Another quote from Spurgeon as he talks about taking our gospel ministry outside of the confines of our chapel and church buildings:
No sort of defence is needed for preaching out of doors; but it would need very potent arguments to prove that a man had done his duty who has never preached beyond the walls of his meeting-house. A defence is required rather for services within buildings than for worship outside of them. Apologies are certainly wanted for architects who pile up brick and stone into the skies when there is so much need for preaching rooms among poor sinners below.
Lectures to my Students, p 254.
Here is my question: Where are we to go today? The apostles went to the temple, the synagogue, the market place etc. because here people gathered and were ready to listen. Where are these places for us?
I've been struck by Spurgeon's description of the early church and their preaching as he traces the history of open-air preaching:
There were gatherings of His disciples after His decease, within walls, especially that in the upper room; but the preaching was even then most frequently in the court of the temple, or in such other open spaces as were available. The notion of holy places and consecrated meeting-houses had not occurred to them as Christians; they preached in the temple because it was the chief place of concourse, but with equal earnestness "in every house they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ."
Lectures to my Students, p 235.
What struck me as I read that was the pattern of New Testament evangelism. Evangelism for the early church was not about waiting for people to come to them, but about taking the gospel out to the world. The early church went where people were to tell them about Jesus. Paul's missions were also characterised by this pattern and strategy. When he went to a place he would go to the synagogue, the market place or wherever people would be.
As I examine the way that I have worked and the churches that I have been part of I have to admit that this is not always the pattern we have followed. The expectation has been that people would come to us. I have been guilty at times of an 'evangelical fatalism'. That if God wants people to hear the gospel he will compel them to come in so that they can, therefore all I need to do is preach the gospel in this place. So I am challenging myself with the biblical pattern of evangelism.
Jesus commanded his disciples not to hide the light of the gospel under a bowl. Evangelicals today preach the gospel, they believe the gospel, but are we hiding the gospel away in our buildings?
I am very particular about the cheese that I eat. I don't like the smelly ones. I don't like the ones with too much taste. In fact, anything more pungent than a mild chedder is pushing it a bit far.
When my mum worked in a cheese shop I didn't benefit as much as I could have done. To be honest, my nostrils were often repulsed as I opened the fridge door by the acrid smell of festering cheeses. I could walk in the kitchen no problem, but open the door and I couldn't get out fast enough.
These memories have been returning to me over the last couple of days as I have been thinking about 2 Corinthians 2:15-16. Christians, Paul tells us, should be the aroma of Christ in the world. To some that aroma will be repulsive, to others attractive, but people should smell Christ in us. But, and this is what has been challenging me, how will they smell us unless we get up close and personal?
As I said in a previous post, Acts 17:16-34 has been a huge challenge to me lately. A challenge to my heart as I examine Paul's desire for people to hear the gospel, not just for him to speak the gospel. A challenge to my life as I see Paul going to people, not expecting them to come to him. It is also a challenge to me as a Bible teacher. It makes me ask the question "how clear am I"?
It seems to me as I look through Acts, that Paul and the apostles adapted their preaching to their listeners. Not the message, but the way in which they presented it. When talking to Jews or God-fearing Greeks, he would speak of the history of Israel pointing to the Messiah and Jesus as the fulfilment of the promises. Here, talking to Greeks with little or no Bible knowledge, he begins with what they could see and the guesses and discoveries of their philosophers and poets. He doesn't end there though, he goes beyond them to point to Jesus. The Areopogus got what he was saying too. Some sneered, others wanted to hear more, a few believed. Different responses, but they had heard and understood the message. Paul had communicated the gospel in an understandable way.
I often wonder whether the same could be said of me and others who occupy pulpits week after week. There is a Christian lingo that we use, do we ever stop to see if people understand these words. When I listen to other preachers I lose count of the number of assumptions that are made, I'm sure that I am just as guilty. What do people hear when we communicate the gospel?