Get out there 2

openair2

Another quote from Spurgeon as he talks about taking our gospel ministry outside of the confines of our chapel and church buildings:

No sort of defence is needed for preaching out of doors; but it would need very potent arguments to prove that a man had done his duty who has never preached beyond the walls of his meeting-house. A defence is required rather for services within buildings than for worship outside of them. Apologies are certainly wanted for architects who pile up brick and stone into the skies when there is so much need for preaching rooms among poor sinners below.

Lectures to my Students, p 254.

Here is my question: Where are we to go today? The apostles went to the temple, the synagogue, the market place etc. because here people gathered and were ready to listen. Where are these places for us?

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Get out there!

openair

I’ve been struck by Spurgeon’s description of the early church and their preaching as he traces the history of open-air preaching:

There were gatherings of His disciples after His decease, within walls, especially that in the upper room; but the preaching was even then most frequently in the court of the temple, or in such other open spaces as were available. The notion of holy places and consecrated meeting-houses had not occurred to them as Christians; they preached in the temple because it was the chief place of concourse, but with equal earnestness “in every house they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”

Lectures to my Students, p 235.

What struck me as I read that was the pattern of New Testament evangelism. Evangelism for the early church was not about waiting for people to come to them, but about taking the gospel out to the world. The early church went where people were to tell them about Jesus. Paul’s missions were also characterised by this pattern and strategy. When he went to a place he would go to the synagogue, the market place or wherever people would be.

As I examine the way that I have worked and the churches that I have been part of I have to admit that this is not always the pattern we have followed. The expectation has been that people would come to us. I have been guilty at times of an ‘evangelical fatalism’. That if God wants people to hear the gospel he will compel them to come in so that they can, therefore all I need to do is preach the gospel in this place. So I am challenging myself with the biblical pattern of evangelism.

Jesus commanded his disciples not to hide the light of the gospel under a bowl. Evangelicals today preach the gospel, they believe the gospel, but are we hiding the gospel away in our buildings?

Are young people just more honest?

driscollHere are some thoughts quoted a recent article in USA today from Mark Driscoll:

My personal experience having preached all over the country reveals three things:

One, adolescence is extending into the early thirties. Practically, this means that young people are delaying most major life decisions from career path to marriage, children, and even which set of spiritual beliefs they will adhere to. Subsequently, their ambiguity and lack of certainty about Christian doctrines is not surprising in light of their entire life.

Two, young people are committed to churches not built for them but built by them. Around the country young people are flocking to churches that have clear authoritative Bible teaching about real life issues, are lead by authentic leaders, include night services, use online social media, embrace technology, serve the poor and suffering, strive for community, encourage creativity, and allow young leaders to lead at the highest levels.

Three, young people are more spiritually honest. The days of feeling some sort of cultural pressure to adhere to historic Christian truths is simply gone. Subsequently, we may not be seeing younger people less devoted to Jesus Christ but simply more people being honest so that those who in the past would have professed faith they did not possess or practice are simply being honest which is more admirable than being a hypocrite.

What are your thoughts?

Read full article here

Passion for Life

A busy week with the Passion for Life Mission. Sweet times of prayer with God’s people in the morning. A home meeting where 2 ladies trusted Jesus and an opportunity to run a Christianity Explored course (2 other possible courses may be run as well). Interesting time knocking on doors and taking a survey on personal belief. Good gospel messages, full of grace and truth. It has been a good week. Will reflect more next week.

Carson’s lectures on culture

I’ve picked up this link from Justin Taylor’s blog. I haven’t listened yet, but it would seem to pick up on the theme I’ve written about over the last couple of weeks. Although, Carson knows far more than I do

Andy Naselli points us to the availability of five lectures by D. A. Carson on Christ and culture, delivered at Moore College. For more on Carson’s perspective, see the published and expanded version of these lectures, Christ and Culture Revisited.

right focus

One final post and the plan is to move on from this discussion of church and culture. It seems to me that a third step we might think about in overcoming the difficulties that differing cultures present in our churches is to have a clear focus on the mission. It is notable that when Jesus’ final words in Matthew are not a command to propagate culture, but make disciples of all nations. If we unite around that vision I think it makes a huge difference to the role that culture and our cultural differences play within a church.

First, a focus on mission (by this I mean more than evangelism, but making disciples) will necessarily put culture in a secondary position. In a recent article in Evangelicals Now, Marcus Honeysett helpfully points out that there are two positions that a church can stand in, maintenance or mission. Maintenance is about preserving a culture. Mission turns away from a preservation mindset and is about moving forward and seeing the church built in quality and quanitity. In effect, mission can become the new dominant culture that we all grab hold of.

Second, a focus on mission will leave, or should leave, no time for petty arguments about cultural things. Am I being naive and ignoring the reality of our sinful natures? Or is it true that if our attention is taken up with the pressing matter of how to reach our communities with the gospel and how can we encourage one another to grow in Christ we are not going to be so concerned about whether the music was a bit livelier last Sunday or the chairs have been moved around.

Third, a focus on mission gives us a reason to overcome our differences. According to Jesus love is the badge of discipleship (John 13:35). How will an unbelieving world see that the gospel is real and relevant? One of the chiedfways is by seeing the love that Christians have for eachother. If we are serious about mission, we will be serious about unity because without it how can think of reaching a dying world?

One last thing. Don’t we need God to help us with this:

Oh God, may I submit to your will for the church. May I love people who are different to me, who see things differently and do things differently. Help me to remember that I am not accepted before you because I do things in a certain way, but because Jesus died for me. Help me to think of others in that way as well. Help me to be humble and realise that there are many different ways of doing things, my way is not the right way and other way the wrong way. Help me to have such a passion for mission, a passion to engage people with the gospel and see people growing in the Lord Jesus Christ, that I am willing to let go of my preferences and my cultural assumptions and live for the honour of Jesus and for the good of others. Amen

right character

What might be the next step in mapping a way forward in overcoming the difficulties that our different cultures cause in church life? As we did last time I want to take my lead from the Bible and suggest that just as right theology is important here, so is right character.

When I think of unity in the church two passages in Paul’s letters quickly spring to my mind – Eph 4:1-6 & Phil 2:1-4. Both of them are calls for the church to be united, and both of them emphasise humility as key to that unity. As I have thought and faced the problems that culture can cause in the church I have found these verses to be so helpful and so necessary. If we want unity despite our cultural diversity we need humility.

I want to suggest three ways in which this is important. First, we need the humility to acknowledge that much of what we do and the assumptions that we have are culturally conditioned. I remember spending a year at University in America. I didn’t expect to have a culture shock when I went there, but I did. There were several differences and one that stood out to me, although it was so small, was the way the traffic lights worked. In the UK they go red, red & amber, green. In the US they go red, green. As I missed home this became an issue to me and in my pride I wanted to shout out, “YA’LL ARE DOING IT WRONG!!!” But of course that is not true. It was just different.

There are many areas in church life where we need the humility to accept that someone elses way is not wrong, it is just different. It is not wrong to sing in a different style. It is not wrong to make decisions in a different way based upon the same biblical principles. It is not wrong to preach in jeans and t-shirt. It is not wrong to not meet at 11am & 6pm on a Sunday, but to do Sunday another way. It is not wrong to have Saturday meetings, or not to have Saturday meetings. It is just different. But that takes humility to recognise. Often pride and a satisfaction with our culture blinds us to this.

Second, we need humility to compromise with each other. One of the lessons that I have learned in marriage is that if we are to live together in harmony there needs to be a good deal of give and take. The same is true in the church. Paul points this out, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3). The problem is that this is not always easy or always the case.

I have found this to be particularly in churches where a dominant culture has existed for a long time. New people come in and are welcomed, but often on the condition that they fit in with what is already there. However, is that a biblical approach? Obviously church is not about conforming to the wishes and desires of every newcomer. That would be impossible and deny the need for compromise from those who start coming to a church. Yet, is it right to insist that for someone to be part of a church body they must conform with the cultural practices of the church and not just the biblical principles on which they are based? I would answer no.

We need to accept that one way of doing things that encourages one group of people may not encourage another. We need to understand that while our needs might be ‘being met’ by the way we are doing things others needs may not. We have to grasp that while I may understand what is being said others might not because of the cultural barriers that exist. This takes humility.

Third, we need humility to be patient with each other. Paul writes, “bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2). I don’t know about you, but I need people to bear with me in love. I get so much wrong and I am slow to understand others.

One area where I think this is needed today is in the relationship between the young and old and the use of language. I have friends on facebook of varying ages and in looking at their communications I have noticed that words once used to express strong feelings are now common place. Similarly phrases that were once used to give offence are now used as the norm between friends. These are cultural differences that can easily cause real problems between people as offense is taken where none was intended. We need to bear with one another, think the best of each other and seek to understand one another.

As we come together from different cultures, thinking differently and liking different things there are many areas where friction can easily be fostered. However, much of this can be avoided if we approach eachother with humility.