The word is not enough
The word is not enough
If you have been looking at our national political life and despairing over the seeming impossibility of identifying common ground, then…
If you have been looking at our national political life and despairing over the seeming impossibility of identifying common ground, then at least you can take comfort in the old saying, ‘If everyone’s thinking alike then no-one is thinking’. People are at least asking deeper questions than they have for some while. We seem to be a culture and a country that stands at a crossroads. Recently, I was at J John’s annual Evangelists’ Conference and came away encouraged by the growing confidence among those who preach the gospel. Many of them echoed my own conviction that the next few years are a season of opportunity, with people being more open to the gospel than they have been for a generation or more. But how should the gospel be preached in this season?
Reading Acts I’m often struck by how our culture increasingly reflects aspects of that age, despite the gap in time. The first century under Rome was an age when people and ideas were able to travel as seldom before. Cities like Rome, Athens and Corinth were melting pots of competing ideas and truth claims, as old religions and philosophies met new emerging ones. Some cities, like Athens, had long traditions of public debate. Others, like Corinth, simply stood at a crossroads geographically and so became places where ideas clashed. Being key centres of influence, both were cities where Paul preached the gospel, yet with markedly different results.
Paul’s preaching in Athens (Acts 17) is often held up as a masterpiece of apologetic preaching, and certainly has much to teach us. Twentieth-century professor and author F. F. Bruce notes two things, however. Firstly, Athens is the first city in Europe that Paul is not expelled from or driven out of. Secondly, few people became Christians and we hear of no sizeable church there during the first century. When Paul moved on to preach in Corinth, clearly there was a remarkable move of God — even in the face of much hardship and opposition. Was the difference in results down to a difference in approach? It might seem likely! Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2-4, ‘When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom… My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’.
Listening to the testimonies of those who have come to faith in our church, the link between the power and the word of God at work has been inescapable. One described how he had left behind his depression after he had been filled with the Spirit and felt the power of God’s love overwhelm him. Another told how her faith came back to life when she experienced physical healing. Yet another found the reality of God in her life after suddenly receiving the gift of tongues. It seems that, in a confusing world of competing truth claims, where many despair of knowing what to think, what is needed is a confrontation with the presence of God.
At New Wine we’ve always been committed to the partnership of word and works. We believe that it’s what Jesus modelled for us in the Gospels, and the pattern that he set for us in carrying out the mission task he left. The world needs truth, and we need to be able to show that Jesus’ message is the credible and sufficient answer to people’s needs — but, in a ‘post-truth’, ‘fake news’, cynical culture, we need to do so in power not simply in word. As God’s people, we owe the world an encounter with his presence.
This is why I’m so excited that Steve Uppal has agreed to speak at all four of our Regional Leadership Conferences in March. As pastor of All Nations Church in Wolverhampton, Steve has seen God build a great church in a place of great diversity. With his own parents coming from the Punjab, he knows what it is to build on truth when people are coming from very different backgrounds. And he knows how to lead a church where the power of the Spirit in signs and wonders works together with the power of the word of God.
Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom that he proclaimed. Paul resolved to go beyond mere intellectual argument and depend on the in-breaking of the Spirit of God. As we face the challenge of reaching our own communities, it is time to cry out to the Lord that our preaching of the message of God be accompanied by a move of God.
Paul Harcourt is the National Leader of New Wine and Vicar of All Saints Woodford Wells.
Paul is hosting New Wine’s Regional Leadership Conferences in March. Book by midnight on 31 January 2019 to receive the early bird discount.