Blogroll: God Gold and Generals
I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 10 posts from the blog 'God Gold and Generals.'
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How to think about evangelism and discipleship? How are the two connected? My friend Robert Strivens sent me some helpful thoughts on this from 1 Peter which I expand on belowRobert says
We tend to put ‘evangelism’ and ‘how we live’ into separate boxes, but the Bible sees them as closely connected.
Peter’s first letter shows this very clearly: the well-known command to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us (3:15) is in the middle of a lengthy exhortation to live godly lives.
This begins in 1:15-16, with the command ‘Be holy, as I [the Lord] am holy’.
It continues with a reminder that we are a chosen generation, a holy people ... (2:9-10)
He gives a general challenge to live radically different lives from the world around us (2:11-12)
And then deals with different life situations in which this needs to be worked out, e.g. citizens (2:13-17); servants (2:18-25); wives (3:1-6); husbands (3:7); everyone (3:8ff.).
Paul sees no conflict between urging the Christians to live radically distinctive lives (Eph. 4:17ff.) and asking them for prayer that he would have an open door for evangelism (Eph. 6:19-20). We should have the same attitude, but I fear we are sometimes drawn into thinking that, to be effective evangelistically, we need to be more like the world. We shouldn’t become weird or unnecessarily objectionable, of course, in our behaviour, but we should be very different, Paul thinks
Discipleship and evangelism the Bible sees as two sides of the same coin. To use Jesus's example we should be like salt, which immediately both adds flavour to the meal and delays decay or light which shines brightly in the darkness and enables people to see things as they really are. One reason, perhaps the main reason, why we find evangelism so difficult is that we haven't really moved on as we should in discipleship. Just exhorting Christian people "tell others about Jesus" is difficult if we are not living for Jesus, loving Jesus, and following Jesus as we should.
On the other hand the stronger our discipleship and our love for Christ, the more natural it will be. We all enthuse about many things because we love them. To take a totally absurd example, I enthuse about watching my football team, Watford, and greatly enjoy taking friends and family along to watch them. My sisters aren't big football fans but they came along to keep me happy (and actually quite enjoyed it!) Or if you don't like football then think of a great restaurant or a fantastic box set. It is just so natural to enthuse about it to others. Being natural and enthusiastic about something comes because you have experienced something - let's say a restaurant -and you love it "That place is amazing," you say "superb food, great service, beautiful building, and excellent value for money". The more you experience the place the more you want to tell others about it.
Why don't we do the same? Two reasons I suggest. We don't experience enough. our love for Christ (I certainly include myself here) is tepid and half-hearted. He is like an "ok" restaurant which we are very familiar with but don't feel is radically better than other places to eat. We are lukewarm: which is a dangerous position to be in as the church in Laodicea found out. The answer is to go deeper into Christ, to know him more, to love him more. To make godly living or central focus as Robert points out. To be "per se" very different to the people around us. The more we are in Christ the bigger the difference. We need to be changed by the Holy Spirit so that our characters and lives are more distinctive. (How to do that is a big subject - I am simply pointing out its something we must aim at)
But there is another difference which Robert also establishes. If you enthuse about a restaurant or a box set nobody is going to mind. Even if you recommend a Japanese restaurant and your friend replies "Oh I really don't like sushi" no offence is taken. But to recommend Christ is to take a risk of causing offence. Christians should look and feel radically different. But in practice, we are not that different to or non-Christian friends and on top of that, we are also afraid of being seen as different. One of these handicaps would be serious but could be overcome. For example, if we are very similar in character to our friends but conscious that we need to communicate the radical nature of our faith, we might be accused of being hypocrites but the message would get through. Or the reverse: we were radically different but afraid to say anything: we would be forced to confess our faith even if embarrassed to do so. But the lethal combination of the two together - lives that are very different and a reluctance to do what Rico Tice calls "crossing the pain line" is killing us.
So I suggest we need to as per Peter address both issues - evangelism and discipleship - together. And one can only grow if the other one does. Right now we are I fear in a vicious circle where our lack of distinctive lives means we won't talk about our faith. What I suggest we need to do with God's help is to create a virtuous circle where little by little our lives become more distinctive and also at the same time we start to be much more willing to talk about our faith. In a way, it doesn't matter where you start on the "heads and tails" "evangelism and discipleship" sides of the coin. I say this as one danger with evangelism is that we give up before we get started because we are very aware of our weak discipleship. But evangelism even if done in a weak way will help our discipleship because it is an essential part of the expression of discipleship with others. My experience is that the more you do evangelism the more natural and fun it becomes. Your faith grows. You think "actually I can do this, however weakly and feebly". God honours even feeble baby steps of obedience to his word and the stronger the right leg becomes as we totter forward on shaky legs the stronger the left one will become as it follows it. We need to keep in step with the Spirit on the two legs - evangelism and discipleship.
Firstly to define terms evangelist is someone who proclaims (tells ) other people about Christ. There is one evangelist mentioned in Acts, Philip, and he, we are told, proclaims Christ. The “office” of the evangelist is mentioned in Ephesians. Whatever we think about its exact applicability today I think all Christians would agree from the Bible that some are particularly called to tell others in a public context about Christ. Such people can both be pastors and “lay” people doing this, though I'm focusing here on evangelism outside the context of a church service (which certainly should include pastors).
A lady called Caz Pinder said this which I think is helpful "Evangelists are just ordinary Christian people living everyday lives, serving the Church and the word of God and showing love and acceptance to others, while speaking naturally about Jesus from the scriptures. I believe that there is a spiritual gift of connection and a big passion to spread the gospel to non-believers." "Speaking naturally about Jesus from the scriptures" is tremendous!
All of us are called to tell others about Christ and this must be the place to start. If we feel called by God and aspire to tell others in a more formal setting then surely we must start by telling others in an informal one. In some ways, it’s more challenging informally as you have to generate your own interest rather than relying on others to invite people. The way I would suggest to do this is to invite people to read the bible with you, using https://www.theword121.com/but there are many other ways. Simply starting a conversation is the easiest way of all!
Then pray. By ourselves, we can’t move anyone by one inch nearer to the Lord. We absolutely must rely on the Holy Spirit. We can do nothing without Him. We must also realise our own sinfulness and weakness. For God to use us we need to suppress our ego. Especially so if we start to do more and more evangelism and become “popular”. Pride is a very dangerous trap.
Know the Bible - not "Bible bashing" style but so you know it so well and are so immersed in it that you can drop the word in to any talk almost without knowing it. Here the "naturally" comment above comes to mind. The more natural and seamless and less "clunky" we can make our Bible us the better.
Next, if you feel you are called by God to tell others more publicly (which is the focus of this article rather than 121) then ask your church for confirmation and advice. This is an excellent general principle: whatever God lays on your heart check it with the people who (should) know you best - your local church. Test your gift. Practice. For example, in your church, you could form an evangelism and apologetics group. We did that in our church and each person in our group took turns in speaking on a given topic. Each person then received friendly feedback on their talk. This also meant that everyone had to prepare in advance their topic by reading around the question. In general feedback from a friendly but constructively critical source is invaluable. Ask for one thing you can improve in content and one in delivery. A common area for improvement is reading your talk. My suggestion is by all means write out your talk as a safety net but try at all costs not to read it out. Speed is another common issue: neither too fast nor plodding and monotonous. Like most things in life, practice tends to make perfect (or at least improves).
Let’s assume then after all that you want your first opportunity to speak. Here are two suggestions as to how to start:-
The easiest place to start is your youth group (I assume you have one!). Teenagers provide fantastic questions and won’t hesitate to poke holes in your carefully prepared arguments. I suggest you start by canvassing the teenagers on what they want to talk about or questions that they find difficult to understand
If that doesn’t work try open-air evangelism. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on that but my father certainly was having done it every other week for 40 years plus. I observed him for many years and I would give the following advice:-
- Find a good spot, with passing pedestrians but not blocking anything
- A soap box or similar to stand on can be good
- Have a sign saying who you are - stress local church
- Take a group with you who can chat to people
- Be prepared to be heckled and in fact heckling can be good as if not too objectionable) it can draw a crowd
- Short and catchy content repetition is ok. Be as natural as you can. This is not like preach in church - its far far harder!
- Don’t harangue the crowd (this is one of my pet hates - I admire the courage of any open air preacher but some I hear are hectoring and aggressive)
We can certainly learn from others both in terms of reading books and watching others though we also need to be ourselves and not try and copy others' style. Different evangelists will give us different ideas. Books will give us good scriptural and philosophical underpinning to our arguments. There are many such books here is my recent compendium https://www.blogger.com/blog/post/edit/4817780181858837735/8691215302072940965. Try and think of the question you dread being asked and read widely around books which attempt to answer it. (Or watch youtube clips on it etc whichever you prefer)
We particularly need today a more diverse range of evangelists. We need more working-class, ethnic minority, youthful and women evangelists. Nay Dawson has written about the last group here. https://naydawson.com/2020/07/08/encouraging-female-evangelists/
Now I appreciate that in my readership there is a range of opinions on women’s exact role in church but I’m sure we would all agree that regardless of what we think about that there are many opportunities in any case outside a church context. Take for example universities as Nay mentions as a good example in the article. It’s equally important to bring in other people who look different to what the audience may be expecting. Rather than someone like me, a young black working-class woman to take an example is exactly what a sceptical audience won’t be expecting.
How to move beyond these first steps? This is perhaps the biggest challenge. There is a problem I see most weeks: many churches longing to find speakers and new speakers longing to have the first step. It is a sad paradox.
One of the things I am working on is to revive “A Passion for Life“ which some of you may recall was a major evangelistic effort 10 years ago. One part of that we want to see revived is a list of recommended evangelistic speakers. Watch this space. Otherwise, I’d suggest for those wanting to speak to keep patiently seeking opportunities, in the first place in your local area. They may be small and insignificant opportunities but that’s ok - from tiny acorns come mighty oaks. Or to put it another way you have to do the village halls before you can play the West End. Word of mouth recommendation is the best way but it can be very slow. Ask well known evangelists for ideas and introductions. Pray. Post your talks on social media. God will find a way.
May God send us many more evangelists. I shall write next on how to speak evangelistically.
If I look at the churches reaction to lockdown and COVID I see two main reactions:
1. Legal and practical: what are the rules? Do we agree with them? How do we comply with them? Some of us feel strongly that they should be relaxed or even eliminated while others disagree
2. Theological: what does the Bible say about gatherings? Is online or virtual church still church? Can we take communion online?
These questions are legitimate and worth discussing.
However, I wonder if we are “missing the wood for the trees”. What are the new possibilities this disruption is creating and are we taking them? Or are we focusing only on compliance and risk and missing opportunities? Are we afraid of change or happy to embrace it?
I’m neither a lawyer nor a theologian and I’d like to take a different lens to view COVID through - that of business and how it responds to disruption as well as creating it. Now immediately I can feel many hackles raising - the last people we need telling us what to do are capitalists! The church is not a business! What about the Bible? Please bear with me.
What is like to do is look at how disruption creates opportunities for business, is a biblical concept and one that should actually appeal to Christians not appal us. I worry that we Christians are not only theologically conservative but conservative in a bad way - afraid to change anything and in danger of missing opportunities. I recall the famous lines about the Bourbons who returned from exile after Napoleon “having forgotten nothing and learned nothing”. Or my professor at business school who used to say “the only person who likes change is a baby with a wet nappy”
COVID may give us opportunities to profit from disruption and as far as we can even “embrace” it. Of course, it’s good to want to meet in person and “online” church is not the same as “regular church”. I signed the letter asking the government not to close churches again. Wanting to meet again as Christians in person is totally natural and to be encouraged.
But is that all we can learn from Covid? Isn’t there something new we can benefit from ? If God has in his sovereign will allowed this pandemic to happen then might there not be opportunities as well as threats? Our mentality I feel sometimes is inward looking and conservative in the bad sense of the word. Aren’t there things we can learn to do differently?
In business “disruption” in a strategic sense means when a new entrant with a completely different model enters a market. which it disrupts or is being disrupted by external forces, and over time defeats the incumbents who are slow to react. Normally this is because they don’t embrace the disruption as an opportunity but are too slow or unwilling to change. The classic example is Amazon and the Internet. Jeff Bezos was far sighted enough to see that this new technology was going to change everything. He left his well-paid job in Wall Street and moved to Seattle where starting with books he ended up building one of the biggest companies in the world. Bezos was willing to make huge personal sacrifices and be highly revolutionary in his thinking about what the new business model should be and how change opens up opportunities. His competition were wedded to their existing models and couldn’t respond.
There is something I suggest here we can learn from the children of the world as Luke tells us “The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light.“ (Now it’s also true that Bezos was ruthless in driving the company and pushing his Employees- something I am not suggesting we copy. )
What is amazing though is to think of how many customers amazon has managed to gain in 26 years - around 200 million worldwide. And shipped over 5 billion items in 2019. Yet when amazon started in 1994 it had not one customer and has shipped not one item.
The issue here is much wider than to zoom or not to zoom. The issue is can we embrace change and learn to use it or are we unwilling to do that and miss opportunities? Are we instinctively turning inwards and not reaching out?
This embracing of disruption was also true of the early church. When the gospel starts to be preached in acts we see that it is highly disruptive. The authorities are aghast that the religious status quo is being disrupted and pretty soon a savage attempt to crush the new movement occurs. Stephen is martyred and the disruption caused by the bee movement intensifies. By Acts 17 Christians are labelled “the people who turned the world upside down”. We can note that being disrupted doesn’t make you popular! Jeff Bezos might have lost his home but early Christians lost their lives. Both though had a willingness to embrace disruption. Christians should love disruption because we believe that things need to change. We believe that we need a radical change.
So what might embracing disruption look like?
Above all, I think it’s a mindset. It’s about the recognition for example that the Covid disruption brings many opportunities for the church. I have written about this elsewhere but most obvious Is that death and illness offer us a wonderful chance to talk about the Christian hope in the face of death. But also to show practical care and love for our neighbours friends and families - and maybe even people we don’t know in deprived areas of the U.K. and throughout the world.
Secondly that we need to think much more about the many people in our country who will be going to a lost eternity. Yes, it’s good to think about how we can care for the flock and get people back to meeting together. But what about those who weren’t going to come to church before COVID anyway and certainly won’t now? Why pre-COVID were we so reluctant for example to live stream church services?
Even now I sense a deep aversion to doing this - “it might encourage people to watch at home who could be there in person.” Yes, that’s true but what about people with no particular belief who might tune in? Let’s see what happens. We seem to be risk-averse to trying new things.
Thirdly avoiding an overly cautious and risk-averse attitude towards technology. Yes, there are dangers (try watching “the social dilemma”!) but in my view, they are massively outweighed by multiple opportunities. Luther harnessed printing to power the reformation but in general, churches have not done the same with the Internet. Tragically the message mainly powered through new technology is not the word of God but pornography.
Isn’t it possible to create a new hybrid model that enables God's word to spread through technology as well as in person? The two can work together. Technology offers so many chances especially to reach people who have no contact with the church. How much of the church budget is devoted to technology? Very little.
Finally, we need people who are risk-takers even buccaneers, willing to innovate and take risks. (And I’m not talking about virtual communion). We should look to steer resources to such folks, to take risks and be bold. For as Hudson Taylor said “faith without risk is no faith at all”
May God enable us to be also the people who turned the world upside down
Have you ever wrestled with the route to becoming a Christian? And if you are a Christian already, have you ever wondered whether you've "arrived" properly and whether you are in fact a Christian? These questions and the fears they invoke can sometimes make people into prayer-reciting robots. They can be made to feel that they need to satisfy specific requirements in order to believe that they're right before God.
One example of this is the emphasis placed by some Christians on the need for non-believers in Christianity, or those with a developing belief, who want to become a Christian, to pray to God by saying the Salvation Prayer, which is also called the Sinner's Prayer, in order for them to be converted.
This therefore begs the question: "Is there only one way to become a Christian and is it by saying a specifically-worded prayer?"
There are various versions of the wording in the Salvation Prayer and such a prayer can be said by an individual, either alone or in the presence of another person or in a group of people. It can be said in any setting at any time, or at an altar call in church, or during a small or large gathering of potential believers. Crusades, festivals and outreach campaigns often culminate in the offer to all those present to say the prayer.
There's nothing wrong with this whatsoever, absolutely nothing.
Becoming a Christian requires that one repents of all past sin and believes and trusts in God and Jesus. This needs to done with sincerity and conviction in order for it to be a genuine heart-changing experience.
The wording of the various versions of the Salvation Prayer usually covers these requirements. As such, the prayer has very helpful practical application in the life of the church and in Christian outreach and evangelism. It provides guidance to someone who'd like to make a profession of faith at a particular moment in time because they feel they're ready to make a commitment to becoming a Christian.
However, is it true that conversion to Christianity can be achieved only by saying a version of a specifically-worded prayer? Does one have to say a version of the Salvation Prayer? Quite obviously, the answer is "no". How can we confidently say that the answer is "no"? The reason we can say so is that the Bible doesn't stipulate that conversion to Christianity can be achieved only by the praying of a specifically-worded prayer.
Furthermore, pinning one's conversion to Christianity on a single prayer, said at a moment in time in one's past, or on a specific experience or ceremony, can actually sow doubt in the future as to whether becoming a Christian was dependent on saying the prayer in a particular way, or whether one had repented and believed properly at the time, as if there's a specific way to pray for repentance, a specific technique to believing, or a specific experience that needs to be gone through.
B) Biblical guidance
There is no support or instruction in the Bible for a specifically worded prayer as a requirement to be saved. Biblical examples of people coming to believe in Christ point instead towards acts of faith on the part of people who believed, as well as professions of faith and heart-felt belief. Some people were able to display this faith in the presence of Jesus, but many have done so without ever having met Him and yet they were, and are, properly converted Christians.
How then did the idea of the need to say a specifically-worded prayer come about? The answer is that people quite understandably may want to make a declaration of faith and commitment when they come to believe in Christianity, and the Salvation Prayer provides a way for them in which to do so.
The Bible does in fact provide support for a declaration, without however specifying that the wording to be used is the only valid way of making such a declaration. In Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 10, verses 9-10, he writes: "If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved."
Notice that Paul does not go on to say "And this is the only way to come to faith and be in Christ".
The fact is that millions of people have become Christians since the beginning of Christianity without saying a specifically-worded prayer. Some can't even remember when or how they became a Christian, but they consider themselves to be believers and they endeavour to live a Christian life.
However, many new believers are open to the idea of converting at a point in time by making a declaration of faith and find it helpful to say a specifically-worded prayer. If they want to do so, what should they do and say and how should they believe?
C) Prayer is essential, but no formula is needed
Firstly, they should be encouraged to fulfil the requirements for becoming a Christian without doing so in a way that makes their actions a "work" that needs to be done in order to be saved. Salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone, and this should be their guiding light. One doesn't need to know the intricacies of the gospel, simply knowing and understanding its basic message is all you need, as long as you know "the terms of salvation", as author Donald Whitney writes in his outstanding book "How can I be sure I'm a Christian". These terms are repentance for sin and belief in God and Jesus.
Secondly, in order to become a Christian, saying a prayer to God is essential. In order to establish a relationship with God, regular prayer is necessary.
The book of Acts chapter 9, verse 11, points to the fact that when one becomes a believer, one does need to talk to God. When Saul was in the very process of repentance and conversion, Ananias was told to ".....ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying."
The person praying must confess and own up to being sinful, repent of their sins, ask God for mercy and request forgiveness for their sins. They must also state that they accept and receive Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
However, no specific form of words is required, no prescriptive prayer, no one formula. The saying of the prayer itself shouldn't be ritualistic, nor should it be mechanistic or legalistic. There's nothing "magical" about becoming a Christian, and no specific ceremony or custom need be followed to become one, nor should there be any superstition about how to go about coming to faith. Christianity is above all this and it frees one from so many things, including any feeling that the observance of a specifically-worded prayer is a pre-condition for becoming a Christian.
D) Belief in one's heart is required
Thirdly, there has to be a movement of the heart. It must be a heartfelt experience. In Romans, chapter 10, verses 9-10, Paul states the need to ".....believe in your heart....." and that ".....it is with your heart that you believe and are justified.....".
How can we be sure that simply by believing in our hearts, God knows that we believe, without us actually telling God out loud in private or in the company of others?
The answer is that we don't have to specifically tell God anything, because He knows everything, absolutely everything, including what's in our hearts. After all, he's God.
"Heart" in the Bible (Old and New Testaments) was the seat of one's personality. It's what makes you you and me me. Therefore, when we say we believe in our heart, it means we believe in our whole being, i.e. our spirit, our mind, our will, our emotions and all our rationality put together.
We must believe in our hearts that God has the power to save us. God is more concerned about what is going on in our hearts than what we say. This means that we must believe in Jesus and what he has done for us and we must believe that God knows our hearts.
There is therefore no specifically-worded prayer that needs to be said in order to become a Christian. As mentioned above, becoming a Christian requires that one repents of all past sin and believes and trusts in God and Jesus. This needs to done in prayer and with belief in one's heart, and with sincerity and conviction in order for it to be a genuine heart-changing experience.
Some quotes from Christian authors John MacArthur and Donald Whitney about becoming and being a Christian are particularly helpful. John MacArthur, in his excellent book, "Saved Without A Doubt", writes: "Far too much has been made of isolating the moment by some formula, whether it be praying a prayer, signing a card, raising your hand, or walking down an aisle." And "I don't look for a past event to make my salvation real to me. I look at the present pattern of my life.....Focus on your lifestyle and attitudes instead."
MacArthur also refers to and quotes wording from the eighteenth-century treatise by the great American preacher Jonathan Edwards, writing that "In the very year Edward's treatise was published, popular teaching asserted that .....the only real evidence of true salvation is a feeling based on an experience - usually the experience at the moment of the alleged conversion. That teaching introduces the prevalent but erroneous concept that a person's true spiritual state is known by a past experience rather than a present pursuit of holiness. Edwards flatly contradicted that notion: "Assurance is never to be enjoyed on the basis of a past experience. There is need of the present and continuing work of the Holy Spirit .....[in] giving assurance."
In his book "How can I be sure I'm a Christian", Donald Whitney writes that "Assurance of a relationship with God should never be based upon an experience, a ceremony, the opinion of others, or something you have done. Reliance upon these things usually breeds doubt. You begin to wonder if you had the genuine experience, received from the ceremony what you should have, talked to the right people, or done quite enough. Faith in what God has done, however, produces assurance that's steadier and sturdier." And he also writes that the most important thing is to ask: "Do I have the signs of Christian life now? Do I love Jesus today? Do I trust in Christ as my only hope of salvation, rather than in my own efforts or in Christ plus my works?"
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Having cancer treatment is like entering a parallel universe in which everything is the same, but different. This is the case in general but is even more true in Covid because I was on my own. My dear wife cane with me to 23 of my previous 24 chemotherapies and waited so patiently for hours in uncomfortable chairs while I sat in my padded chair and got the drugs infused. The last 6 though have been very different as no visitors are allowed in due to COVID . She kindly dropped me off by car each time and then one of my children, usually Nat and his girlfriend Amy, kindly picked me up afterward. But for the 7-8 hours, the whole process takes in between these two points I was on my own, disconnected from family and friends, though I could go out for a while if the weather was kind and sit in a nearby garden and catch up briefly with friends.
Actually, as long as I have my trusty Kindle I don’t mind too much being on my own and also there is always something to be done in terms of the treatment, drugs to be taken, infusions to be adjusted, so time passes fairly quickly. The staff are amazingly friendly and chatty, though not being able to see their face behind the masks and read their expressions also feels odd. But it’s a wonderful feeling to be reconnected with family at the end of the day. It feels like getting out of a (nice) prison! And finally, after the drive to Sevenoaks, I make it home and am content.
Loneliness, disconnection, and separation are of course endemic in the last few months. This morning at church we heard from my friend Roger Carswell (though the ending frustratingly got chopped due to technical problems!) the story from Mark below.
Here in brief is a woman who has been forcibly separated from everyone because of her unsolvable illness, which made her unclean and unhealthy and made other people unwilling to associate with her for fear of being contaminated themselves. She has searched everywhere for a solution and spent money like crazy but all this has done is bankrupt her. She has no peace and no hope. What a symbol of us and our society.
We may notice that in despair finally, she connects with the one person who can transform her. She is doubtful and afraid and tries to do her action in secret. She breaks the social distancing rules (for her very illness meant she shouldn’t have been in the crowd). No respecting the two metres rule! But however tentatively, hesitantly and fearfully, connect finally she does, touching the most distant part of Jesus’s physical presence, the trailing hem of his cloak, the very tassels that every Orthodox Jew was told in the Torah to have on the four corners of their clothing. Her doubt-filled and shame-filled, tentative, questioning action brings a wonderful and immediate answer.
She is an invitation today to us in our human situation to connect with the only person who can transform us and cure us of our fundamental problem - which is not separation from others, important as that is - as separation by our wanderings off from the Father God who made us. She has come home.
“A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
1. Most importantly The Bible is clear that we should pray for our politicians and those in authority over us. 1 Timothy 2. That should be our distinctive as Christians: that we pray for our government and rulers. I fear that we tend to be known not for praying for our rulers but arguing about or with them. Certainly, if you look at social media there seems to be a lot of noise about COVID for example, and not so much noise about prayer. We should especially pray for Christians of all political parties who are trying to bring Christ to parliament and to the world. There’s more: a friend of mine says “I think the Timothy quote is remarkable for putting forward what we'd call an "instrumentalist" interpretation of politics. The call is to pray for those in authority, not just for their personal salvation or because it's holy to step outside of politics - rather, you pray "THAT we may live peaceful and quiet lives". The prayer is almost like a contract because the goal is that politicians leave people alone to live in peace.“
Next we should respect and obey authorities and even honour them. This is abundantly clear from Romans 13. The authorities are ordained by God (I leave aside the question of revolutions!) and it’s our duty to respect and honour them unless their commands are a clear violation of the commands of the Bible. (I am not at all persuaded that some limitations on social interaction which we don’t agree with are a clear violation of the Bible: at times some of the arguments seem to ignore Romans 13 entirely)
Finally on this, if we complain about our politicians we should remember that Paul was writing when the emperor was Nero, one of the cruellest and mist wicked rulers known to history who turned Christians into human torches in his gardens for amusement. If Paul can say this about Nero how much more can we say this about our government?
2. I see two equal and opposite errors that we can fall into
First of all to if you like go “all in” and make politicians idols. Christopher Wright is very good in this in his new book “here are your Gods”. We invest huge hopes in humans who will ultimately always disappoint us, however godly. Wright says “the things we thought could deliver us from evil and in which we invested great amounts of intellectual, financial and emotional capital in the hope that they would deliver us have instead spectacularly disappointed us”. Jeroboam I is a good example - to prop up his regime he advocated the worship of Yahweh but using golden calves not as he should have worship at the Jerusalem temple. It is very dangerous trying to combine worship of the living God with the worship of political idols and you can see that for example in America with the tragic identification by many evangelicals of the cause of Christ with the cause of President Trump.
Wright helpfully lays down some good principles Christians in politics can follow. You can read more in my book review here https://jsjmarshall.blogspot.com/2020/09/book-review-christopher-wright-here-are.html
Modesty and humility
Integrity and accountability
Justice especially caring for the downtrodden
Critiquing the idols of our age which can often infect the church eg prosperity gospel
Wright is particularly good at developing the implications of OT teaching in politics and if you want more details you can read my review or ideally the book
3. Withdrawal - the opposite going ”all out”
The book “the Benedict option” by Rod Dreher is well known and I have reviewed it here https://jsjmarshall.blogspot.com/2020/08/book-review-benedict-option-by-rod.html. It has been unhelpfully caricatured as “abandon hope and head for the hills” and there is much thought provoking in it. I especially liked the need for the church to cherish its own distinctive culture “(the church must “Nurture its own life the culture of the City of God”. Many of his ideas are sensible - build community, build the church, think local”. I also liked his definition of politics “how we order our lives together, how we recognise and preserve what is important, how we cultivate friendship and educate our children”
What I didn’t care for was his proposal of the monastery or something like it as the “lifeboat”. Where in the Bible do we find that? He completely ignores the many down sides of this - corruption, legalism and mandatory celibacy. It’s as if the Reformation was a big mistake. And overall I felt the tone was much too negative and verging on defeatism.
The template for the church in tough times in a hostile culture is not Benedict but Acts. A small group of Christians fearlessly stepping out into a deeply hostile environment which persecuted them and boldly and joyfully “we have something radical and different. Something that is, in fact, revolutionary “the world turned upside down”. Now some of them were imprisoned and executed but over the next few hundred years the gospel transformed the Roman Empire and Christianity became the official religion of the empire.
Which in turn led to problems and I’m far from convinced that Christians should seek power as various historical examples show.
After Constantine came to power the whole dynamic changed. Previously you had to want to be distinctive and different to be a Christian. People joined because they believed Christianity to be true and they were willing to pay the cost. Furthermore, the church was extremely thorough in discipling and vetting these new Christians. Now the doors were flung open to all and many people joined with questionable motives often seeking advancement and preferment. Corruption began to spread and the church couldn’t cope with the influx and discipleship broke down
Cromwell. To take a more recent example the Puritans were very critical of the state church and constantly agitated against state and the errors of the state church. Eventually, the righteous achieved power and they made a big hash of it. Firstly the different “tribes” within the godly spent too much time quarrelling with each other. Not only Presbyterian and independent and many new radical religious movements. Then the attempts to impose morality on the general public were even more problematic. Cancelling Christmas and trying to set out a set of legal minutiae is still recalled in popular imagination now. In 18 years the puritans in power were swept away by popular demand for restoration of the King and the backlash proved very damaging - you can argue that the evangelical and reformed cause never recovered
4. So having set out what Christians shouldn’t do in politics then what should they do?
Truth and honesty in politics. Christians should if they are known for anything must be known for contending for truth. The TV show and book “Chernobyl” illustrate what happens when Truth is systematically suppressed. Part of being salt and light is casting illumination into dark corners.
Linked to that Christians most stand for freedom of speech. If we believe we have the truth then we shouldn’t be afraid - for we have nothing to fear - of allowing others to debate critique and even ridicule Christianity. But it should be freedom of speech linked to respect and love towards those who disagree or even hate Christianity. Which is why the Scottish governments attempt to define hate speech is so troubling.
Checks and balances. Given the Christian view of human nature is that we are all by nature fallen it’s only logical to seek to curb human ability to do as they wish. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” ( a phrase that was coined by a Catholic historian writing at and about the Vatican). Nor are Protestants or evangelicals immune from this as recent events show. So limitations are important. Jonathan Sachs said recently “The OT recognised that you see the extraordinary phenomenon of a king without legislative powers. It didn’t exist anywhere else. Everything about the King in the Hebrew Bible is limiting the power of the King. He is the only person commanded to be humble in the whole of the Bible. This is saying politics is not the most important thing there is. The most important thing is loving your neighbour and helping the stranger”.
Standing up for the downtrodden. The story of Wilberforce and the anti slavery trade movement is well known. Possibly less well known are other movements around the same period aiming at speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves. Two obvious causes which are at the opposite end of the political spectrum. Firstly refugees. Yes there are of course economic refugees and we can’t take everyone but we can take a lot more than we take now. Secondly abortion. The unborn have money to speak for them. What we have in the U.K. now is effectively “abortion on demand” and that is wrong.
Be willing to be different but in a gracious way. We can easily go with the cultural flow, but its also possible to be unpleasant and harsh as we seek to uphold what we think is true. Tim Farron modelled how to do this I suggest when he was Lib Dem leader: he was clear abouit his Christian beliefs, which in the end cost him his job, but he also held those truths in a gracious and loving manner. How say things is as importamt as what we say.
Finally I think it’s wonderful that we have Christians in the U.K. in all the main political parties. We don’t have one party which identifies itself as Christian but individual Christians seeking to be salt and light across the spectrum. May that continue.
With roots in the Bible and the church fathers, Christians stand to benefit from the biblical practice
Meditation is rapidly becoming an everyday part of popular culture. Buddhist-inspired apps like Headspace and Calm have been downloaded more than sixty million times, and 20 percent of US corporations now offer mindfulness classes to their staff (see below for the difference between meditation and mindfulness).
So why are Christians, heirs to the oldest meditational tradition of all, so wary of meditation? Today, we often think of meditation as originating in the East but the very first reference to meditation in any literature is actually in the Book of Genesis. It says that “Isaac (~1600BC) went out to meditate in the field toward evening.” For reference, Buddha’s birth was still 1,000 years in the future (~600BC). A few hundred years later in the book of Joshua(~1400BC), we begin to see the distinctive nature of biblical meditation beginning to emerge. God tells Joshua to “meditate on [the book of the law] day and night… for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success.” As we will see, the phrase “meditate on” is a key distinctive of Christian meditation and it is always linked in the Bible with promises of blessing.
It is sometimes said that you can learn more about what is really important to someone by overhearing their private prayers than in any other way. And in the Bible, it’s in the book of Psalms that we get to overhear the living, breathing beliefs of Israel, and it is there that we start to discover their embrace of meditation. Psalm 1 serves as a kind of preface to the whole book of Psalms, and in it, we read of the man whose “delight is in the LORD’s law. On his law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree planted by the streams of water.” Once again, we see this idea of meditating on God’s word, his character, his goodness, together with the promise of the blessings of peace and fruitfulness.
Over the last 150 years, Christians have become increasingly fearful of speaking with confidence about the inner life. Christians were once pioneers in psychology, actually inventing the term in the 15th-century. Even as late as 1868, Noah Porter, a Christian pastor and president of Yale, could open his noted book “The Human Intellect” with the statement “Psychology is the science of the human soul.” However, in the 20th Century, initially encouraged by Freud and embraced with gusto by the emerging psychotherapeutic profession from the ’20s onward, religion became increasingly associated not with mental health but with mental illness; belief itself sometimes cast as a kind of mental illness. Only in recent years has the role of religion in mental health begun to be widely re-evaluated by psychologists.
This deliberate banishing of the spiritual dimension from people’s everyday concerns about their basic mental health—issues like anxiety, stress, insomnia—left a gap. A gap that was eagerly filled in the ‘70s and ‘80s by Eastern meditation and its secularised offshoot, mindfulness. So much so that today, many Christians are unaware of the history, benefits, and significance of biblical meditation as portrayed in Scripture and practiced by Christians down the ages.
Meditation has a long history in Christian tradition. Given how Eastern meditation’s recent popularity grew out of the counterculture of the ‘60s, it’s ironic that the early tradition of Christian meditation also grew out of a form of counterculturalism. St. Anthony and the desert fathers left the corrupt life of the Roman Empire in protest at its lack of spiritual authenticity and set up a new form of communal living in the desert—the monastery. Monasteries quickly caught on and sprang up all over the West from the 4th Century and it was in them that the practice of meditative “constant prayer” was particularly developed. The most notable example of which was the Lectio Divina - the meditative reading of Scripture.
The more recent history of Christian meditation is perhaps also surprising. Google has a service called Ngram that shows the frequency with which particular words are used over time. In the last 400 years, the use of the word “meditation” has risen and fallen exactly in step with the use of the word “prayer.” The use of both has always peaked at times of general religious revival. More intriguingly, rises and falls in the use of the word “meditation” often seem to precede changes in the use of the word “prayer” by about 30 years.
So if Christians have been meditating for such a long time, why is meditation, and its modern offshoot mindfulness, so often associated only with Eastern and New Age practices? Indeed, are mindfulness and Christian meditation compatible or are there differences that matter?
The short answer? There are differences that matter.
Mindfulness is sometimes defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” Mindfulness is essentially about bringing your attention and consciousness to a focus on bodily sensations, such as your breath, as a way to empty yourself of negative emotions and thoughts. Research studies attesting to its effectiveness are increasingly cited, though a recent authoritative review in the journal, Nature, casts some doubt on these.
Christian meditation, though every bit as interested in peace and inner resilience, is based on a fundamentally different idea. At the heart of Christianity is the understanding that we were created for a loving relationship with our creator. As St. Augustine famously put it, “you have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.” And just as lovers are never happier than when staring into each other’s eyes, Scripture regards the contemplation of God as good in itself, but also as leading to blessing. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed.” Even when the Psalms don’t use the word “meditate” explicitly (which they do 19 times), the idea of meditation is never far below the surface.
Psalm 27 is typical: “One thing I have asked of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the LORD’s house all the days of my life, to see the LORD’s beauty, and to enquire in his temple. For in the day of trouble, he will keep me secretly in his pavilion. In the secret place of his tabernacle, he will hide me.”
Again, we find those twin ideas of meditating on God—his goodness and his beauty—with the result being blessing. In this case, the blessing is safety and protection. In fact, the Psalms repeatedly talk about the sense of safety which we experience when meditating on God. “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”
It is exactly this sense of trust and safety that, from a psychological point of view, is the necessary precursor to being able to confront unresolved pain or shame and their associated negative heart beliefs that are at the root of anxiety, stress and emotional disturbances of all kinds. Everyone finds it scary to look at these difficult feelings that so often lurk in the basements of our lives. So much so, that we’d often rather close the door and lock it, even if a faint odor occasionally rises through the floorboards. But if in meditation our Father takes our hand, then going down the stairs into the basements of our lives no longer holds the same terror. Rather, it gives the possibility of finding new heart beliefs that can bring true peace and rest.
So how can we go about exploring Christian meditation today? As we’ve learned from the biblical and modern-day historical review of Christian meditation, the practice is one that requires no more than an individual and their creator, and perhaps a Bible. But as with most Christian practices, today’s advanced technology offers a plethora of ways to enhance meditation, and perhaps make it more accessible to those who may not know where to start.
The rapid rise of meditational apps has demonstrated that not only is there is a tremendous appetite for meditation, but also, more practically, that audio tracks on a smartphone provide a natural platform for meditation. Done right, these kinds of audio meditations can help us find that place of safety, trust, and connection. A place that is private yet intimate, at hand when you need it. It’s no replacement for, but definitely cheaper than a therapist! A second generation of Christian meditational apps, like Soultime, even offers emotional and spiritual analysis and tracking. This enables them to tailor recommendations each day to people’s individual needs.
Perhaps a better understanding of the nature and rich history of Christian meditation will help usher in a new confidence in how Christians approach meditation. Better emotional and spiritual health, along with a revived enthusiasm for prayer and the blessings promised in Scripture, await those who are ready to dive in and experience this rich part of our Christian heritage.
JM: Full Disclosure: Mark is a friend who has founded and developed a meditation and prayer App, Soultime. https://www.soultime.com/check-up/intro I am about to invest in this company.
(this article appeared first on Steve Kneale's' blog "Building Jerusalem")
Why is money such a difficult topic for Christians? In general and especially thinking about the church in deprived areas. I think to its root is a reluctance to teach the Bible, for the Bible has a huge amount to say about money and being generous. According to one estimate, the Bible has twice as many verses on money as on faith and prayer combined. Nearly 50% of Jesus's parables are to do with money and possessions. Recently because of this a group of friends and I sponsored a new course and book - the Generosity Project. https://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/the-generosity-project This is designed to be a tool for local churches in small groups to teach about generosity (which is broader than money). The book is co-authored by Tony Payne (Trellis and the Vine) and includes Bible teaching from well known UK Bible teachers like John Stevens and Vaughan Roberts.
The book points out, looking at 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, the importance of partnership and that's what Id love to see happening - generous partnerships between churches and individuals in wealthy areas and those in deprived areas. This is a two-way partnership. The Macedonians were the deprived area and yet it was them not the wealthy Corinthians longing to bless the church in Jerusalem, for they modeled Christ who left heaven and became poor so that we might benefit from his spiritual riches. He became poor so we might become rich. By asking our fellow Christians to partner with us we are saying as the book points out "Will you partner with me and with God himself in the work of the gospel? Will you invest your world wealth in something that will last for eternity?"
Partnership is a good word because it suggests a close relationship. We can easily become legalistic about generosity but the best generosity springs from friendship. I love to help my children because I love them, it can be the same for us with relationships between churches and individuals. Partnership also implies equality and the quality of being "yoked" together, both apply to wealthy-deprived co-operation.
We might think about with whom we can partner. Historically people have supported their own church and foreign missions. But the sad truth is that the mission opportunity that's been missed is the huge mission fields in the UK where there are hardly any Bible-teaching churches. It is a staggering indictment of evangelicals that there is a tremendous correlation between wealth and evangelical churches. Vast areas of the North for example have nothing while towns (like mine!) in wealthy areas in London and the M25 have many churches. There is such an opportunity for us to create partnerships between those who have much and those who have little. What a witness as well to a world which is divided by class and other lines if we can show "we are different".
Some advice on how that might work. For wealthy churches, it would help greatly if you could partner with churches in deprived areas. This is money but also all kinds of know-how advice and encouragement. Some kind of "twinning" is my proposal. I believe this is biblical and also makes it a partnership, where both sides gain. I'd suggest that all wealthy churches should devote say a third of their mission budget to deprived areas in the UK. To avoid in any way cannibalizing giving to international work, which is equally important, this means that churches should give more away. But the very act of radical giving will itself draw in more givers. I believe that many wealthy Christians like me give little to their church both because of our own lack of godliness but also because there is no vision or excitement in the giving requests. They tend to be about "business as usual". If you want to raise money in business "business as usual" will attract no funding from outside investors. Instead, they look for radical disrupters. But what the church is offering - eternal life - is the most radical message of all. Additionally, of course, churches play a leading role in doing good in deprived areas - according to one estimate the majority of food banks in the UK are run by churches. We should seek to blessed all through our generosity, not just Christians. The church is the tap that turned on can water everyone.
For churches in deprived areas of course they need to be looking for wealthy churches to partner with. If you don't have an obvious twin go and ask some likely candidates "Ask and you receive". The worse that could happen is they say "no"!
One specific thing that would help is some kind of "umbrella" or funnel to channel requests through. As a philanthropist pretty much every day I get requests for help and many are those are from churches in deprived areas. It's very hard to sift through those and figure out which deserves support. An English version of 20 Schemes would help greatly.
The requests need to be properly structured: what is the money for? what is the plan and the goal? To whom is the money accountable? Which other gospel churches in the area support this? I'm very cautious with the (many) "lone wolf" requests I get. Groups like the Gospel Partnerships and FIEC can be really helpful to validate. If other churches in the local area don't support requests I'm generally reluctant to engage.
Next look for support in a variety of ways. One problem with gifts is that there is obviously a limited supply of money. Give the money away and there is none for the next person. "Recycling" generosity is important which is why a group of friends and me, together with Stewardship https://www.stewardship.org.uk/ (which is an evangelical charity where I am a trustee, a fantastic source of help on generosity) purchased Kingdom Bank recently. https://www.kingdom.bank/
Both KB and Stewardship provide loans for churches in deprived areas to grow. Loans will in time with Gods help grow the church through conversions and discipleship, people will give money for their church and the loans can be repaid and recycled.
May God build close and fruitful partnerships between wealthy and deprived churches.
In general, the most asked question of Christians by our friends is “how can a loving God allow suffering”. Even more, has this been so during the COVID crisis. What we need is a bang up to date book that addresses all of these questions and is easy to read and give to friends. What perfect timing therefore for this new book by Amy Orr-Ewing and it meets all the above requirements. Amy is a renowned speaker and author and works at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics/Zacharias Trust where in the interests of openness I should say I am a trustee.
Firstly and importantly the book is very personal. Amy writes very movingly about her own experiences of suffering and those of her husband and the Grenfell Tower disaster and other awful things that have happened to friends of hers. This is really important in this area as it’s so easy to come across as cerebral and insensitive when talking about suffering: indeed the book has a number of helpful examples of what not to say. She also tackles so well the important difference between an impersonal “random” suffering (say cancer which I have or coronavirus) and “the pain of being hunted, exploited, attacked, raped targeted or violated by another person” - even more so when we in the book in the example given for a friend of hers it’s your own father. A book about Suffering written by a woman tackling womens (and men’s ) specific issues is very timely.
Next despite the painful subject, it’s so easy to read. Yes, it’s aimed at someone who is willing to read 130 pages but the book flies by and is attractively produced and published making it easy to give away. And the structure of the book makes it very accessible - it’s organised by types of suffering such as sickness, violence and mental illness. She writes very movingly about the last topic for example, looking sensitively about important but difficult to tackle issues like self-harm, trauma and suicide.
At the same time, Amy always takes us to the Bible and to the best place to go to talk about suffering. Writing about mental illness she says “ Jesus Christ suffered tremendous mental agony as well as physical suffering as he died on the cross for us. He is uniquely able to meet us in our mental pain and to offer a certain hope to us, rooted in his own suffering for us. Dwell on that thought for a moment..you are precious to Him, you matter to the creator of the universe”. This and similar writing grabs the mind and warms the heart. The Bible‘s teaching she draws on is beautifully and skilfully woven into the subject matter, which personally I think for a book designed to give away is a better way of structuring a book like this, than the traditional way of running through the Bible teaching. We are starting with the questions and issues that people have and saying “Let’s listen to you, look we have something we’d like to share which can help” rather than “Please listen to me and I will tell you what I’ve got”.
Let me finish with where we must always go on suffering - to Gethsamane and Calvary. I will leave the last words with Amy “ the cross of Christ redefines everything because God in Christ has suffered pain voluntarily and purposefully for humanity...Jesus as man of sorrows can bear my sorrows and infirmities. “
I just read again Michael Green's wonderful book "Evangelism in the early church" which looks at how the Christian faith was spread in the period of the New Testament and immediately afterward. This period is of the highest possible importance to us today when we seem to be discouraged in evangelism and struggling to find the right way. Most obviously because the Bible is the source of the infallible wisdom of God in general and specifically is a manual of how to tell others about Christ. But also because the situation in the first few centuries is so obviously highly relevant to today. Christians are a small minority and generally either ignored or ridiculed. (We may be thankful that being thrown to the lions has not yet occurred). In general, both cultures then and now are highly pluralistic and also highly "global" and interconnected. Pluralism means you can believe what you like as long as its good for you. Different beliefs flood in from all over the civilized world and there is always a search for something new and unusual. However, the belief that irritates and infuriates our culture is exactly the same one that drove the Romans to a murderous frenzy: that Jesus Christ is exclusively the way to God.If we look at the "evangelistic recipe" that Michael Green believes the apostles and their immediate successors in C1 and C2 followed, how do we stack up today? These are my assessments in the UK and are of course generalisations and I am very happy to be challenged!
My summary would be: we can learn from the early church in many places but in two crucial areas we are particularly needing to be challenged:
By whom is evangelism carried out
Where and how we undertake it.
Quotes unless otherwise identified are from Michael Green
1. Everybody (pretty much) in the early church engaged in evangelism: "Communicating the faith was not regarded as the preserve of the very zealous or of the officially designated evangelist: the ordinary people of the church saw it as their job: Christianity was supremely a lay movement, spread by lay missionaries". Both men and women did it with equal enthusiasm.
Most Christians today don't see evangelism as their job: they tend to see that as the job of the clergy. If we do feel that we would like to share their faith we can often feel discouraged. and that both we don't know how to do it and that nobody we talk to will be interested anyway. It's striking to me how little time and effort we put into training people how to share their faith.
2. The "clergy" engaged wholeheartedly in evangelism: "the clergy of the church saw it (evangelism) as their responsibility ...bishops and presbyters..doctors of the church..philosophers..saw the propagation of the gospel as their primary task...and not to have allowed the tasks of teaching, caring and administration to make them too busy to bring individuals...from unbelief to faith"
Many "clergy" or "full time Christian workers" today are unfortunately too busy with teaching, caring, and administration to devote much time to evangelism. They do sometimes include evangelistic content in their sermons but they are normally preaching to Christians (or their families) with the exception perhaps of Christmas and Easter. I am sympathetic to the busy lives many clergy live, but our resource allocation I suggest shows our priorities. We say evangelism is important but the lack of time and effort spent on doing it or training for it indicates that this is not really true: actions speak louder than words.
A keynote in the earl;y church was one of personal testimony (from lay and clergy equally). Apostles and early church leaders alike were enthusiastic about what Christ had done for them. "They did not obtrude themselves but neither did they shrink from bearing personal testimony out of their own experience to the truth of what they proclaimed to others". While we can overdo testimony and make ourselves and not Christ the object of the story, I believe that introducing the main topic, Christ, by talking about our own experience of him, can be both biblical and effective. Our culture will often in my experience be willing to listen to our experience when it will reject our objective truth claims. Our experience is like first gear in a car: it gets the journey moving. As quickly as possible (and as smoothly as possible) we want to move into the highest gear which is talking about Christ.
3. "This infectious enthusiasm on the part of such diverse people of differing ages, backgrounds, sex and cultures was backed up by the quality of their lives..their love, joy, changed habits...community life..attracted notice..invited curiosity...in an age that was as pleasure conscious, materialistic..as devoid of serious purpose as our own..paganism saw in early Christianity a quality of living and supremely of dying which could not be found elsewhere"
We should note that the leaders of the early church were often highly critical of their own discipleship and community. Being constructively critical is wise because it enables you to keep improving.
I do think in some ways that the Christian community in the UK does have some distinctive features (food banks for example) and that as the culture veers away from its Christian roots those differences will become more pronounced and noticeable by our friends. I was struck for example by the reaction to the Bruderhof documentary recently broadcast by the BBC, which showed that a radically different lifestyle can be attractive. How distinctive are our church communities? Not as much as they should be but some (for example some of those in deprived areas) seem to me to be to offer a glimpse of what characterised the community of the early church.
4. "A deep sense of the seriousness of the issues involved... they really believed that those without Christ might suffer eternal and irretrievable loss and this thought drove them to unremitting labours to reach them with the gospel. There was not a hint of universalism in the early church". It is probably not an exaggeration to say that the main impact of theological liberalism in the last hundred years has been to weaken this zeal, because if all roads lead to God why move heaven and earth to reach those who are going to get to him eventually anyway? When you add the tremendous secular cultural pressure not to try and convert others to your religious views, it is no wonder that evangelism is often viewed as at best secondary and at worst wrong and embarrassing. The same thing applies to the decline in belief in heaven and hell, or even any life after this one: such unbelief Green notes "is an insuperable barrier to evangelism". Contending faithfully for orthodox beliefs is not just a question of theological correctness but a matter of life and death for those going to a lost eternity without God.
5. Different approaches were used to different types of people in Acts and in the early church and they made use of many different pathways to reach the various parts of society. But the gospel however transmitted was profoundly Christocentric, " all are clear on the need for a decisive turning to Christ in repentance faith and baptism, for continuing in the apostolic fellowship by participation..in the church...it was this conviction which nerved them to proclaim the absolute in a world which was dominated by the relative in its morals, religions, and history..and for the most part they did it without fear and without censoriousness...their gospel was big enough to embrace heaven and earth, this life and the next". Today we face the same pressure and the answer is the same: Christocentric evangelism, the importance of repentance (which can often be skipped over) and faith and a "big" gospel which both believes fervently in a life to come whilst also proclaiming Christ as Lord of all aspects of our lives today.
Where and how
6. As well as adapting itself to reach the different pathways of society - whilst retaining the focus on Christ - the early church was extremely flexible in where and how it shared its faith.
In Acts, we often see the Apostles in the synagogue. This was a God-given opportunity to evangelise the Jewish people and "God-fearing" Gentiles attracted by Judaism in each city, though after a few decades this door closed. To speak in the synagogue was not a clerical function, for anyone might be asked to give the exposition. Next, there are multiple open-air preaching occasions, There was nothing particularly Christian about this - Jews were used to raising a platform for a visiting preacher and Romans loved to gather in the forum to discuss the latest news. These talks were frequently interrupted and were often more of a dialogue. Sometimes the audience went beyond questions and became violent, which then meant that the authorities had to get involved to try and keep the peace. Writing of one open-air preacher in the 2C we read "While the crowds welcomed the things he so artlessly spoke, the philosophers..set about laughing and scoffing at him and (trying) to pull him to pieces..but he..without embarrassment went on with what he was saying". We need to allow people to engage and challenge us because that draws them in.
One of the most important methods for spreading the gospel was using people's homes. "The small numbers involved made real interchange of views and informed discussion among the participants possible: there was no artificial separation of a preacher from his hearers...the sheer informality and relaxed atmosphere of the home not to mention hospitality..made this form of evangelism particularly successful". The Pagan opponents of Christianity complained about this, especially that this activity involved the lower classes. Green writes of one Pagan, Celsus who objected that "It was in private houses that the wool workers and cobblers, the laundry workers and the yokels whom he so profoundly despised did their proselytizing". Houses are a very significant part of the NT - Jason's house at Thessalonica, Titius Justus in Corinth, Philips house in Caesarea, and many others. and houses were put to many uses: just in Acts we see homes being used for prayer meetings, an evening of Christian fellowship, communion, a whole night of prayer, impromptu evangelistic gatherings, follow up inquiries and organised instruction.
If we look at today the vast majority of our evangelism occurs in the church. This made sense in Reformation and Puritan times when people had to be in church on pain of fines or imprisonment but it makes much less sense now when few non-Christians will be in our buildings and its daunting (for them and also for us) to ask them to come. Church meetings and services certainly did occur in the early period but they tended to be for Christians. In fact, often deacons would guard the door to keep non-Christians out and at a certain point in the service, those seeking to become Christians (catechumens) would be asked to leave.
Surely we must go out in the way that the early church did and use a wide variety of methods and places to spread the good word. I fear we have become somewhat lazy since Constantine and expect that people will come to us: but the Biblical command is rather to go out. As we meet people in informal and accessible settings the word of God will do its work and they will get used to Bible teaching such that when they come hopefully eventually to church they will understand what it's all about. We need to be much more patient in walking our friends along the path towards faith. This includes allowing them to ask questions argue and debate with us. None of this means we should stop preaching evangelistically in the church, in fact, every sermon should have something of the gospel, but we cannot anymore rely on this as the only way of communicating the gospel. We need to be biblically flexible on how whilst consistent on what.
Their use of the Bible and prayer.
7. "There is abundant evidence..from the Acts of the Apostles down to Gregory and Origen we find the same story repeated again and again: discussions with Christians, arguments with them, annoyance at them, could lead inquirers to read those barbaric writings for themselves. And once they began to read the Scriptures exercised their own fascination and power."
Apologetic books urged the seeker to read those gospels as "in no other ways than only from the prophets who teach us by divine inspiration is it possible to learn anything concerning God and true religion" as one writer put it. This meant making the Bible easily available. Jerome tells us of Pamphilus of Caesarea who "readily provided BIbles not only to read but to keep not only for men but for any women whom he saw addicted to reading. He would prepare a large number of volumes so that when any demand was made upon him, he might be in a position to gratify those who applied to him".
This stress upon the Bible was accompanied by devotion to prayer. Paul is continually asking the readers of his letters to pray that the gospel would advance. "Pray without ceasing" urges Ignatius " on behalf of other men for then there is hope of repentance that they may attain to God".
So concludes Green "It was, then, with the Scriptures and prayer as their main weapons, backed up with love, their burning zeal to share their faith with others and the sheer quality of their living and dying that the early Christians set out to evangelise the world".
On the use of the Bible, we evangelicals have a culture and mindset firmly rooted in the Bible. Our sermons are typically steeped in the Bible and our exegesis is excellent. The problem is that it is not accessible to non-Christians, they don't or can't receive it in an easy to use fashion. This is why I am such a fan of Word121 which precisely makes God's word available in an easy to access way which if you like unleashes its "fascination and power".
We in general and I in particular must confess that we have much to learn from the early Christians. We certainly struggle with prayer - at least I have to confess that I do. God, grant us the love and the faith to long that our friends and family would come to know you!