Handling the Gospel
The first characteristic listed (previous post) for the “missional church” is the preaching of the gospel. The inclusion of the gospel as part of the Acts church experience would on the surface seem like a no-brainer. But the question is, in what way was the gospel carried out?
As John Lynch and I conversed on the missional church, the subject of the gospel came up several times. To John, the gospel should be realized by our reaching out to the world and meeting them where they are as opposed to inviting them to attend our meetings and presenting the gospel message to them there. That I heartily agree with. But as we talked, I found myself wondering what light the Scriptures might give regarding the gospel and its relationship to the church. So I decided to take a look. (I'm using “gospel” in the narrower sense as in the good news preached to sinners for repentance unto salvation.)
When we look at gospel preaching in the New Testament, it's hard to find it mentioned in the context of the church meeting. I went through the New Testament recently with this in mind and found that the preaching of the gospel was not really a function of the church per se, but rather of the individual members of the church. Of course, the church is made up of its members. But it did not appear to be a formalized function of the church. For instance, the New Testament clearly mentions the church gathering for prayer, for the Apostles’ fellowship, for the Lord's table,and for ministry among the saints in general. But it never mentions gathering for the preaching of the gospel. Rather, people would go out, either individually or in small groups, into the temple, synagogues, or market places and share the message of Christ with unbelievers.
There were also cases in which some were presented the gospel in response to an opportunity that arose. The healing of the lame man by Peter and John as they were going to the temple at the hour of prayer is an example of this. His healing created a lot of excitement and Peter took the opportunity to preach the gospel. In fact, I've found only two biblical passages where I thought one might deduce that the gospel was being preached in a church gathering, Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 14.
As I was looking through various Scriptures, I thought Paul’s listing of the key offices and gifts within the church was somewhat suggestive regarding the place of the gospel within the church. He says in 1 Corinthians 12, “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues...” In Acts 21, Philip is called an evangelist and Paul tells Timothy to do the work of an evangelist in 2 Timothy 4. But evangelist isn’t listed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 as one of the gifts and functions within the church. I think the reason may have been that the evangelist went primarily outside of the church to proclaim his message and then brought those who accepted that message to the church. And if there wasn’t yet a church in that city, then the evangelist would form the new converts into a church. This to me makes a great deal of sense. The church was not a place that unbelievers would typically visit.
The church was, on one hand, highly regarded by the common people, but it was also considered a fearful place to those on the outside and not to be taken lightly. Acts 5 says, “through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.” The people may have esteemed them but they didn’t readily join them. Thus, I doubt the believers would typically invite an unbeliever to a church meeting to hear the gospel.
Off the subject a bit, I'd like to take a minute to give some context for how amazing Dave's point of view is here. Dave's not in his 30's or even 40's. He's not a hippie, pierced, seminary student who indulges in microbrews as part of his missiological strategy. He has no tatoos and I'm guessing owns no pairs of pants with holes in them.
Dave's a highly skilled professional with two grown kids and a dog that was born before many students in our college ministries. Dave is a recovering modernity mind who is pressing not into a postmodern worldview but a Christological worldview! The truth of Dave's message doesn't flow from his participation in the "Emerging / Emergent / Reformissional / Hoobadee-Doobadee" culture that makes up Relevant Magazine's target group. Dave just wants to experience more of Jesus in and through him. ...which is stunning for me considering how spiritually giant Dave already is in my eyes.
Anyway, I thought that was a powerfully encouraging bit of context for all this stuff.