The Church’s Task: Entertainment or Evangelization?

11 Nov

“Jesus pitied sinners, pleaded with them, sighed over them, warned them, and wept over them; but never sought to amuse them. When the evening shadows of his consecrated life were deepening into the night of death, he reviewed his holy ministry, and found comfort and sweet solace in the thought, “I have given them thy Word.” As with the Master, so with his apostles – their teaching is the echo of his. In vain will the epistles be searched to discover any trace of a gospel of amusement. The same call for separation from the world rings in everyone, “But not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed,” is the word of command in the Romans. “Come out from among them. and be ye separate and touch not the unclean thing.” It is the trumpet call in the Corinthians. In other words it is come out – keep out – keep clean out – for “what communion hath light with darkness, and what concord hath Christ with Belial?”

“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.” Here is the true relationship between the Church and the world according to the Epistle to the Galatians. “Be not ye, therefore, partakers with them. Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them,” is the attitude enjoined in Ephesians. “Sons of God without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world: holding forth the Word of life,” is the word in Philippians. “Dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world,” says the Epistle to the Colossians. “Abstain from all appearance of evil” is the demand in Thessalonians.

“If a man, therefore, purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use,” is the word to Timothy. “Let us go forth, therefore, unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach,” is the heroic summons of the Hebrews. James, with holy severity, declares that “The friendship of the world is enmity with God; whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” Peter writes: “Not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance; but as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.” John writes a whole epistle, the gist of which is, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

Here are the teachings of the apostles concerning the relationship of the Church and the world. And yet, in the face of them, what do we see and hear? A friendly compromise between the two, and an insane effort to work in partnership for the good of the people. God help us, and dispel the strong delusion. How did the apostles carry on their mission work? Was it in harmony with their teaching?

Let the Acts of the Apostles give the answer.

Anything approaching the worldly fooling of to-day is conspicuous by its absence. The early evangelists had boundless confidence in the power of the Gospel, and employed no other weapon. Pentecost followed plain preaching. When Peter and John had been locked up for the night for preaching the resurrection, the early Church had a prayer meeting. Directly they returned, and the petition offered for the two was, “And now, Lord, grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.” They had no thought of praying, “Grant unto thy servants more policy, that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation they may avoid the offence of the cross, and sweetly show this people how happy and merry a lot we are.”

The charge brought against the apostles by the members of the Council was, “Ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine.” Not much chance of this charge being brought against modern methods. The description of their work is, “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” Then, it they “ceased not” from this, they had no time for arranging for entertainments: they gave themselves continually to the ministry of the word. Scattered by persecution, the early disciples “went everywhere preaching the word.”

When Philip went to Samaria, and was the means of bringing “great joy in that city,” the only recorded method is, “he preached Christ unto them.” When the apostles went to visit the scene of his labours it is stated, “and they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the Gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.” As they went back to Jerusalem directly they had finished their preaching, it is evident they did not think in their mission to stay and organize some “pleasant evenings” for the people who did not believe.

The congregations in those days did not expect anything but the word of the Lord, for Cornelius says to Peter, “We all are here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.” The message given was, “Words whereby thou and all thine house shall be saved.” Cause and effect are closely linked in the statement, “Men of Cyrene spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus; and the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed, and turned to the Lord.” Here you have their method – they preached. Their matter – the Lord Jesus. Their power – the hand of the Lord was with them. Their success – many believed.

What more does the Church of God require to-day? When Paul and Barnabas worked together, the record is, “the Lord gave testimony unto the word of his grace.” When Paul, in a vision, hears a man of Macedonia saying, “Come over and help us,” he assuredly gathers that the Lord had called him to preach the Gospel unto them. Why so? How did he know but that the help needed was the brightening of their lives by a little amusement, or the refining of their manners by a collection of paintings? He never thought of such things. “Come and help us!” meant to him, “Preach the Gospel.” “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and reasoned with them out of the Scriptures” – not “about” the scriptures, mark, but “out” of them – “opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered and rise from the dead.” That was the “manner” of evangelistic work in those days, and it seems to have been wonderfully powerful; for the verdict of the people is, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” Just now the world is turning the Church upside down; that is the only difference.

When God told Paul that he had much people in Corinth, I read, “And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the Word of God among them.” Evidently then, he judged that the only way to bring them was by the Word. A year and a half, and only one method adopted. Wonderful! We should have had a dozen in that time! But then Paul never reckoned that providing something pleasant for the ungodly was part of his ministry; for, on his way to Jerusalem and martyrdom, he says, “Neither count my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.” This was all the ministry he knew. The last description we have of the methods of this prince of evangelists is of a piece with all that has gone before, “He expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets, from morning til evening, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus.” What a contrast to all the rot and nonsense now being perpetrated in the holy name of Christ! The Lord clear the Church of all the rubbish that the devil has imposed upon her, and bring us back again to apostolic methods.”

Archibald Brown

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