Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jubilee Church celebrations

Jubilee Church celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. Located in Chewton, near to Castlemaine in the state of Victoria, Australia, it was opened on June 2 1861 at a cost of £535. For the first forty years it was the Jubilee Primitive Methodist Church. It was founded ten years after the Victorian gold rush, in a context very different from today.

In one hundred and fifty years since 1861 much has changed.

In the 1840s, emigration from England to the colonies was increasing year by year. But what started as a trickle soon became a flood with the Victorian gold rush of 1851. The discovery of gold brought significant wealth to cities like Melbourne, regional centres like Bendigo and towns like Castlemaine. The emigrants also included Primitive Methodists who wanted to bring their spiritual heritage to their new home. They came to Melbourne in 1851 and spread to regional Victoria in the decade that followed, including communities like Chewton.

Known as Ranters, the Primitive Methodists were men and women with a message. They were bold, powerful and effective. They preached boldly, speaking with authority and clearly proclaiming the gospel in public spaces.

They preached powerfully with great emotion and pathos, communicating to the heart and not just the mind. They preached effectively and the lives of many of their hearers were changed radically and often dramatically as the message of Christ took hold and became fruitful. Changed hearts led to changed lives.

Their message was a simple gospel call, “you must be born again”. These words, echoing the famous words of Jesus in his encounter with Nicodemus in John 3:3 became a catch-cry for the movement. Conversion is a radical U-turn in which people are born again of the Spirit of God, preceded by turning away from sin - repentance.

They also proclaimed a free, full and present salvation.

They preached a free salvation, in other words that we can be saved through faith as a free gift. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9).

They preached a present salvation – that we can be saved now, and that the time to be saved is now. “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

They preached a full salvation. This was also called entire sanctification or holiness of heart. Sanctification is the process of becoming like Christ. In other words they believed that we aim for, and can reach perfection in our sanctification, as taught by John Wesley.

The Primitive Methodist missionary pioneers also believed that our life here on earth is temporary. In their terminology, life is but a “probationary existence”. We human beings are destined to face the Great Judgment where Christ will be judge of all. The apostle Paul calls this “the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). God’s wrath or his righteous anger will one day be revealed to us all.

Therefore they preached, boldly and courageously “flee from the wrath to come”. The pioneers believed in the reality of heaven and hell. Those who have been saved from God’s righteous anger, by the undeserved gift of God’s grace through Christ are saved to live and reign with Christ in heaven. Those who reject God’s free gift will face the consequences of God’s anger. They were clear and forthright about these eternal realities.

As a result individuals, families and communities were transformed. Those whose lives and relationships were devastated by alcohol abuse, became sober. Men who dealt with anger by getting into fist fights became men of peace. Broken families were restored, relationships renewed, and hatred was replaced by love. Those who wasted their hard-earned wages on gambling became prudent with money. Foul-mouthed cursing men and women learned to speak words of truth and grace.

In our day the religious and social landscape of Australia is very different from that of 1861.

Today we live in a very different world. The Industrial Revolution has been and gone. The rate of technological change is breath-taking. The church in the Western world is in a serious state of decline, as older congregations die off and with fewer young people replacing them. Consequently many church buildings are being sold off. There are whole generations who are largely absent from the church today.

But over the years the problems of human nature remain. Our communities are broken and in pain. Social evils such as alcohol abuse and gambling cause devastation all around. Families are breaking up under the pressures of modern living. Young people are not sure of their identity and sometimes fall into the depths of depression as a result. My identity - “Who I am” - is not determined by the number of friends on Facebook, but by what God thinks of me.

As the celebrations of the opening of Jubilee Primitive Methodist Church 150 years ago go ahead, I pray that the life changing message of the gospel of Jesus Christ may be proclaimed with fresh clarity, authority and power to a new generation of young people.

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