Numbers in Acts

The church growth strategy in the New Testament church is simple: preach the Word, shepherd the flock. Some would call this no strategy, but that would be mistaken. The numbers are obviously important to Luke who writes for Theophilus and the church community in the book of Acts.

The church in Jerusalem began with 120 people, but after Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, we’re told 3000 were added (Acts 1:13; 2:41). Then, an additional 5000 men, not including women and children came in (4:4). Even after the sobering deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitutudes of both men and women” (5:14). Again, the church “disciples were increasing in number” (6:1), so they appointed deacons. And it “multiplied” some more (6:7).

Lest we think this was confined to Jerusalem, the church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria “grew in numbers” (9:31). All the residents of Lydda and Sharon who saw Peter “turned to the Lord” (9:35). When people in Joppa heard, “many people believed in the Lord” (9:42). Increase of “great numbers” are mentioned three times about the church in Antioch (11:21, 24, 26). “A great number of Jews and gentiles believed” at Iconium when Paul first visited there (14:1). At Derbe it was “a large number of disciples” (14:21), and in sum “the churches…grew daily in numbers” (16:5). The second journey produced similar results with “a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few promienent women” being added ot teh church (17:4). Berea was no different (17:12). Demetrius complains about the “large numbers of peole here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia” Paul had convinced (19:26), apparently enough to put pagan religious craftsmen out of work!

To say the growth strategy was simple is not to say it was easy; it also resulted in jail time and many stripes. But the apostles preached to the unconverted and they were heard. Luke consulted with those who knew how many heard, and it’s a regular part of his narrative. This tells us that numbers matter and we ought to strive for God’s blessings in God’s ways.

the Promised Spirit for your children & the world

From a recent sermon by Toby Sumpter:

“Believe the Promise of God for your children and the world. We’ve reviewed them today. You’ve heard them before, but you are called to believe them. Your children belong to God. He has claimed them in baptism, and the promise of the Spirit is for them. But it’s striking that Peter connects the Promise of the Spirit to three distinct entities: you, your children, and the world. This is not accidental or coincidental. While leaving room for different gifts and different personalities, it is nevertheless the case that the Promise of the Spirit is for all three: you, your children, the world. This means that they are connected. And our faith in the promise of the Spirit cannot be disconnected from the mission of the Spirit. If the mission of the Spirit is to save you, your children, and this world, then reception of that Spirit, receiving that Promise in faith means believing with equal certainty in that mission. You cannot receive the Promise without receiving the Mission. And you cannot carry out the Mission without the Promise. It is the Spirit that is driving this story forward. It is the Spirit that is determined to conform you into the image of Christ. It is the Spirit that is determined to conform your children to that same image, and it is the Spirit that is determined to remake this whole world and conform every family on the face of this planet to the image of the Son. God’s mission in your life is to see this mission carried out in your children and in your neighbors and all who are afar off. That’s what the Promise of the Spirit is for; that’s what the Promise of the Spirit is up to. That is the Mission, and the Promise is for the carrying out of that Mission.”

Something We Are

“Since we are in Christ, we have a missionary identity. We are adopted into a missionary family. We serve a missionary God. Mission becomes part of our identity, because our Father is a missionary God and we resemble him as a child of God. So, the church is a missionary church, with missionary people, that do missionary things for the glory of a missionary God. It is who we are and it is also what we do. Mission is not something we tack on to the list of options as  Christian. It is what we are commissioned to do and something we must commit ourselves to pursue with all of our abilities. Mission is not just smehting we do, but something we are.”  Scott Thomas, Gospel Coach, p. 61.

Competent Contextualization

“Contextualization is not ‘giving peope what they want” but rather it is giving God’s answers (which they may not want!) to questions they are asking and in forms that they can comprehend.” In other words, there is an attracting offensiveness to contextualization. The attractiveness of contextualizing the gospel is that we actually listen to the questions that people are asking. We are able to listen patiently to the hopes, challenges, and fears that people in a culture express through art, theater, literature, and films and to communicate the gospel in a way that connects with these hopes, challenges and fears. Many unbelievers in our cultural setting will be attracted to the gospel as they come to understand how it connects to them in the deepest possible ways. The culture begins to see the church as a place of depth and honesty, and many will give the claims of Christ a hearing. People are actually drawn to the church rather than repelled by the church.” Darrin Patrick, The Church Planter, p. 195.

Trinitarian Evangelism

Most evangelistic conversations stay a mile wide of the Trinity, and I don’t mean simply avoiding words like perichoresis that ought to be avoided. Gospel presentations that often include multiple members of the Godhead usually do so in a descriptive manner. Man crosses the chasm back to Father over the bridge of the Son. But when people are invited into a relationship with God, they are being invited into an eternal society. “For through Him [Jesus] we both [Jew and Gentile] have access in one Spirit to the Father”, Paul says (Eph. 2:18). This description echoes the doctrine of God where the Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son. God has been in fellowship and community forever, and the offer of the Gospel is one of redemption and adoption into God’s family, into the society of the three in one and one in three.

Fred Sanders’ recent book is all about the Trinity: The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. He notes C. S. Lewis’ excellent discussion of the Trinity in Mere Christianity where he ties the being of God to the offer of the Gospel. Why does the Trinity matter?

It matters more than anything else in the world. The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made. (quoted in Sanders, p. 234)

Bringing the life of the Trinity into evangelism is the antidote to health-and-wealth, prosperity Gospel distortions. God sent his Son, and then his Spirit, to bring man back to himself where life abundant has always been (Jn. 10:10). It also remedies the individualism that has crept into so much evangelism. The Gospel is fundamentally about God, remarkably bringing unholy and unthankful sinners back into his community, the Trinity. It’s not “me and Jesus”, but me and the Triune God, and not just me but the entire family, the church, that is called to reveal the unity of the Godhead.

There is eternal life gong on in the Trinity, and if we are to be saved we must share in that life. Lewis describes our way of access to that Trinitarian life as “good infection,” which calls for us to get close enough to the Trinity to catch this communicable life like a healing virus. The triune life is caught, not taught. Good infection is possible, obviously, only because one person of the Trinity, the Son, has united himself with us by becoming human. Proximity to Jesus is the way to come into contact with the eternal life of the Trinity, because Jesus Christ is that life of God incarnate. “If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise  in us.” This brings Lewis’s exposition of the Trinity full circle, back to the “ordinary simple Christan at prayer” and the Trinitarian cadence of that prayer. (Sanders, p. 234).

The Missional Hail Mary

Being “missional” is all the rage these days. Are you missional? Is your worship missional? Do you sing missional songs? All words are prey to sloganeering, and it appears that this one is in a bear trap. The more places I see it, the more it’s becoming obvious that those promoting it are the least missionally minded–that is, willing to confront unbelief with the Gospel of God’s grace.

My most recent encounter occurred at a “Reformed” church where the pastor talked (I can’t say preached) about his pet gerbil and lessons he learned about God from his weightlifting. In doing so, he robbed me of hyperbole. I just can’t top it. It’s funnier now. At the time I whispered to my wife that we need to come up with a point at which we leave the service. When does blasphemy lite become too much? Continue reading

Arise Africa

Lamin Sanneh notes the rise of Christianity in Africa:

“In 1970 there were 120 million Christians, estimated; in 1998 the figure jumped to just under 330 million; and in 2000 to 340 million. The projections call for over 600 million Christians in twenty-five years. If those projections are right–and I will not go to the scaffold for them–apart from South America, Africa will have more Christians than any other continent, and that for the first time.” (Whose Religion is Christianity?, p41)

Idiom in Touch

Nathan O. Hatch comments on the preaching of Whitefield and Wesley:

The enduring legacy of the first Great Awakening, Harry S. Stout suggests, was a new mode of persuasion. Defying a church callous to its common folk, John Wesley thundered that he would preach nothing but “plain truth for plain people.” While Wesley and George Whitefield were concerned about theology, their primary interest was that each person have a profound experience with God. This required an idiom in touch with people by the time of the American Revolution, the warmth of such evangelical appeals and their ability to draw the unchurched into cohesive fellowships made evangelicalism a major social force on both sides of the Atlantic.