And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
What state is your church in?
There is much to learn from the book of Acts during this time of flux and stormy weather in the Anglican Communion. The record of the early church shows that while its life was marked by holy excitement about God’s great salvation in Christ and by resilient joy , the church had its fair share of problems both within ( divisions, doctrinal disputes , lack of holiness etc) and without ( hostility from authorities, jealousy from other religious leaders etc). But the outstanding feature of the early church is that notwithstanding her problems she kept spreading the Gospel, winning new lives to Jesus and planting vibrant communities of believers.
This is very clear from Acts chapter 14 . The Gospel spreads powerfully into the Gentile world as her ambassadors move out to the Roman provinces of Galatia and Asia Minor . There are four marks of these Gospel ambassadors that challenge us:
- Gospel Urgency: Paul & Barnabas prioritise the task of getting the Gospel out to others, because they know that “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Rom 1:16). When they are persecuted & the authorities close the door of the city to them, they just move on to the next city and undauntedly proclaim the good news ( Acts 14: 6-7 , 19-21a) . The good news is that Jesus was put to death for our sins and very importantly in the sermons in Acts, that he was raised to life bodily by God. The resurrection of Jesus shows that God has accepted his death on our behalf, put fallen man right with Himself and conquered sin, darkness & death. (Rom 4: 24-25). This is God’s VICTORY! The slain Lamb of God has triumphed! This is the breaking-in of God’s promised kingdom! Notice how the Gospel proclamation is accompanied by “signs and wonders” such as healing miracles. (14:3d, 8-10) . God has saved and His kingdom is here! This is GOOD NEWS for everyone! It is the HOPE given to all nations! The truth of the Gospel captured the hearts of the early believers and lit a flame to make the Gospel known to all humankind. The Church today must get the Gospel out of its doors and into the corridors of life where the people are.
- Bold Perseverance: The Gospel ambassadors keep going through all the ups and downs of proclaiming the good news. Their early success in Iconium is terminated by planned persecution (14: 1,5-6). Paul is stoned in Lystra but recovers and gets on with the work (14:19-20). We too must be prepared for the highs and lows of witnessing for Jesus. There are times we reap a good harvest and people respond. At other times, people reject the good news or fall away after a positive start. But we persevere. And we do not shrink from the hostility directed at us because we are faithful to the Gospel (14: 2-3b) . Not for us the humdrum of church life. We are to enjoin the battle for souls and to persevere through the ups and downs of ministry.
- Fervent Disciple-making: The Gospel team in Acts don’t just lead people to Christ , they expend effort to disciple the new believers to follow the Lord through thick and thin. Hence, Paul & Barnabas return to the same dangerous cities in order to “strengthen the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith… through many tribulations …” (14:22). And the apostles ensure that godly under-shepherds are appointed for the local church so that these new believers can grow in the Lord and the witness of the Gospel established longer-term for the city. As our risen Lord made clear in the Great Commission , our task is not just to win converts but to make disciples ( Mt 28:18-20).
- Humble Dependence: It is abundantly clear that Paul & Barnabas don’t see the fruitfulness of their mission as something they accomplished by their own power. They see themselves as only messengers of the living God (14:15) and they acknowledge that it is God who opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Yes, they spoke the Gospel but it was God who opened the hearts of the hearers. Moreover, it was the grace of God that protected them, guided them and enabled them to speak with confirming signs. They depended solely on the grace of God which their sending church had commended them to ( 13:1-3; 14:26 ) and their testimony is to “all that God had done with them.” (14: 27). So too are we today to go out to tell the Gospel story to others , not relying on our own strength and ability but fully relying on the God who works with and through us.
Where do these four marks of effective Gospel messengers come from?
They come from the Holy Spirit, who was poured out on that great day of Pentecost (Acts 2). It is the Spirit who filled the believers in the early church with overflowing joy, deep conviction and a tremendous sense of God’s power and presence with them .
In the midst of the darkness of our times and the resistances to the Gospel once for all delivered , I believe that God in His great mercy is sending the wind of His Spirit to renew and revive His church. The Gospel wave will move across the nations , as it did in the book of Acts , when you and I together with our local churches put up our sails and catch the fresh wind of the Spirit!
And the power of the early disciples , both through its ordinary members and its mission teams , to do this can be traced to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
Right Revd Rennis Ponniah
Director of GSFA Secretariat (Hon)