A Christian journal recently gave a detailed account of an effort made to bring young people under the influence of the Gospel. A typical ‘Cellar Club’ was hired, and in an atmosphere of dimmed lights, soft drinks, cigarette smoke and ‘Christian beat music’, hundreds of teenagers were given an opportunity to talk to young believers about the Bible and its answers to their problems. Much of it made uneasy reading for anyone concerned about truly Biblical evangelism. Yet the reporter had a valid point to make. He wrote, ‘I for one shall be interested to watch the outcome of this venture, which is an attempt to reach the outsider – when many get no further than discussing how to do it.’
The implicit challenge should not be evaded. Our inspired text-book is not called ‘the Debates of the Apostles’, or ‘the Resolutions of the Apostles’, but ‘The Acts of the Apostles’. It would be sad indeed if our distaste for the gimmicks, psychological tricks, and doubtful theology of some modern evangelism, caused us to be mere spectators. If we feel that the methods of our forefathers were more honouring, we must employ them, not merely debate them. If we believe that the Biblical Gospel is a bigger thing than we sometimes hear, then the solemn duty is laid upon us to go out and preach it. No man’s life could be more dominated by a high view of God’s Sovereignty and of the supernatural nature of conversion than was the Apostle Paul’s. Yet he was a man of intense activity, who did not hesitate to point to the God-given fruit of his ministry as a vindication of his theology (Acts 15:3, 4; Galatians 3:1-5; 2 Corinthians 3:1-3).
THE PLACE OF THE CHURCH
We must call upon God for a gracious revival. Increasingly it is realized that nothing less can really meet the need. But is our ‘waiting’ to be one of inactivity? The Bible would not lead us to suppose so. There we find great emphasis on the church, the community of God’s people, as the sphere of the Christian’s life, worship and witness. One of the most striking features in contemporary Christian thinking is the revival of interest in the theology of the church. In so far as this leads to a re-examination of Scripture itself, we can be grateful. For a hundred years, both popular evangelicalism and the prevalent Liberalism have failed to emphasize the place of the church in God’s purpose, evangelicals emphasizing a personal, individual, almost lonely salvation, and Liberals equating the kingdom of God with social improvement and human advancement. It was possible to write a systematic theology without a section on the church! Leaving aside the Liberal approach, we can see how the evangelicals have been impoverished by such an oversight. Thinking is remarkably confused. The writer knows of an undenominational ‘mission’ unwilling to adopt the more Biblical name and constitution of a ‘church’ because it was felt that the word ‘church’ denotes dead orthodoxy, nominal Christianity, salvation by works. In another mission he heard an evangelist say, ‘I don’t worry when I hear that my converts can’t be persuaded to join local churches — Jesus didn’t go about founding churches’.
What does the Bible say? The Apostles, in obedience to their Lord, ‘went about founding churches’. Paul’s most striking successes were in Ephesus and Corinth, in each of which he spent up to two years building a strong, virile, well-instructed church. Even his more hurried tours of Asia Minor culminated in a return visit to each town to appoint church officers in an ordered community of believers. In his instructions to Timothy to ‘do the work of an evangelist’ he dwells at length on the organizing of an orderly, disciplined, well-taught church. We know the result. Each church became a centre of light and life. The Gospel ran ahead of the Apostles in Greece, because of the testimony of the Thessalonian church (1 Thessalonians). The Epistle to the Ephesians glories in that which made the early churches effective and attractive, namely the welding together of racial and religious groups once divided, the breaking-down of national and social barriers (Ephesians 2 and 3). The twofold condemnation of the Galatian heresy is that it denies the Gospel of grace and makes church fellowship impossible. Paul rejoices to hear that a church is established at Colosse, and takes this as further proof that the Gospel is bringing forth fruit throughout the world (Colossians 1: 3-6); Peter in the fact that God has established a new nation, a holy priesthood, who will show forth his glory throughout the earth (1 Peter 2:9,6).
OUR PLACE IN THE CHURCH
To the question, then, ‘What should we be doing?‘, the answer is, ‘We should be taking the place which God has ordained for us in his church — faithfully, zealously, consistently, and fully expecting to see his blessing.’ Are we, with false modesty, declining authority or responsibility which God has for us in the local church? Are we to be found in the prayer meeting, with earnest specific requests which spring from an intelligent concern for the lost? Do we give any thought to the people outside whose doors we park our cars when we come to the services? There, people are living and dying, eating and drinking, loving and quarrelling, without a thought of God and his salvation. Do we live amongst them? Know and understand them? Demonstrate that our church life provides a centre of love, joy, peace, unity, in a hateful, sad, warring and divided community? Do we even know so little about them that we think the last six words of that sentence to be an exaggeration? ‘I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility. . . and taught you from house to house’, said Paul reminding converts of his ministry amongst them. And if men and women see Christian people living amongst them, sharing their problems, visiting their homes, displaying serenity and peace and love in a world so sadly lacking these things, sooner or later some of them will take notice. Associating these qualities with the church which the Christians regularly and joyfully attend, some of them will begin to attend themselves. They will find themselves in a totally new atmosphere one in which the God whose name supplied a suitable swear-word, is reverenced, worshipped and obeyed one in which the Bible, previously a totally irrelevant book, is expounded regularly as God’s Word on every problem. And, says Paul, ‘the secrets of his heart are made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God and report that God is in you of a truth’ (1 Corinthians 14:25).
The writer has seen many striking examples of people obviously prepared in their hearts by the sovereign work of God, conscious of some deep need, but with little idea of where to find an answer until they were either approached by church members, or became aware quite independently that ‘something was going on’ in a certain church building. One man sought peace of mind after a nervous breakdown and attended church: the next week he brought a fellow-sufferer: the next week a third patient joined them. A girl student said, ‘I have been reading the Bible for several years now, but didn’t think of coming to church until I was invited at the school gate’. A young man serving at the altar in a ‘high church’ said, ‘It used to hit me like a blow that this meant something wonderful, but it didn’t mean anything to us personally’. Then he heard the testimony of a converted student, and sought out her pastor. A ‘lapsed Catholic’ said, ‘I was sickened by religion — I wanted to find a place where they simply talked about Jesus Christ. When I came here I knew my search had ended’. A lady testified, that in her bereavement she cried to God and was comforted. Afterwards she was persuaded to attend the Sunday Services. Months later she and the pastor knelt together as she sought and found the Saviour in her home. A lad spoke of the atmosphere of ‘something I haven’t got’ when he was invited. He claimed that he came on Sunday morning as an atheist; by lunch-time he was an agnostic; and after the evening service he was a Christian. He later saw that, in fact, this was an exaggeration, but that at least he had been seeking the Truth since that first day — and eventually found it in Christ.
Now the point of this is that although these, and others were clearly marked out by God in his grace, there was a gap to be filled by the local church. That gap was filled when Christian people took their God-ordained place within that church and with prayer and energy sought to be ‘fellow-workers with God’. There, surely, lies the direction in which we can take up the challenge of the reporter, and not only’ discuss’ but ‘do’.