Monday, December 29, 2014

Envisioning an awesome church: The Word (with a powerful video)

Acts 2:42-43 "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and manywonders and signs were taking place through the apostles."

Introduction and Review:
For the past couple of days we have been trying to envision a more awesome church. I began this blog series by noting what God began to lay on my heart with regards to the necessary ingredients for having a more awesome church. We considered the first of those: intercession. When a church body regularly makes intercessory prayer a priority, the power of God will flow more freely, sermons will become true messages and the gifts of the Spirit will begin to be unlocked. Today we want to consider the second necessary ingredient for having a more awesome church - the Word.

First a powerful video about people who love the scriptures
I will never forget how powerfully I was gripped by a video I saw of Chinese underground church Christians receiving their first Bibles. The excitement and thrill of being able to have their own copy of God's Word challenged and convicted me and made me wonder what is wrong with me in that I as a preacher am not more thrilled? This video is a minute long and I invite the reader to click on the following link before proceeding ahead in this post:

How much the early church was saturated by the scriptures
When I watch the above video, it demonstrates what it may had been like in the early church. It must be noted that in the first century of the church, early Christians did not own their own complete copy of the Bible. As a matter of fact unless one had been a member of a Jewish synagogue prior to conversion, the likelihood of ever hearing the scriptures read would had been pretty slim. Even for those who were exposed to the scriptures would had only know the Old Testament. In Acts 2 there would had been no book of the New Testament composed, since the church was just starting. 

To see the early Christians so enthused over the Old Testament is magnified even more as one begins to see the New Testament books being composed. We today take for granted the availability of the Bible in our own language and the fact we have a full and complete canon of scripture. It strikes me as odd to hear churches trimming back on immersing their people in the scriptures through sermons, Sunday School classes and Samll group studies. Whenever we look into the pages of the Book of Acts and the New Testament letters, we do not find less emphasis on the scriptures, but rather more emphasis. 

Now before we go any further, it must be established that when I say that "more awesome" church life is to be saturated in the scriptures, I'm not talking about only acquiring head knowledge (even though intellectually knowing more of the Bible is part of it of course). People who are taught to think Biblically will demonstrate they have gotten it by how they act, talk and influence others.

With that said, those same people will be so saturated with scripture that they will not only know the books of the Bible but be in their Bibles daily. If a lack of prayer characterizes much of the modern day church, Biblical illiteracy is an equally growing epidemic. My fear is that the modern day church in America is quickly running into a 21st century version of the Dark Ages. The level of Christianity needed to take on the level of wickedness in our world will not be achieved at the current apathy displayed in our churches. The rally cry of every revival in the past two millennia has been, without exception, a return back to the Book and the Christ of the book. 

The early church was known to be a church that gathered together to hear the scriptures. In the book of Acts alone we see roughly 20 sermons presented. The Apostles made preaching and teaching their first priority, since the exposition of the scriptures was and is the means by which people are converted and Christians are changed. Acts 2:42 states: "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." 

As one gets into the New Testament letters it is very obvious that preaching and teaching of the scriptures are to be priority and central to the life of the church. Romans 1:16 states that Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ since it is the power of God unto salvation. As Paul then aims to unfold the Gospel in its entirety, he uses numerous Old Testament references to unpack the Gospel message. Galatians 1 opens with a rebuke to the Galatians for exchanging the truth of the Gospel for a counterfeit version. 1 Corinthians 1:17-23 explains the purpose and significance of preaching. On and on the Epistles go in highlighting the centrality of the preaching and teaching of the scriptures. We are reminded in 1 Timothy 4:13-16 that at the reading, teaching and exhortation of ther scriptures that listeners are preserved and saved in their faith. The entire Book of Hebrews is believed to be a sermon based off of Psalm 110. All seven of the churches in Revelation 2-3 have some sort of exhortation of Jesus to them, with warnings and urgings to get right or stay right with Him through the scriptures.

Closing thoughts
We need to hitch together this emphasis on the Word of God with the emphasis we noted yesterday on intercessory prayer. Prayer movements without the scriptures lead to unbridled fanaticism and expressions of the flesh. Likewise Word-centered movements without intercessory prayer are efforts that drift quickly into legalism and dead dry formalism. The Spirit in prayer and Christ in the Word must be equally expressed and interconnected to ensure a sustained and vibrant awesome church life.

More tomorrow....