The return

Selwyn summarises the last two months of his study on the subject, ‘A Fresh Look at the Church’; and his three main conclusions follow:

  1. “When we put the Church of today alongside the Church of the first century, we cannot help but see that we have gone off course.
  2. We must think not only about how we can develop new programmes for the future but also how we can return to the old paths – to the sincerity, eagerness and enthusiasm of those first-century Christians.
  3. Every local church ought to go often to the book of Acts and take whatever steps are necessary to make their fellowship a living illustration of what community in Christ is like.”

I find it difficult to isolate what is the main cause of our present predicament, that is, ‘being off course’. There is a lot of activity and there is a lot of material and information available to people within the Church – more than at any other time – yet there is a rise of ‘miliant paganism’ within our society (in the West); and, our influence on governments and policy makers has diminished. In general we are not seen as relevant by many people. What’s your view on this issue?

The main verse for today (Jeremiah 6:16): ‘This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths … “‘; is good, but we know the ancient paths – why is it that we are not following them?

 Selwyn’s prayer for today is a good way to end this study: “Gracious and loving heavenly Father, having seen how Your Church should function, my prayer and deepest longing is this: give us another Pentecost. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”

Picking up the beat

The verses for today (1 Peter 1:3-25), contain some great material. First there is the core verse (v.14) for today: ‘As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.‘ Another couple, are verses 18 to 20: ‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.’ And finally, verses 22 and 23: ‘Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers and sisters, love one another deeply , from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.’

Selwyn words in today’s study are fairly direct and blunt – in a sense a form of a ‘wake-up’ call – do you agree?

As his message is very important; I’ll quote large sections of today’s text, as follows: “… we must now ask ourselves this searching question: ‘Who are we, the Church of the twenty first century, in step with? The world around or the world without end?’ Let’s face it, today people cheerfully ignore the Church, repudiate its testimony, and live, so they believe, as good a life as their church-attending neighbours. … Not even the most earnest devotees of the Church (particularly in the West) would claim that the Church is a mighty and effective instrument of God in this world.

Without belittling the many positive things the Church is doing, it remains true that when compared to the Church of the first century it is disunited, enfeebled and in retreat.”  These are fairly strong words – do you agree that this is the case?

Selwyn goes on to say: “We must stop trying to be trendy and become more transformative. The Church  is not being condemned by the world because it is like Christ; it is being condemned because it is not like Him. When we stop trying to keep in step with the music of the world, and march to the beat of a different drum, we will make a far more powerful impression. Again I say: the greatest challenge of our time is to pick up heaven’s beat – and follow it.”

I entirely agree with Selwyn that the Church, in the West, is disunited, enfeebled and in retreat – we often hear the words; ‘the Church needs to be more relevant to the people in today’s society’, and that’s the type of ‘dry rot’, which has infected the supporting beams of our Church. In my view, reform first starts with prayer after we recognise that reform is urgently needed.

Selwyn’s prayer for today is: “O Father, once again we pray, help us – we who form today’s Christian community – not to conform to the standards of the world, but to march to the beat of heaven’s drum. For that beat, we know, is the right beat. In Jesus’ name we ask it. Amen.”

 

True nonconformity

The text which Selwyn uses for today’s study comes from Acts 8:18-24, as follows: ‘When Simon (who practiced sorcery in Samaria) saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of the wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

Selwyn makes this comment about the above: Peter ‘who at one time was like a reed blown in the wind, is now as steady as a rock. His only concern is to serve the interests of Christ and His kingdom. … Peter and others in the Early Church stood out against the trends and ideas of their day because they marched to the beat of heaven’s music.’

His introduction to today’s study makes for a good summary: ‘Yesterday we commented that if those who belonged to the Early Church did not keep in step with the rest of society it was because they marched to the beat of a different drum. Our challenge in the Church of today is to pick up that beat and make a determined choice to follow it.

Why do you think that we are so far ‘out of step’ in today’s Church – what, in your mind is the one single action we should do, to again move in time with the Holy Spirit’s heart beat?

Selwyn’s prayer for today is: ‘O God, I must ask myself: Would I have the courage to stand up for You if I found the laws of the world conflicted with Your laws? Help me, Father, if I am ever in that situation, and may I always be ready to put You first. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.’

[Note: The next issue, ‘The Blessed Life’ starts on Saturday, if you are not able to get a copy in time you can always download a PDF file of the first week from the  ‘Every Day with Jesus’ site.]

A different drum

Selwyn continues his analysis of the Early Church’s unswerving allegiance to Christ and His eternal kingdom.

‘If there is one thing that is becoming clear as we examine this last distinctive of the Early Church, it is this: the believers of that day were ultimately guided and controlled not by the laws and principles of the society in which they lived, but by the laws of a higher kingdom. …

The death (by supernatural means) of Ananias and Sapphira produced in the community a sense that the Church was a society in which a remarkable power and presence was at work – so much so that those who might have linked themselves to the Church out of impure motives perceived that this was a movement which soon flushed out the disingenuous and the dishonest. How different things would be if this were the case today.’

I think that there are many people like Ananias and Sapphira in today’s Church who sin in the same way as they did – it’s only by God’s grace that thousand - don’t just drop dead – but, the sadness is that they will one day be judged – with the same justice and the same ‘permanent’ result.  Do you agree?

Today’s prayer is good: ‘O Father, help Your Church today to march to the beat of heaven’s music, and not to be influenced by the ideas of the world. May we seek first the kingdom of God … and let all other things become secondary. In Christ’s name we ask it. Amen.’

 

A right response

Today, ‘we continue considering the thought that the early believers, whilst respecting the authorities that were over them, gave their first allegiance to Christ and His eternal kingdom.’

Selwyn uses the verses in Acts 23:1-11, to highlight this aspect (verses 1 to 5): “Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin (the supreme Jewish court consisting of 70 to 100 men) and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled mu duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’ At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!’ Those who were standing near Paul said, ‘You dare to insult God’s high priest?’ Paul replied, ‘Brothers, I did not realise that he was the high priest, for it is written: “Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.”‘”

Selwyn follows his discussion on this event with the following: “But how could Paul respect a man who had just ordered him to be hit across the mouth? There was only one way this was possible. He did it by focusing not so much on the person but on his position. When we respect the position of those over us in authority because we have a high regard for the principle of authority then it helps to transform our view of the situation. It my not stop the person over us continuing to be obnoxious, but it will open up within us greater receptivity to God’s grace because of a right response to authority.”

In my mind, there is an additional complexity when the position has been degraded by corruption, for example, in the case of certain forms of dictatorship – the only, livable option might be to flee from the influence of that authority. In Matthew, 2:13-14, we have the example, when Joseph takes Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape from Herod – and they remained there until Herod died. Do you agree that in some cases the better response is to leave the sphere of influence of a particular corrupt authority?

 

Another King

Selwyn now introduces the last point on his list “of the Early Church distinctives: their unswerving allegiance to Christ and His eternal kingdom. The first Christians, whilst maintaining respect for the civil authorities that were over them, saw that their primary allegiance was to the laws and principles of the kingdom of God. …

An issue that puzzles many Christians is the matter of obedience to authority. They ponder such scriptures as Roman 13:1 where we are told that ‘everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities’, and then look at today’s passage (Acts 5:25-32) where the apostles acted in opposition to the spiritual authority of the high priest – and wonder how can these two forms of behaviour be reconciled. The answer is this: we are expected to live in obedience to earthly authorities until we are asked to do something contrary to God’s commands.”

This issue is fairly clear, in my view, and those who live in a democracy have a number of options in regard to making the Christian view known to political leaders. However, we are living at a time when Christian values are being eroded, and the world will become a more hostile environment for those who follow Jesus. What’s your view on this issue?

Original-style evangelism

Selwyn summarises the discussion on the fact that ‘the first Church was a growing Church to which converts were added in ever increasing numbers.’

He introduces today’s study by bringing together the three primary reasons for the expansion of the Early Church:

  • ‘The presence of the supernatural,
  • the powerful teaching of the apostles,
  • and the daily witness of the believers in their homes.’

He goes on to say: “In today’s passage [Acts 8:1-8, the main verse being verse 6, ‘When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said.’], we read how Philip, one of those who served with Stephen (Acts 6:5), conducted a mass evangelism crusade in Samaria, during which, crowds came to listen to him and paid close attention to what he said. Here we see why God allowed persecution to hit the Church in Jerusalem. It was not because the believers were failing to extend the Church there but because the message now needed to be heard ‘in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’.

Scripture does not connect the unity of Christ’s people and evangelism, but history and experience have shown us that the most powerful and successful evangelistic efforts are those made by a church that knows true koinonia (fellowship) and real spiritual unity. That kind of evangelism never fails.”

It’s my view that the Church today lacks both unity and true fellowship. There would be exceptions but, in general, I see disunity and isolated pockets of fellowship – is it any wonder that the Church in the western world is struggling in its evangelistic efforts – what do you think?