GuideStones: The Propagation of the Gospel - Part 4
Along the road of our journey back to Jerusalem we, at last, come to GuideStone No. 4. This ancient marker, like the others, has been left for us by our spiritual forefathers in order to point direction and warn of dangers. This marker admonishes us about the importance of personally sharing the gospel with those with whom we come in contact. Some refer to this today as “confrontational evangelism.” I am the product of this approach. I am forever grateful that after a basketball game during my senior year in high school, a young man approached me in the parking lot and boldly and winsomely confronted me with the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ. Tragically, the call of much of modern church growth today has a de-emphasis on this type of evangelism as is evidenced by a void of training in this regard.
Perhaps there is no other place where the Jerusalem church of the first century is more diametrically different from the western church of the 21st century than in this issue of confrontational evangelism. Throughout every page of the Book of Acts we find these early believers boldly engaging and confronting individuals from all walks of life with the gospel. In fact, in so doing, the Bible goes so far as to say they “turned their world upside down.”
Contrast this New Testament approach to the New Trendy approach of a recent church start in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex where I live. This church circulated a direct mass mailing promotion to thousands of homes in their area. Across the top of the mailing it says, “Top Ten Reasons to Avoid Church.” Note some of these “top ten” promises this church is making to people in this clever little mailing.
One promise is this — “If you come to our church it will all be over in an hour and you will still have plenty of time to enjoy the day.” That is their offer. Can you imagine the Lord Jesus saying to those multitudes in Galilee, “Just give me a few minutes and then you can get it over with and go enjoy the rest of the day?”
The mailing also promises to “not make you listen to a bunch of old songs and an organ.” I found that a bit strange since the scripture says we are to praise him on “stringed instruments and organs.” The early church had Psalms which they sang in worship. That was pretty old stuff even in the first century.
How about this promise made by this New Trendy gospel church — “You can leave your wallet at home. We promise not to talk to you about money.” Now, that is a real motivation for discipleship isn’t it? Isn’t there something in the Bible about “honoring the Lord with the first fruits of our increase”? Can you imagine the Lord Jesus saying, “Follow me and keep your money and everything else to yourself”? He said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also!"
The promises continued, "You can blend in with our people and not be recognized.” Can you imagine Simon Peter making such an appeal to the people in Jerusalem? Can you imagine our Lord who said, "Come out from among them and be separate” saying, “if you will come to my church you can blend right in with everyone else, redeemed or lost, it doesn't matter"?
Here is a real motivation -- "We will give you coffee and donuts free.”
But, one of the strangest of all promises was the one which said,” We promise not to visit you.” Strange, since our model church in Jerusalem was going everywhere in the market place sharing the good news of Christ. The Lord Jesus, who admonished us to go out into the highways and hedges and compel men and women to come to faith, would never make such an absurd promise in the name of His church.
There are many churches of all stripes today who do little or nothing to proclaim the substitutionary atonement and the death of Christ to a lost world. It is seldom even mentioned. Would to God we could hear Pastor Peter’s commentary on this seeker friendly approach. He was beaten. He was threatened to never speak again in the name of Christ. What did he do? He went away rejoicing that he was counted worthy to suffer in His name. He left us a guidestone along the way to remind us of the importance of the propagation of the gospel.
And what about Paul? Thank God he did not buy into this New Trendy approach. He was stoned at Lystra and left for dead. He was ship wrecked at Malta. He was beaten in Philippi. He was thrown in jail in numerous places and finally martyred in Rome. Can you see him trying to build the church at Philippi or at Ephesus or wherever he went by promising to give away “free coffee and donuts”? Can you imagine this great church planter offering a type of gospel that simply entertained and met “felt needs” without compelling anyone to bear a cross? No, never. His was a New Testament gospel.
One of the heroes of the modern church growth movement of the last few decades said the following in an interview published in Christianity Today magazine on October 5, 1984, “I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and hence counterproductive to the evangelistic enterprise than the unchristian, uncouth strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.” In other words, don’t do anything to offend the seeker. What a contrast we see in Acts 2 when Peter confronts men and women with their sin and “their hearts are cut”.
These are not isolated illustrations in modern church growth. Such ideology is rampant when we open our eyes. For example, I came across an interesting book which I purchased from a Baptist divinity school bookstore on the campus of a Baptist university (formerly Southern Baptist I might add). It was written by someone who was formerly a professor of a Baptist university in the south. The book has a fascinating title — Ten Things I Learned Wrong from a Conservative Church. Chapter three is titled — “Third Wrong Teaching: Jesus is the Only Way to God.” The following is a direct quote from the chapter, Baptists and other dyed-in-the-wool conservatives have this thing about Jesus, that since the incarnation 2,000 years ago he is the only way to God.” He does not put much stock in John’s gospel either. In fact, he insinuates that the “Jesus” of the fourth gospel was “arrogant” by stating he was the way, the truth and the life. But there is more, he goes on to say, “I don’t think it is necessary for people to have an experience with Christ in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
We are living in a day when the gospel is under attack. And not just from without, but in some places from within. This issue of the exclusivity of Christ and the gospel message is the burning issue of our day. Let’s pause a moment at this fourth guidestone and see the importance of recovering a passion for the propagation of the gospel in our lifetime. These early believers were “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
A church can have power, proclamation and preservation, but if the church does not have the element of propagation, it will never be a great church in the eyes of God. This early church went everywhere witnessing. The propagation of the gospel fulfilled Acts 1:8 in one day. And the result was the “Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” They propagated the gospel in a winsome way and a winning way.
If we are ever to see the church truly revived again in our generation, then we must lay hold of this concept of equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry. This first-century church went everywhere sharing their faith and performing the works of ministry.
The churches in our day and age who are seeing mercy drops of revival are those who have mobilized their people to do the work of ministry. These are churches which have all kinds of ministries but only one overriding purpose, and that is to glorify and honor the Lord Jesus by fulfilling the Great Commission to make, mark and mature believers in the faith.
To begin with, mobilization is done by example. If pastors are going to mobilize their people as we move the church, then we must be on the cutting edge ourselves, and our people must see that we do not ask them to do something we are too good to do ourselves. The best way to mobilize people for the work of ministry is by example. Perhaps Gideon expressed it best when, as he led his small army to face the Midianites, he said, “Do as I do!” These pointed words may be the epitaph of many churches today. That is, they do what the pastor does. My pastor, Fred Swank, used to tell all of his preacher boys: “Never use your people to build your ministry, but always use your ministry to build your people.”
Another important element in the mobilization of people to the work of the ministry is expectancy. Here is the spirit of conquest. A vision, if you please. Someone has commented that a “vision without a task is simply a dream. A task without a vision is drudgery. But a vision with a task is the hope of the world.”
The birth of a vision is like the birth of a baby. It begins with conception. The seed of a vision is conceived in the leader’s heart by the Lord Himself. The next step is gestation. Here the vision grows inside us. After a while those around us can see that something is growing within us. This is the stage where we meditate, pray, yes; gestate the vision that has been conceived in us. Then comes the stage of birth. This is when we share our vision with others. It is out in the open. The next step is one of the most vital. It is the step of adoption when those others who have not personally birthed much less gestated and conceived the vision adopt it as though it was their very own. Then comes the stage of growth. Just like when our children are growing they cause challenges and cost money. So it is when the vision that has been adopted by others continues to grow. Next comes the step of maturity when all we have prayed for and dreamed about comes to fruition. Finally, there is the stage of reproduction. At this stage many who have seen their vision come to maturity never dream again. This is a critical stage that begins the process all over again. All of this has to do with creating the element of expectancy in the lives of our people in the churches. People want to be a part of something that is going somewhere with a direction and a dynamic.
Another key element in the mobilization of people to propagate the gospel is found in the word environment. In my opinion the two greatest factors in church growth are love and unity among the fellowship. This hurting, wounded world is looking for true love and true unity.
On the evening before the crucifixion, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you. That ye love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34, KJV, author’s italics). For 33 years Jesus had given us a picture of what real love truly is. Up until then, the best we could do was live on the level of the old commandment found in Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But some of us have a real problem there. That is, we have no self-worth or self-respect, and if we loved others as we love ourselves, we wouldn’t be loving with very deep love. But after 33 years of demonstrating what true love really is, Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you. “The environment of love is the most important ingredient in church growth, and it is also the most basic factor in mobilizing people to propagate the gospel.
Not only is love important to the environment but also to unity. I believe the pastor’s primary job is to “maintain the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace.” Personally, this is what I guarded more than all else during my pastoral days. The most important factor in a family is unity. The most important factor in an athletic team is unity. The most important factor in a business is unity. And a church should be known by its unity. I am not speaking about uniformity, but unity. There is a tremendous difference. Uniformity is an outward expression while unity is an inward expression. Cults emphasize uniformity, not unity. There is diversity in unity. We are not all alike, but we can all be together.
Another important word in mobilizing people to the propagation of the gospel is exertion. We are to equip the saints to do “the work of the ministry.” And the ministry is work! When we are truly walking in the Spirit, we will not be wearing out the seats of our pants but the soles of our shoes. So often I hear that this church or that church simply operates “in the flesh.” Well, the fact is, that is what our Spirit-filled lives have to operate within.
Do you know how hot and humid it can be in Fort Lauderdale in August? Our staff would go on evangelism visits every Saturday. Often when I would pull up in front of someone’s house to share Jesus Christ only to have a door slammed in my face or to have someone rudely cut me off, my flesh would not advise me to keep doing that. My flesh would tell me to go back home and sit under the air conditioner or lie down on a mat in the swimming pool. My flesh never told me to do anything for Christ. People will respond to exertion. They want to be a part of something exciting.
As we follow the life of Jesus, we discover that He exerted Himself so many times in so many ways. He had a special affinity toward the outcast. Jesus loves the rejects and pariahs of society. When He went to Jerusalem, where did He go? To the pool of Bethesda where handicapped persons were lying near the pool. When He went through Jericho where did He go? Did He make a beeline to meet the mayor to receive the key to the city? No, He went to a blind beggar rattling a cup on the side of the road. When He passed through Samaria did He have an “I-know-the-governor syndrome” like so many of us preachers today? No, He didn’t go to the governor. He was interested in a sinful woman outside the city at Jacob’s Well. He met her in the middle of the day to give her living water. Some of us need to stop being so hypocritical as we sit pompously behind our stained-glass walls talking about how much we care about missions in Africa when we are uncomfortable having a Haitian refugee sitting beside us on the pew. Revival comes when folks do not mind getting their hands dirty in something that is real.
We also find that another element of mobilizing people to the propagation of the gospel is encouragement. Nothing mobilizes people more than encouragement, words of appreciation, exhortation, and encouragement. As we read the Book of Acts, we find those early believers continually encouraging one another in the faith. If the church is going to be revived again in our day, it is not enough simply to have the element of power or proclamation or preservation. We must become caught up in propagation and burst outside the four walls of our buildings, mobilizing our people to do the work of the ministry and carrying the gospel to the four corners of the world!
Note that they propagated the gospel in a winsome way. The Bible says they were “having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47). The religious system of the day rejected these early believers. They were a threat to the traditional religion. Also, the Roman government rejected them because they would not bow down and say, “Caesar is Lord.” But the truth is that most of the people embraced them. They “had favor with all the people” They were winsome in their witness and in their worship, and thousands were converted because of it.
Real Christianity is lovely. There is a quality about a Spirit-filled, radiant Christian that draws and attracts others and causes them to “have favor with all the people.” The truth is that the gospel is not nearly as offensive as some of its proponents! People were attracted to these early believers’ joy and wanted to know the source of it. Evangelism in this first century church was more caught than taught. And, that is how it should be in the 21st century church.
They also propagated the gospel in a winning way. “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).They were a growing church! Every once in awhile we hear someone remark, “I like to be part of a small, spiritual church.” There is no such thing as a small, spiritual church in a metropolitan area. I understand that population makes a difference. If the church is spiritual, it will be healthy, and if it is healthy, it will be growing! If you are the type of person who does not want to be part of a large church, you certainly would not have wanted to be a member of the first church in Jerusalem in the first century.
What do I mean? Let’s see! In Acts 1:15, there were 120 believers. Someone says, “Oh, we like it like that. “There are many churches like that. They are sometimes governed by people who want something they can control. Often they cannot control anything at work or at home, so they might join a little church and develop a “God complex. “They want to be served; they don’t want to serve. They want a preacher to stroke them and pat them on the back. All the while the whole world is going to hell, and they want a church they can control. This early church was a healthy church, and because it was healthy it was filled with power, proclamation, preservation, and it propagated the gospel so it grew in grace and numbers into the multiplied thousands.
Here we see these early believers being faithful to our Lord’s last words to them, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
They had come to grips with five important questions which had arisen out of these last words of our Lord. Now, having been endued with power from on high, they were fulfilling Acts 1:8 in their generation.
First, they dealt with the question of who. You! Here is an imperative in the future tense. No one was excluded. The point is: None of us are beyond this commission of Christ to be witnesses of His saving grace.
Next we deal with the question of what. They were to receive what? Power! Here is the urgent need of the church today. Many churches are anemic in their worship and in their witness. The word translated power (dunamis) is the same word from which we receive our word dynamite. As we have seen earlier, the difference in the first century church and the 21st century church is in two words — influence and power. While the church of our day prides itself in influence (particularly in the political realm), it has so little power. The early church did not have enough influence to keep Peter out of prison but had enough power to pray him out!
Next, they dealt with the question of when. When? When would this power come upon them? “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” The Holy Spirit with in is Who gives power. We need to strengthen our witness that comes from a source that is outside of us. We need the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit within us, and when we are being filled with the Holy Spirit, witnessing will become as natural as water running downhill. Like Peter and the other apostles, we cannot “help but speak the things we have seen and heard.”
They also dealt with the question of why. Why were they to receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them? There is only one reason — “To be my witnesses.” If you are saved, you have Christ, and He has you. If you have Christ, you have the Holy Spirit. If you have the Holy Spirit, you have power. If you have power, you are a witness. Note that He does not fill us with the Holy Spirit in order for us to become the judge, prosecuting attorney, defense or jury — but the witness.
We are witnesses unto Christ. We are not recruiters trying to induce people to join our club. We are not salesmen trying to sell people our products. We are not marketers trying to brand our product. We are witnesses of Jesus Christ and His saving grace. The mark of a carnal church is that it talks about itself and invites people to come hear its preacher or to attend its Sunday School. The mark of a mature church is that it talks about the Lord Jesus Christ and is a witness unto Him.
This early church also dealt with the question of where. Where is this gospel to be taken as we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit? The gospel is to be taken across the city, across the country, across the continent, and across the cosmos. There is a sense in which Acts 1:8 is an outline for the rest of the book of Acts. They took the gospel to Jerusalem in Acts 1–8.They took the gospel through Judea and Samaria in Acts 9–12. They took the gospel to the ends of the earth in Acts 13–28. In 30 years this exciting early church fulfilled Acts 1:8. There is an important point for the church of our day. We cannot play leapfrog with the Great Commission. Witnessing for Christ begins in our own Jerusalem, not the ends of the earth. The highest form of hypocrisy is for mission groups to talk about how much they want to win people to Christ on foreign fields when they will not even share Jesus Christ with their next-door neighbor. Propagating the gospel begins at home and continues until it reaches the end of the world!
Many lament that taking the gospel to the whole world is a mammoth task for the 21st century church. What a task it must have been for the first century church.
It looked geographically impossible. Many believed the world was still flat! It appeared to be physically impossible. There was no air travel, no printing press, no radio, no television, no telephone, no facsimile machine and no internet. It looked legally impossible. It was against the law to speak in Christ’s name in many places. It looked socially impossible. The church was made up of so many rejects and outcasts of society.
But how did they do it? Did they do it through a well-devised marketing strategy? Did they do it by propagating positive thinking? They received power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and then they propagated the gospel to the ends of the world. They went empowered by God’s Spirit in them and it took them to where people were in need of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The church must do this if it is ever going to be revived again. We need to remember Jesus did not die in a starched white shirt and an expensive tie on a gold cross on some mahogany communion table within the stained-glass walls of some high-steepled church. He died out there where thieves were cursing and soldiers were gambling, and that is where we are to go, “to the ends of the earth. “We are to penetrate the whole world until “the darkness shall turn to dawning. And the dawning to noon day bright. And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light.”
By Acts 2:41, we read “three thousand were added to their number that day. “Now there were 3,120. In Acts 2:47, it says, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” In Acts 4:4, “the number of men grew to be about five thousand. “The word for men used in Acts 4:4 is andros. It is a word used for man in the masculine sense as opposed to a woman. These were five thousand men, and it is likely their families were also saved. Some believe as many as 15 to 20,000 were saved by the time of this account in Acts 4:4. It is very possible then that the church numbered around 25,000 members. In Acts 5:28, we read that the message of Christ had “filled Jerusalem.” Oh, what a day!
If only in America today, we might one day hear that our cities were filled with the good news of Jesus. In Acts 6:7, the King James translators rendered this verse to read “multiplied greatly.” Now, we are no longer talking about addition but multiplication. How many were in the early church? While no one knows for sure, Dr. B. H. Carroll, the founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, thought there were 65,000 members the first six months. G. Campbell Morgan, the late, great pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, figures there were 250,000 converted in the first six months of the church in Jerusalem. The point is they propagated the gospel in a winsome way and in a winning way.
What makes a church great in the eyes of God? Power, proclamation, preservation, and propagation. And we must have all four! There are some churches who have power. They live together in unity and make much of the filling of the Holy Spirit but have no preservation. There are others who have proclamation and make much of the Bible but who have no power, no sense of belonging to God, much less to one another. There are still others who make much of propagation but who have no sense of preservation of new converts. Great churches in the eyes of Godlike the Jerusalem church, are characterized by a balanced ministry that involves all four elements. This is what the church needs today. Oh, that the church of Jesus Christ today would live together in unity, be filled with the Holy Spirit, make much of the Word of God in proclamation, preserve their new converts to grow in grace and knowledge through “the apostles’ doctrine”, and go outside the four walls of their church to propagate the gospel in a winsome and winning way. If this would only happen, our land would be filled with the message of Jesus Christ.
One of the blessings of my own personal devotional life is to pray the great hymns of the faith. As I concluded these writings of the early church I found myself praying through my spirit the words of that great old hymn:
"Lord, as of old at Pentecost
Thou didst Thy power display
With cleansing purifying flame
Descend on us today.
For mighty words for Thee
Prepare and strengthen every heart
Come, take possessions of Thine own
And never more depart.
All self consume, all sin destroy
With earnest zeal endue
Each waiting heart to work for Thee
O Lord, our faith renew.
Speak, Lord! Before Thy throne we wait
Thy promise we believe
And will not let thee go until
Thy blessing we receive.
Lord, send the old time power
The Pentecostal power
Thy flood gates of blessing
On us throw open wide.
Lord, send the old time power
The Pentecostal power
That sinners be converted
And Thy name glorified."
Lyrics by Charles H. Gabriel
May God’s special blessings rest upon that church which manifests its ministry in power, proclamation, preservation, and propagation. And may our continual prayer be with that of the Psalmist: "O, that You would... revive us again!"