Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Global ministries and the local church (1)

The speed and ease with which teaching is placed in the public domain creates particular challenges for Christians and local churches.

International ministries are not a new phenomenon (one thinks here of the distribution of Spurgeon's sermons), but technological advances do mean that we are able to access the preaching of the most prominent church leaders across the globe with an astonishing ability. Within our grasp are world class resources, and incredible buffet of Bible teaching. Time and space are transcended by technology.

But with this ability comes great responsibility. I don't think that I need to accent the benefical aspects of this profusion of riches that technology has brought within our reach. What ought to concern us is the wise use of these means, and how they relate to the primary means that God has given us for our growth in grace, the ministry and fellowship of the local church.

My guess is that our internal spiritual life is on the way to being reshaped by the availability of web based materials. The benefits seem obvious to us, the costs, however, are considerably more hidden.

Downloadable sermons remove the necessity of making the preaching ministry of the local church essential in Christian growth. If I so wish I can listen to the weekly preaching of a considerable number of preachers. Is this a good thing? Well the sheer riches of expository preaching on offer ought to do me a lot of good. However, should I not remind myself that on the whole I'm listening to this as a detached individual?

I don't mean by that a detachment from the desire to believe and obey the truth, I mean a detachment from the local church. I can easily listen to the preaching of the Word of God outside of the context of a congregation, a real life group of people at all sorts of levels of knowledge and maturity, with whom I am bound up in God's sight.

Preaching is a corporate act. Going to church is not like a trip to the movie theatre where I can listen in as an individual with no meaningful connection to the people around me.

God adresses his gathered people through his Word. We listen as he speaks to us of his covenant of grace. He takes us as his people, binds us to himself as "our God," renews us, and sends us out as his servants in the world.

There is an obligation to hear the Word, respond to the Word, and to apply the Word together, that downloadable preaching cannot even begin to touch. It actually fails miserably at this point, because it can never do what the ministry of the local church, ordained by God, is designed to do.

Am I making downloadable sermons the primary means of my growth to the neglect of listening to, believing and obeying, God's Word together with his assembled people? Am I dishonouring God and his church through bypassing the ministry of the local church in my pursuit of maturity?

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