Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tuesday morning evangelistic smack-down, #26

Here’s why we grew so wonderfully in the beginning
Let me state my thesis: Central doctrines of Christianity prompted and sustained attractive, liberating, and effective social relations and organizations. I believe that it was the religion’s particular doctrines that permitted Christianity to be among the most sweeping and successful revitalization movements in history. And it was the way these doctrines took on actual flesh, the way they directed organizational actions and individual behavior, that led to the rise of Christianity.” (Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity)

The Scent of Love
"In his book The Scent of Love Keith Miller proposes the reason why the early Christians were such phenomenally successful evangelists. It was not because of their charisms – such as the gift of speaking in tongues – and not because Christianity was such a palatable doctrine (to the contrary, it is about the unpalatable doctrine there is) but because they had discovered this secret of community. Generally they did not have to lift a finger to evangelize. Someone would be walking down a back alley in Corinth or Ephesus and would see a group of people sitting together talking about the strangest things – something about a man and a tree and an execution and an empty tomb. What they were talking about made no sense to the onlooker. But there was something about the way they spoke to one another, about the way they looked at one another, about the way they cried together, the way they laughed together, the way they touched one another that was strangely appealing. It gave off what Miller called the scent of love. The onlooker would start to drift farther down the alley, only to be pulled back to this little group like a bee to a flower. He would listen some more, still not understanding, and start to drift away again. But again he would be pulled back, thinking, I don’t have the slightest idea what these people are talking about, but whatever it is, I want a part of it.” (M. Scott Peck, The Different Drum, Simon and Schuster, ’87)

Second Generation Leadership
Chapter 9 describes the conversion of Paul, whose ministry dominates the rest of Acts. In fact from now on, except for the pioneering work by Peter in the home of Cornelius, these newer leaders are the standard-bearers of the advance of the kingdom.

  • As we noted above, they become initiators while the apostles become verifiers. In a beautiful sequence Peter and John follow the lead given by Philip and preach the gospel in many Samaritan cities (8:25).

  • We can detect a certain hesitancy to change among the older established leaders, which is natural.
  • Thus, when there is an evangelistic harvest in Samaria by Philip, Peter and John are sent to check things out.
  • Peter later resists the message to go to the home of Cornelius (10:9-23).
  • When Paul tries to join the Christians in Jerusalem, he is accepted only after Barnabas intervenes before the apostles on his behalf (9:26-27).

  • When the gospel is preached later in Antioch among Gentiles, the Jerusalem11:19-24).

The good thing is that in each of these four instances of groundbreaking changes within the church, the apostles accept the changes after giving them due consideration. Our passion for obedience to God and his ways should make us careful about naively accepting every change that comes along without examining them. But it is our passion for obedience that also enables us to accept the changes even though we may sometimes be uncomfortable with them. In this way we not only encourage healthy change and growth in the church, we also help develop new and creative leadership. The abiding principle we learn from this is that good leaders are open to change that comes from younger creative people and, after giving it proper thought, encourage such change and even learn from it. (Ajith Fernando, Acts – NIV Application Commentary)

How to enthuse a eunuch!

Philip went up to the chariot of the eunuch reading (then, Scripture was always read outloud…learning comes by hearing) a scroll (worth about $20,000 in 2002 dollars). The Ethiopian was a wealthy character…the chief treasurer, a trusted official. He was reading the Isaiah scroll.

  • In those days, a eunuch had both testicles and penis removed…which means he could not have been circumcised.So at the temple, he could only proceed as far as the Court of the Gentiles (which had a railing that said “No Gentiles may go beyond this line, if you do you will be responsible for your death which will ensue”).
  • The eunuch wants some help from Philip concerning Is. 53.They began there.
  • Perhaps they made it as far as 56:“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths who choose the things that please me and hold fast to my covenant – to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.”
  • No wonder the eunuch got enthused! (Jim Fleming)

A God beyond our control…

“It can be pointed out that while there is no first-century evidence of the church in Ethiopia, nevertheless several early church fathers attribute to the eunuch the evangelizing of the region (cf. e.g., Irenaeus, Against heresies 3.12.8-10). We can only say, it may be so, and in any case the eunuch can be seen as a fulfillment of the psalmist’s words: “let
Ethiopia hasten to stretch out its hand to God” (Ps. 68:31). For Luke’s purposes, however, at least part of the point of this story is to show that with or without apostles, God was going to fulfill his plan to spread the good news to “all flesh” even unto the ends of the earth, even if it required using an evangelist rather than an apostle, and even if it required direct divine intervention in various forms. The human leaders of Christianity in Jerusalem could only try to catch up with the plan of God, which was operating often apart from and quite beyond their control.” (Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 301)

How not to evangelize



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