People are reluctant to hear the Gospel but that is why we need to be more confident than ever in sharing it
Published 10 August 2012 | Rob James
I never expected us to have twins and I can still remember the sense of shock we felt when my wife was told “Yes, there’s the second head”. But I am so grateful for the experience; it might have been twice the work at times but it has proved ten times the fun, not least when they have been mistaken for one another.
And they have taken advantage of this on occasion too, even when one of them got married. It was a long, exceedingly hot day and so the groom graciously allowed his best man to take his place in some of the photographs, allowing few minute’s rest! Hardly anyone noticed.
I think of my twins when I read Acts 19 because I long to see churches throughout the UK modelling themselves on the exciting missional community Paul set out to create in Ephesus.
We are living in challenging times. Stuart Murray Williams for example, has suggested that we live in the twilight zone which is the hardest place to be because people have rejected a message they mistakenly think they understand. Leslie Newbigin too, long championed the view that the paganism we’re faced with today is far more resistant than pre Christian paganism because it has been born out of a rejection of Christianity. All of which has led Callum Brown to suggest that Christianity is in danger of becoming Britain’s past rather than its present.
But we can take heart from what God did in Ephesus. Ephesus was the principal city of the Roman province of Asia and therefore no easy place to announce that someone other than Caesar was Lord. It also boasted a magnificent temple to the goddess Diana, one of the wonders of the ancient world and all kinds of mysterious cults and occult practices flourished there. And if that were not enough of a mountain to climb the city possessed the largest Jewish community in the area, yet another potential source of opposition to Paul’s message of a crucified Messiah.
It might be helpful to remember why Paul chose to visit Ephesus in the first place: he had a strategic approach to mission and so should we. I wonder if we give sufficient thought to the tactics we should employ. We are trying to do this in Pembroke. We have decided to make no charge for anything we do for example because the church has a reputation for wanting peoples’ money.
We want to show our non-Christian friends that our generous God can fully resource our ministries. We have also discovered that there are lots of young families who are anxious to become better parents. We are offering to help them to do that. This affords us plenty of opportunity to talk about spirituality and values in the context of small groups, and the Lord is using this approach to build His church.
We have also realised that we need to be a confident people. Luke tells us that Paul spoke boldly about the Kingdom of God. He wasn't half-hearted and his approach was far from hesitant. Paul was convinced that Jesus was alive and would build His church; he simply had to step out in faith and challenge people to acknowledge Him as their King.
I sometimes wonder why the British church has lost its confidence. We need to stop focusing on our weaknesses and fix our eyes on the risen Lord. We need to take risks and tell people that they can experience God for themselves. And we need to remind ourselves that we are far more likely to experience God as a church when we step out and engage in mission, accept the God-sized challenges He will frequently give us.
All of which brings me to Paul’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit. When he arrived in Ephesus he quickly identified a serious problem. He was introduced to a group of “disciples” but they told him that they had never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul dealt with this immediately and the rest as they say was history. In fact Luke goes so far as to tell us that God did "extraordinary" miracles through Paul.
We may live in a post Christian age but all the evidence shows we are living at a time of deep spiritual hunger too. If any group should be demonstrating spiritual vitality it ought to be the church. This means we need to constantly filled with and guided by the Holy Spirit. He will prove “predictably unpredictable” but we can also rely on Him to exceed out expectations.
Last but not least we need to shed our judgemental, negative image. I never cease to be impressed by the way the city clerk defended Paul when he was surrounded by a baying mob. He was able to point out that Paul had not broken any laws, but he was able to go even further: he was able to assure them that Paul had not blasphemed their goddess either. The church at Ephesus then, was a church that was shaped by grace as well as truth. We would do well to remember that. Perhaps we need to spend less time telling people where they’ve gone wrong and more time talking about the one who got it right!
Michael Moynagh once compared the Western church to a beached whale. All we have to do, he said, is stay where we are and we will die. He’s probably right. But he need not be because the more we resemble the church in Ephesus the more likely we are to grow.
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