Does Church Still Work?

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Our day has been one of reevaluation of many institutions from government to even the home and family. Do these things still work? Does church even have a place today, does it still work?

I have been a pastor since the summer of 1986 when I moved my little family of three to a city in Western Massachusetts. Holyoke was a city on the decline, as the “Paper City” was realizing how industry shifts and an aging infrastructure were resulting in a smaller population and less upward growth. There were the centuries old families that dated back even before the Revolution and there were also many new immigrant families. These two opposite end groups seldom mixed and the result was a widening middle vacuum of connection and placement. God called us to that place and time and we went with a message that has endured the times of all ages. “The love of God- how rich and pure, how measureless and strong” the hymn says, that was the message. We started an independent Baptist church in a very historic New England city, a city full of steeples.

Holyoke was then a purported 90% Roman Catholic city boasting 14 ethnic Catholic churches. There were very large and active parochial schools, a nun’s convent, Catholic hospital and a multitude of charities and agencies. There also were several large and active Protestant churches and ministries, an active Synagogue and one other Baptist church. When I discovered the doctrinal positions of these all I realized we were to be the only church in this city of 56,000 that believed the King James Bible is the inspired and preserved Word of God. We would start a church here that would alone teach that salvation is through faith by grace plus and minus nothing. We had nothing to offer except complete confidence in the King James Bible, soulwinning and discipleship, clear teaching and preaching and a church that would love anybody.

Mountain View Baptist Church, Holyoke, MA

Mountain View Baptist Church, Holyoke, MA

The ministries would come later. All we had was a sincere welcome and kindness. The kid’s programs and classes came in the next years. We did rejoice over even the least of the children whether they came with a family or we picked them up in our van and later bus. It was not until 7 years later that we had a property and then a building. Those first 7 years involved 7 moves. One of the moves was to meet in the outside for a month until we had a place again the rent. What we kept close to during those moves was the realization that our God was with us and we worshipped Him though we were not less than the wandering Hebrews in Exodus.

We did build beautiful buildings and took a forest of 14 acres and carved out one of New England’s prettiest church properties in West Holyoke, Massachusetts, Mountain View Baptist Church.

What I saw then I see today here in South Carolina. Families need placement. The church must not simply be a place you go on Sunday or Wednesday but a place where you can love and be loved. A place where you can knit your heart and life around the family of God. A place where you can say I am serving the Lord and others. Every family needs a church and every person needs a pastor.

Many here in the Bible-belt south have a history of a church family. They went to Sunday school and even attended the Christian school. There was youth camp and children’s church where the songs and activities made a deep impression. So many were soulwinners and witnesses but time and distance has silenced the testimony into none at all. The Lowcountry is full of former choir members, bus drivers and altar workers who now have- no place. Deep down there is a lacking for a place. There is no peace of God. A longing to be close to Him again and close in fellowship. I believe they are looking to come home. You cannot know Him and stay away always.

I am reminded of the parable Jesus told in Luke 15 concerning the prodigal son who went away but came back. He came back when he returned into the father’s arms and love. He came to himself in the pig pen but came back to the place he longed to be, close to his father.

I tell you friend, there is a heavenly Father today who loves and wants to restore you. You must come home! He waits to forgive and start again. There is no place too far for God to rescue you from.

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Just imagine what the Lord can do with your life! Imagine how good and peaceful life could be living for Jesus. I want you to know there is a place of quiet rest- near to the heart of God. You take a step toward Him and He will talk two. God extends to us mercy by not judging us now. God offers grace by inviting us to His side. “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Come home. Come back to the Lord, there is a place for you.

One of my all-time favorite quartet songs was sung in a meeting where I saw dozens return to fellowship and home. I never forgot it and here are the lyrics, “Come Home” by Joe Di Quattro

1. You came into the family through Jesus’ precious blood
You tasted of His goodness and His love
He showered you with blessings, He’s building you a home
But somehow on your journey, you’re standing all alone

2. You wandered far from homeland, down paths so dark and cold
In search of all the pleasures you could hold
Freedom bought you bondage; rebellion bought you fear
Jesus stands behind you; and homeland is so near

(Chorus)
Come home, your Father really loves you
Come home, it’s where you want to be
It’s a place of peace and comfort, a shelter from the storm
Don’t wait another moment, come home

3. Remember how it used to be when fellowship was sweet
The time well spent in worship at His feet
You know it doesn’t really matter how long you’ve been away
Just let His Spirit cleanse you and be restored today, today

Pastor Tharp

Trident Baptist Church

Goose Creek, South Carolina