Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain

Jesmond Parish Church was founded in 1861 in memory of Richard Clayton. Richard Clayton was the chaplain at St Thomas' Church, Haymarket from 1836 to 1856. He was converted after he was ordained through the ministry of his predecessor at St Thomas', Robert Wasney. From then on, in the words of his friend George Fox of Durham, Clayton tried to live out, and certainly preach, "the three great cardinal truths of the gospel ... a sound conversion to God ... justification of the soul in the sight of God ... and sanctification of the soul." During his period at St Thomas' he exercised a remarkable ministry in Newcastle upon Tyne. Sadly he died relatively young. And Fox, who preached at his funeral, included this in the sermon:

"The day may not be far distant when within the walls of St Thomas' you shall no longer hear the plain message of gospel truth enforced by the spiritual experience of your minister."

He was right. The man appointed to succeed Clayton did not preach "the plain message of gospel truth". The congregation, therefore, planned to establish ...

"a church in memory of the late Richard Clayton ... in which evangelical truth shall be declared [and which would] form a central point for the maintenance and promulgation of sound scriptural and evangelical truth in a large and populous town."

There was great support from around the country - such was the interest and concern. There was also opposition locally. But JPC opened its doors in 1861. So, founded in memory of Richard Clayton and required to be known as "Jesmond Church", it had this distinctive twofold mandate. On the one hand it was to ensure the "maintenance" of "evangelical truth" so that it was not distorted either by false teaching from within the church or by the desire to conform to beliefs held outside the church. On the other hand it was to ensure the "promulgation" of the gospel in the wider world.

But what is "evangelical truth"? It is the truth of the Bible but especially it includes those "3 R's" - ruin, redemption and regeneration. Ruin - all have sinned and rebelled against God, with the consequences for this life and for eternity being dire. Redemption - the good news is that Jesus Christ is the Saviour and only Saviour from sin through his death in our place on the Cross. Regeneration - faith and trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord results not only in forgiveness for sin but a "new birth" by the Holy Spirit with a new concern for God and for others and with the hope of heaven. This is the tradition of Athanasius, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Hooker, Owen, Edwards, Whitefield, Wesley, Spurgeon, and J.C.Ryle. And that is what we are committed to at JPC. This tradition although, of course, not perfect is more faithful (I would argue) to the Bible than other traditions (such as liberal Protestantism or Roman Catholicism). But to focus things for today as an aide-mémoire we have a brief mission statement at JPC, Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain (with the order being important, but all elements inter-relate).


Godly Living

First, there is Godly Living. This is based on the first and Greatest Commandment:

"Jesus [said]: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment" (Mat 22.37-38).

There needs to be, therefore, a commitment to our God that is total; and such a commitment is only through Jesus Christ himself (Jn 14.6). This will involve our minds: we need to believe the essential facts of the faith as revealed in the Bible. These are summarized for us in the creeds and developed further in the 39 Articles of our Anglican forefathers. Then it will involve our wills as we seek to be obedient to God's will that is revealed in the Bible. And that is summarized for us in the 10 Commandments and expounded for us by Jesus, the prophets and the apostles. Also it will involve a real sense of need of God's grace at all times for forgiveness and strength. This must lead to prayer, an example and model of which Jesus gave us in the Lord's Prayer. In practical terms, all this should mean that we seek to understand the Bible better as we go on in the Christian life. But we must not only be hearers but also doers. We should be seeking to be obedient to God in every aspect of our lives - and not only on Sunday but also Monday to Saturday. Yes, we should be faithful on Sundays by meeting with other Christians to praise God, hear his word read and preached, pray and make use of the means of grace that include the Lord's Supper (or Holy Communion). But we should be faithful on other days in all we do - at home, at work and at leisure. That means time for personal Bible study and prayer and, if we have children, for helping them to understand the Bible and to learn to pray. And there should be time for others in need.


Church Growth

Secondly, there is Church Growth. This is based on the Great Commission:

"Jesus ... said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age'" (Mat 28.18-20).

The goal is disciples, not just decisions. New converts need to learn from the example of the early Christians who "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." And they committed themselves financially as well (Acts 2.42,45). They were being formed into a "church".

Evangelism has to be the priority of people who are seeking to keep the first and Greatest Commandment. The danger of some Evangelicals in the period immediately after the Reformation was that they neglected evangelism and church planting. Some believed that all you needed was to pray and "maintain" the faith against error. William Carey, the Baptist missionary pioneer at the end of the 18th century, said, "No!" God also uses human means and wants us to "promulgate" the faith as well as "maintain" it (it was Carey who said: "attempt great things for God; expect great things from God"). The term "church growth" ensures we do not forget the practical aspects of what happens when God adds to the church "those who [are] being saved" (Acts 2.47). Also it ensures we think about "means" as not primarily individual Christians working alone in evangelism but working together as the body of Christ where there are people with different gifts. It also reminds us that this side of heaven the church is a social reality as well as a spiritual reality - and that social reality has to be worked at, planned and managed.


Changing Britain

Thirdly, there is Changing Britain. This is based on the "second commandment". Jesus said (Mat 22.39):

"the second is like [the first]: 'Love your neighbour as yourself'."

The first and second commandments are related: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (1 Jn 4.20). So love for your neighbour begins at home and locally. That is a simple way to start to Change Britain. However, in a democracy, love in the public sphere means justice and doing what is best for society as a whole. And God's will is always best. Hence we should seek God's standards in public life and also take any positive practical initiatives where there is opportunity and need.

Furthermore we have to pray for our rulers "that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2.2-3). That hints that there is a connection between a good social order and evangelism. It is true that if a person is converted and seeks to lead a "godly life", he or she will need to be in a supporting Christian fellowship - that will mean "church growth". But if everything in pagan society is contrary to God's will and laws, it is hard for a new convert. So at JPC we are concerned to "change Britain". We want believers to be able to live and work without compromise. We are also concerned to be "salt and light" in a decaying and dark world. God's way is perfect, not just for believers but for all. Christian love demands we help others as we can and work for God's way in public life.


Conclusion

We must all be committed to Godly Living. Our involvement in Church Growth and Changing Britain, however, will vary according to our gifts and opportunities. But we can all pray; give (different amounts); say something about Jesus Christ to others; and write letters as necessary about public affairs.

As we face this Autumn, let's thank God for the heritage we have received. Let's be faithful in handing it on. And let's recommit ourselves to Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain.

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