. . . OR, A Divine Game of Chasey During the Sunday sermons at Hobart Baptist, we are currently making our way through the book of Acts and I keep emphasising how amazed I am at the number of times God takes action and the church plays ‘catch up’. Time and time again the Holy Spirit intervenes taking the initiative in the Christian community and the people have to adjust to the new thing happening. The story of Acts is the story of the forming of the church. The reason I believe it is important for us to study Acts is so we recognise when God is at work in our church and in our community. And more than that, so that we’ll be ready to “catch up” with what God is doing.
In his book, The Continuing Conversion of the Church, Darrell Gudermakes the compelling point that transformation (his word is conversion) should be the constant experience of the church. If the church is obedient to its Lord, it will continually experience transformation. Why? Because the church exists for God’s purpose and it is God who is at work within and amongst her to achieve these purposes. Years ago the German theologian, Karl Barth, made the comment: “There is a Church because there is a mission.” I said something similar last Sunday (June 17) when I suggested, “The church does not have a mission, instead, God’s mission has a church.” This is significant. The church will continue to experience transformation not because we want change, nor just because we live in a changing world, but because the church does not exist for itself.
The church was brought into existence with a purpose, and that purpose remains because God is at work achieving his purposes.
This is the importance of the book of Acts for us. It gives insight into what it means to be the church called into existence for the purpose of God. Sadly, a quick look at church history reveals we haven’t always been good at keeping this focus. Time and time again we get drawn into worrying about our survival rather than focussing on what God is doing in bringing the “kingdom” to earth. In fact, there are hints of this even in the New Testament. Guder remarks: “Whereas the early Christian community was established by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a missionary people sent into the entire world as salt, light and leaven, it began to be concerned with its identity, structure and survival.” As a result the perception of the gospel changed. The focus of salvation was no longer on the coming of the “kingdom” but upon meeting individual human needs. The same temptation is no less real for us today. Living in a consumer based, individualistic world it is easy to drift into believing salvation is all about my needs, my desires, and my wants focusing on what happens after death. The gospel is that, but it is far more. Being saved is being caught up in God’s big plan to bring salvation to planet earth as well as all the people who live on it. As Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) The church’s focus is not about my salvation, but about God’s big rescue at work in and through his church. So here the challenges before you and me as we seek to live faithfully:
Are we going to allow the significant issues we face as a church (locally, but also across our state and nation) cause us to focus on matters such as “identity, structure and survival”; OR will we learn from Acts and ask God for the revelation, insight, illumination and wisdom to perceive what it is God is doing?
Will you and I allow ourselves to be caught up in God’s purposes; OR will we focus on our own needs?
Will you and I pray, “Lord, save us”; OR “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?
My prayer is that during your journey through Acts you will be encouraged and inspired to “catch up” with the things God doing in your church, in your family and in your community. Stephen L Baxter
One of my favourite verses in the gospels comes from Matthew where Jesus says, “…every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (13:52). This is the last of eight parables strung together in Chapter 13 where Jesus first uses parables to explain what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Here Jesus reflects on his new way of teaching saying it is like a householder who, to meet the needs of the current situation, brings from his supply old things and new things. In other words every student or learner of the Kingdom is like a head of an enterprise that is able to apply both new and old learning to every circumstance. It is about making the right response as demanded by the current situation.
“Every student or learner of the Kingdom is like a head of an enterprise that is able to apply both new and old learning to every circumstance”
In Australia today the church is facing challenging times. The world continues to change and we are struggling to keep pace. Today the active Christian population has become a minority and the majority of our neighbours and friends never set a foot inside a church. In fact, they are increasingly ignorant of even our most familiar Bible stories. Although some of the outward trappings of our Christian past reside with our society, it is now overwhelmingly secularised. It is not surprising that as the number of people familiar with the gospel dwindles and those ignorant of the church increase, that many children have never heard the Christmas story. I recently read of a young student fascinated with hearing the story of Christmas for the first time went to his teacher to thank her. Yet one thing disturbed him, ‘Why did they give the baby a swear-word for his name?’ Living in a post-Christendom society that has lost the memory of its Christian past, people today actively choose not to associate with churches. If they do happen to be in our buildings it will be at a wedding or a funeral or as curious tourists totally ignorant of their own Christian legacy. Long past is the expectation that churches have anything relevant or even understandable to say to them. Needless to say this poses enormous challenges for us. Hobart Baptist has not been exempt from the effects of these changes. Perhaps our biggest threat is that we will continue to operate as though nothing has changed. Overwhelmed by the changes, the danger is that we continue to be the church the way we were before the dramatic events of the past century. So what do we do? Jesus’ parable can be a bit of a guide for us. The way ahead is not a simplistic “out with the old and in the new” nor is it a matter of sticking with the wisdom of the past. While our traditions may not necessarily continue to be helpful or essential, neither will the new be helpful just because it is new. There is a tension at work here. We cannot, and must not, lose sight of what has been, yet what has been is in need of constant renewing to meet current challenges. While it makes no sense to discard the accumulated wisdom of the past, neither should we refuse to seek out God’s new transforming future. God still calls us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) but the world around us has changed so significantly that unreached people are no longer only overseas (if they ever were) they are now our next door neighbours. Those ignorant of the gospel are in the streets, schools, and clubs of the communities we live in. The changing world has made us all into missionaries. This is the challenge we face. How do we communicate the gospel in this new world? It’s like we need to learn a new language – the language of our secular world. We need to learn how to be church in our changing world so we can become “light, salt and leaven” (Matthew 5:13-15, 13:33) again. To do so we will need to bring “treasures old and new” praying for God’s enabling to meet the challenges of our time. What challenges do you face in communicating the gospel with those you see daily? What ‘old and new’ treasures will you bring out as you relate to them? Stephen L Baxter