovered.  But some have.  Only those, the bishop told us, those which had kept Jesus front and centre, finding identity in Him, not their buildings.