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?
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?
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.
I am very particular about the cheese that I eat. I don’t like the smelly ones. I don’t like the ones with too much taste. In fact, anything more pungent than a mild chedder is pushing it a bit far.
When my mum worked in a cheese shop I didn’t benefit as much as I could have done. To be honest, my nostrils were often repulsed as I opened the fridge door by the acrid smell of festering cheeses. I could walk in the kitchen no problem, but open the door and I couldn’t get out fast enough.
These memories have been returning to me over the last couple of days as I have been thinking about 2 Corinthians 2:15-16. Christians, Paul tells us, should be the aroma of Christ in the world. To some that aroma will be repulsive, to others attractive, but people should smell Christ in us. But, and this is what has been challenging me, how will they smell us unless we get up close and personal?
As I said in a previous post, Acts 17:16-34 has been a huge challenge to me lately. A challenge to my heart as I examine Paul’s desire for people to hear the gospel, not just for him to speak the gospel. A challenge to my life as I see Paul going to people, not expecting them to come to him. It is also a challenge to me as a Bible teacher. It makes me ask the question “how clear am I”?
It seems to me as I look through Acts, that Paul and the apostles adapted their preaching to their listeners. Not the message, but the way in which they presented it. When talking to Jews or God-fearing Greeks, he would speak of the history of Israel pointing to the Messiah and Jesus as the fulfilment of the promises. Here, talking to Greeks with little or no Bible knowledge, he begins with what they could see and the guesses and discoveries of their philosophers and poets. He doesn’t end there though, he goes beyond them to point to Jesus. The Areopogus got what he was saying too. Some sneered, others wanted to hear more, a few believed. Different responses, but they had heard and understood the message. Paul had communicated the gospel in an understandable way.
I often wonder whether the same could be said of me and others who occupy pulpits week after week. There is a Christian lingo that we use, do we ever stop to see if people understand these words. When I listen to other preachers I lose count of the number of assumptions that are made, I’m sure that I am just as guilty. What do people hear when we communicate the gospel?
The service is about to begin. A quick peek from behind the pulpit to see how many have turned up. Any visitors? The heart is lifted. Yes, on the right hand side, five rows back. A rare occasion, but a welcome one. Mental note made, must speak to them afterwards. Do so and find out they are a Christian family on holiday. Good to have them, but when are we going to have someone come from the local community? If only they would come in and hear the gospel?
It’s easy to blame people ‘out there’ for not coming under the sound of the gospel, but as I have read Acts 17:16-34 over and over I find the finger of challenge firmly pointed in my direction. I find it easy to sit around waiting for people to come to me with questions about Jesus, there is not much work in that. Yet, the pattern that Paul sets here, and should surely be followed in the West with the great amount of religious freedom that we have, is for the church to go to the world with the Gospel.
Where do we find Paul? Two places, the market and cultural centre and the ruling council that, according to Stott governed the city’s religion, morals and education. Paul went where the people were in order to tell them the gospel about Jesus. He welcomed the opportunities to speak to people, on their territory.
I find this a challenge to my life. Yes, I try, with God’s help, to faithfully preach the gospel, but this is mainly to believers. I know there is a real and important purpose in this as well because as people are transformed then God is glorified in and through them. But what am I doing to ‘earn the right’ to be listened to by those outside the church? What am I doing to impact people’s lives with the reality of Christ in the message of the gospel and the transformation through the gospel that has taken place in my life?
What about as christians? What can we do to get among people in the community? How far up the agenda is this in our churches? Is it a determining factor in location, activities, preaching, expectations or are we set up in the ‘we’ll meet here and you can join us if you are interested in important things’ mentality?
I’m sitting here wondering just how you kick off a new blog, and more particularly one where the purpose is to discuss how we engage today’s world with God’s timeless truth. It might seem an overdone thing, but I think I’m going to begin with some thoughts on Acts 17:16-34.
Many people have turned to this passage in the last few years as an example of how we reach out to the increasingly secular western culture. We are not living in a time where the church building is considered a natural habitat or the Bible part of general knowledge. We need all the help we can get and this passage certainly offers us a huge amount of guidance. I don’t think it is that Paul has a different pattern here, just that his pattern is more obvious. I will post more on the pattern in later posts, for now I want to mention something that pervades this passage; Paul’s clear desire for people to hear the gospel of Jesus.
We often use the phrase, ‘that went over their head’. This is a saying that is often very fitting for us as Christians as we share and proclaim the good news of Jesus. My church is situated up a hill at the top of a dead end street. We meet at the top of the hill and the world passes by at the bottom. I often feel that this is a true picture of our preaching of the gospel too. We are preaching away up the hill, but people are not hearing it. It is simply going over their heads, or worse still not even reaching their ears.
Acts 17 shows that Paul was never satisfied with that situation. He didn’t just want to speak the gospel, he wanted people to hear it. He wanted to take the truth of Jesus and engage people in the conversation so that they were brought face to face with the realities of Jesus and eternal truth. After his speech to the Areopagus not everyone followed Jesus, in fact most didn’t, but all had heard and understood what Paul was saying. He hadn’t preached over their heads and he had got through.
I can’t help feeling greatly humbled as I think how far short of this I fall in my own life and ministry. The passion that is growing in my heart is not just to proclaim the gospel, I want people to hear it. I guess that is why I want to carry on this discussion and do all I can to encourage others to engage today’s world with God’s timeless truth.