Gospel Pt.4 - Should we give our testimony instead of preaching the Gospel?

Paul is arrested in Jerusalem by the Roman soldiers. As he is being carried away he says to the captain, “I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” (Acts 21:39)

Remarkably, Paul is given permission. “Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:”

What will he say? Now is his opportunity to preach Christ and him crucified.

…but no! Instead, Paul gives his testimony!! What on earth was he thinking?

I recently listened to a podcast from the White Horse Inn about how inappropriate it is to give one’s testimony when presenting the Gospel. One of the speakers said

“My story may be interesting but it has nothing to do with the Biblical Gospel”

So why did Paul not take this golden opportunity to preach “the Biblical Gospel” but instead told his story. Actually it is worse that that—Paul’s testimony is actually repeated no less than three times in Acts. Luke gives it to us, and then Paul tells it on two occasions rather than giving a more cross-centred Gospel message.

So why does Paul do this? The answer is very simple: first and foremost Jesus tells us to be witnesses.

The biblical scholar, Professor A. A. Trites, looked at all the Greek terms in the New Testament used to refer to evangelism and came to the conclusion that the word translated as ‘witness’ or ‘testimony’ occurs more often that all the others put together. He published this in an excellent book entitled The New Testament Concept of Witness.

The book was later republished in a popular format as New Testament Witness in Today's World and in it he states, that the group of related “witness” words appear over two hundred times in the New Testament (p.9)

Paul didn’t just spin an interesting yarn. His testimonies were very focused. If you compare the account that Luke gives us together with Paul’s two accounts, some valuable insights can be gained into Paul’s strategy.

Your main evangelistic responsibility as a Christian is simply to be a witness to Jesus and what he has done for you.

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The Gospel Pt3 - The Preaching of Paul to Pagans

We have several detailed accounts of Paul preaching the Gospel. It is very interesting to see how different his message is when he is preaching to pagan Gentiles as compared with his message to Jews.

The two occasions are:

  • Acts 14:8-20 at Lystra
  • Acts 17:16-34 at Athens

It is quite remarkable how similar these two sermons are. I have laid the two passages out in parallel here: Paul preaching to pagan Gentiles--Acts 14 and 17 laid out in parallel.

Here are some observations:

  • Both contexts describe an idolatry that is excessive to the point of being ridiculous
  • There is no reference to the Old Testament Scriptures at all
  • Paul particularly addresses their context and meets them where they are
  • Both the Lystrans and the Athenians mis-interpreted Paul’s statements by interpreting them within their own framework
    • To quote Cornelius Van-Til:
      We must surely do what Paul did, tear our garment when men would weave our message into the systems of thought which men have themselves devised. We must set the message of the cross into the framework into which Paul set it... the doctrines of creation, providence and the consummation of history in the final judgement.
  • One of Paul’s main concerns is to distinguish himself radically from this conception and to show that the God he proclaims is utterly outside their own framework.
  • In both cases it was the idolatry that provided a point of contact for Paul.
  • In both cases, Paul appeals to two witnesses to substantiate his preaching. They are the same in each case and are:
    1. the creative work of God,
    2. his providential care.
  • How does Paul’s example help us in our own efforts to preach the Gospel to a largely pagan society? I believe Paul is very helpful to us.
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The Spirit of Love, Truth and Power

I was once visiting a church and the pastor announced, “We’re not going to have a sermon today because we want to just hand the whole meeting over to the Holy Spirit and see his power”. This immediately felt wrong to me, and I started trying to think through why.

For one thing, if the preaching is from the Scriptures, then it is “Holy Spirit” truth. So it is not a choice between “Word” and “Spirit” but “Spirit” and “Spirit”.

But then I read Act 14:3, “So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” The miracles came, not instead of the preaching, but because of the preaching! So if you want to see signs and wonders, then preach a message that God will want to bear witness to, with a supernatural “Amen!”

So it looks like we have two operations of the Spirit: the Spirit of truth and the Spirit of power. I wondered whether it would be possible to go through the Bible and divide the references to the Spirit into to those two categories. As I started on the project I found plenty of truth verses, such as:

  • “However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth;” (John 16:13)

And power verses, such as

  • “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;” (Acts 1:8)

But then a third category emerged. He is the Spirit of love

  • “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom 5:5)

I began to get excited when I found several verses that combined two of the three and some that combined all three, such as “For God has not given us a Spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7) It seems I was onto something. (The complete list of references can be found at loveintruth.com)

I see an unfortunate tendency for churches to zero in on one, or maybe two, of these three aspects of the Spirit. Charismatic churches want to see the Spirit move in power. Reformed churches love the way the Spirit leads us into truth. New churches are emerging whose main focus is strong relationship.

But what does the Spirit think of this? Does he want us to take one aspect of his ministry to the exclusion of the others? How would a girl react if a man said to her, “I like your beauty, but I’m really not interested in your mind!”

So what does it mean for churches that want to see more of God’s power? Instead of cancelling the sermon, I suggest we need to ask the Spirit to lead us into such an excellent understanding of truth that the Lord will bear witness to it in power, as in Act 14. And then we need to be radical in our love: “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22)

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King's Community Church

King's Community Church, Hedge End

King's Community Church (KCC) is a Newfrontiers church in Hedge End, an eastern suburb of Southampton. I visited the church last Sunday. The church has a beautiful building with a surrounding grassy space. The auditorium has a balcony and feels very compact, but can seat 400. Even so, the church has to have two Sunday morning meetings to accommodate everyone.

Steve Haines with Mark and Steph Heath and Anne

We received a very warm welcome and in the picture above are chatting with Steve Haines, one of the elders. There was a great time of worship with some contributions from the floor. It was a little shorter than I am used to, but I discovered later that the aim is to keep the meeting length shorter during the summer months.

Worship at KCC

The sermon was truly excellent—one of the best gospel messages I have heard for a long time. The preacher was Steve Chick and he was kind enough to give me his sermon notes afterwards, so I can say authoritatively that this outline is accurate :)

Steve Chick preaching at KCC

The Secret of Satisfaction (Matt 5:6)

Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “Everybody wants to be happy. That is the great motive behind every act and ambition, behind all work and all striving and effort. Everything is designed for happiness. But the great tragedy of the world is that, though it gives itself to seek for happiness, it never seems to be able to find it”
  1. Are you Hungry? (Those who hunger and thirst)
    Examples including the story of the lost son
  2. Are you eating the right things? (for righteousness)
    Righteousness has three aspects:
    • Legal Righteousness
    • Moral Righteousness
    • Relational Righteousness
  3. Are you full yet? (for they will be filled)
    • promise to the Christian
    • invitation to the unsaved to repent

The sermon had a really good application both for the Christian and the non-Christian, and can be downloaded here: http://www.kcc.uk.net/Media/AllMedia.aspx?speaker=Steve%20Chick

Finally it was great to see our friend Mark and Steph Heath again. Mark is well known for his Word and Spirit blog which is well worth following.

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Life Church, Southampton - Two years later

Meeting place of Life Church, Southampton

Two years ago I visited the freshly planted Life Church, Southampton and wrote a report on our visit. Up until we moved to Canada 20 years ago, I had spent most of my life in this city, so I am very interested to follow the progress of this Newfrontiers church plant. How would the church have changed in it’s first two years of existence as a church?

The first change was the location. Instead of meeting in a small University lecture room on the High Street, it is in a movie theatre in the beautiful surroundings of Ocean Village. (You could even sail to church if you were so inclined!) This is a huge improvement on the previous venue.

We received a very warm and friendly welcome and instantly felt at home. The church has grown to at least double the size (although many people were away today).

The church was meeting in “Screen One” of the cinema which I would estimate could have seated around 200 people. It had a pleasant feeling and was not too cramped. One of the problems with all cinema screens is that the lighting is somewhat dim even when they are all on, but that is a relatively minor quibble.

Worship was good with a number of contributions from the people. Then Simon Fry preached an excellent message on the need to “Sit in the truth” before we “walk in the truth”. Good use was made of the large screen projector to illustrate points.

At the end of the meeting there was a response time and then a very friendly time of meeting people at the coffee bar downstairs. We heard about the church’s plans to put literature through the mailbox of every home in Southampton (population around 300,000), and how this is done with “Go, Sow and Nacho” events. (The nacho bit is afterwards when everyone gets together to eat.)

Logo on greeter's t-shirt - Life Church, Southampton

Worship at Life Church, Southampton

Simon Fry Preaching at Life Church, Southampton

Coffee after - Life Church, Southampton

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A visit to Jubilee Church, Enfield London

Last weekend I visited Jubilee Church in London, UK. I was determined to visit the Saturday morning prayer meeting—Adrian had told me that it was the power house behind the growth of the church. (I blogged about the church two years ago: http://chri.st/jubilee-church-enfield and there has been remarkable growth since then.)
We arrived in time for the 8:00am start. The first 20 mins were a time for coffee and fellowship and as more and more people arrived I wondered how we were going to fit into the meeting hall. (I counted over a hundred—more people than chairs.)

We began with Tope Koleoso talking about current prayer needs—the baptisms and dedications on the following day, the upcoming youth event, and a few other things. I was asked to talk briefly about Newlife church, Toronto and a prophetic word was given which was amazingly appropriate to our situation.
Then the main prayer time began which was loud and passionate. From time to time someone would begin a song and we would all join in. I felt a very strong sense of the presence of God as a warm and powerful sweetness. I would say that there have been very few occasions where I have felt it more strongly.
As the meeting progressed, prayer began to be focused on particular issues. In the picture below, all those going to be baptized the next day are being prayed for.

The meeting drew to a close around 9:30am. What a way to start the day! I could understand now why so many people were willing to get up early on a Saturday morning. It was time for a good English breakfast at a local cafe.

Sunday Morning

Jubilee meets in a Cineworld cinema in the central hub of Enfield, a multicultural urban area on the edge of north London.
Our hosts, Adrian and Andree made sure we arrived early enough for us to get seats in the main "screen" which seats around 500 because the children would be in the meeting for the baptisms and the overflow room would be needed. The church is one of the most multicultural that I have ever been in, and that was one of the reasons for our visit. I want to see something like this in Toronto.

Tope gave a short address on "thankfulness" from the story of the ten lepers. I noticed how attentive people were. He has a unique style, using unexpected turns of phrase that catch your attention and make you think about the truth, rather than letting it slip by through over familiarity.

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The Gospel Pt.2 - The Preaching of Peter

The first example of Gospel preaching after the cross was that of Peter. We have five examples of his preaching recorded in Acts.

  • Two to the crowds in Jerusalem, explaining miracles that had just happened
  • Two in front of councils after he was arrested
  • Finally, one to Cornelius’s household

What is remarkable about these five sermons is that they all have the same outline! In Gospel preaching in Acts: The preaching of Peter I have put all five in parallel and examined the similarities and differences.

I took a somewhat different approach when I preached this, focussing on the second of the five addresses, and thinking about how we can follow Peter’s example in a day when such dramatic miracles are not as common.

Brief notes and audio are here: The Gospel Pt2--The Preaching of Peter

The Gospel pt1- Preaching of Jesus: "Follow Me!"

The value of a “redemptive-historical” approach to Scripture is that it does not flatten the Bible and ignore the historical epoch into which the revelation was given. Instead, attention is paid to the progress of revelation.

  • This has huge implications for understanding the Gospels
  • The preaching of Jesus does not include an explicit proclamation of substitutionary atonement
    • The reason being, of course, because it hadn’t happened yet!
    • (Although some places, like the Son of Man being “lifted up” in John 3:14 do hint at it)
  • For this reason, Jesus’ preaching is generally pretty much ignored when people discuss the Gospel message
  • However, according to R.H. principles of the progress of revelation, what is revealed first is foundational and not lesser in value
  • My conclusion is that the study of Jesus’ preaching is of immense importance
    1. The key phrase is “Follow me!” which Jesus unpacks as “repent” and “believe”
    2. The concept of the Kingdom is much more prominent
    3. The only thing “missing” is an explanation of the mechanism by which a just God can forgive us—the cross
      • This will be supplied later in the apostolic preaching, but it is not necessary to understand it precisely in order to follow Jesus

Following Jesus

  • The word Follow is very interesting because to follow someone or something is a combination of trusting and obeying
    • The whole “Lordship controversy” would have been avoided if everyone had examined the preaching of Jesus
    • (This relates to the idea that you can accept Jesus as Saviour without accepting him as Lord, and still be saved.)
  • I came across an English news story recently that illustrates the word “follow”:

“Robert Jones said he trusted his navigational system and continued to follow it when it told him the steep, narrow footpath he was driving on was a road.”

driver on cliff edge

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Preaching The Gospel, New Testament Fashion

What is the Gospel?

Back when I was in my early 20’s a friend asked me how she could become a Christian. I thought I had all the answers and had read all the best Reformed books, but was frustrated at the questions she kept coming up with. There seemed to be a mis-match between the books I read and how it was done in the New Testament.

Years later, when I came to do my M.Div thesis, I thought “this is a chance to really come to grips with this question.” I narrowed the subject down to Gospel Preaching in Acts and systematically analysed the contents of the book.

  • I found there were 49 places where there was explicit or implicit preaching of the Gospel
  • I narrowed the list down to places where there was substantial content recorded and was left with:
    • 5 addresses by Peter
    • 2 addresses by Stephen and Philip
    • 7 addresses by Paul
  • I was surprised by:
    • the remarkably strong patterns of similarities between these messages
    • and how they differed from preaching today
    • for example, Peter could not preach without the resurrection being one of his points
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Experiencing the Presence of God (Delighting in God part 2)

I’ve heard it said that if you removed the parts of the Bible that deal with the presence of God, you would end up with the genealogies, Proverbs & Philemon, and maybe not even that!

Everyone recognizes that this is one of the most important subjects that there is, yet very little is written about it apart from the description of some experiences. So here I am attempting to begin to develop the theology of the subject.

I believe that there are three ways that the Bible speaks about God’s special presence:

  1. His presence everywhere
  2. A special manifestation of his presence
    • External, e.g. in the O.T. from his presence in Eden, through to his temple presence
    • Intimate, through the Spirit e.g. Experienced by David and by New Covenant believers
  3. The chosen place of God’s final “residence” among his people (Rev 21:3)
    • We have a foretaste of this when believers are gathered and the Spirit makes God’s presence felt

So the big question is: Why do we often not experience God’s presence the way we would like to?

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