Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Missional Church & The Early Church (4)

This is the 4th and final installation of Dave Mc's helpful reflection on the subject!
When we look at the gospel preaching of the last few centuries, we see that figures like Wesley, Whitefield, and Moody going wherever there was opportunity to share the gospel because they knew there would be at least some unsaved there. For example, Wesley and Whitefield would preach in any church that invited them. If no ministers invited them to speak, they would go to the fields and preach. In general they found the fields more productive because thousands, sometimes tens of thousands would come to listen. The point is, they went where there were people who needed to gospel, be that in a church building or in a field. We should do the same.

As was mentioned earlier, when the situation of the church is healthy and there is gathered together true believers who desire only to worship and serve the Lord Jesus, there will be little need for the gospel to be presented in that setting. And although there may be cases where it makes sense to have a gathering in which others can be brought to hear the gospel, it will often be found that one-on-one, and “life style evangelism” by all the church membership will be the most effective way to bring people to Christ. Once that occurs, they can be added to the church.

But there is another aspect of the gospel that was practiced by the early church but has been largely lost today. With the early church, the vast majority of the gospel opportunities were triggered by the miraculous. For instance, when Peter and John healed the lame man at the temple gate, a large group of people gathered in amazement. Peter saw the opportunity and preached the gospel and 5,000 were saved and added to the church. I think it is important to realize that the goal of the healing was not for an opportunity for the gospel. The reason the man was healed was because Peter and John had compassion on him and desired to help him. But when it was apparent that a door was opening for the gospel, Peter walked through it. But this was a common way of opening people to the gospel in the New Testament.

In fact there is an interesting prayer by the church recorded in Acts 4. It says, “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness." (Acts 4:29-31)

Note that they ask the Lord for boldness to speak his word. The context is that of speaking the gospel. And then they declare the way in which they expected that boldness to come—by the Lord's “stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” To them, the key to their success in the gospel was the opening of the door by the miraculous. They didn’t ask for gifted speaking or great intellectual arguments or the use of outstanding apologetics. They asked the Lord to heal and do works of power. That was how they expected to be emboldened to speak.

How few Christians have this orientation today. Partly it is because we see so little of this among believers that we don’t really expect to see it happen in the context of unbelievers. But the early church did. In many cases, we have been taught that such days are over. But the Scriptures nowhere teach that they are over. We should learn to pray as they did and ask the Lord for the faith and expectation for this every thing to happen. If we want to truly be “New Testament,” the miraculous should be part of our experience, not only for the gospel, but in caring for the believers as well.

We must not forget that Jesus indicated the first job of the Holy Spirit would be to convict people of sin (John 16:8). We must also realize that the Apostles understood that the preaching of the gospel was in the context of spiritual warfare. Paul declared that the god of this age blinds the minds of those that don’t believe so that the light of the gospel will not shine into them. Thus, in our preaching of the gospel, we must not merely depend upon a good, sound presentation or to pray that people's hearts would be softened to hear our message. We also need to take authority over Satan and his blinding activities—for Jesus has given us authority over all the powers of darkness—so that our words can penetrate into people's hearts and that the Holy Spirit can use those words to convict men of sin. As long as Satan blinds the hearts of the lost, our gospel will be less effective than it otherwise would be.

In summary, we must realize that the primary function of the church was for worship, prayer, and building up the body of Christ. The church’s preaching of the gospel was done primarily by its members and not by means of an organized church event, and was almost exclusively done outside the church meetings—they went to the unbelievers rather than inviting the unbelievers to them. Also, the early church had a great dependence upon the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting men of their sin and looked to the Lord to provide opportunities for the gospel through means of healing and the miraculous. And finally, the early church was clear that the preaching of the gospel was within the sphere of spiritual warfare and to be effective it must be undertaken by using the church’s authority over every form of spiritual darkness. If we are to be “missional” in our endeavors, this revelation will be important to our moving forward in relationship to the gospel.

This is just one aspect of our consideration of what was the life and function of the early church. We shouldn’t take anything for granted, assuming that we know what should be done. The more we prayerfully consider these things, the clearer we will be regarding how we might best proceed as a body of believers that desires to be “New Testament” in character and practice.
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