June 24, 2007 Commentary:
Evangelism & the Book of Acts
In Jesus’ famous great commission to his disciples at the end of his earthly ministry he said, “All authority is given to me, therefore, go into all the world and make disciples beginning with Jerusalem, then Judea, and Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the earth.” First, we learn that the success of all our evangelistic and apologetic efforts are finally never in our hands, but in Christ’s. He’s the one to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given. He’s the King of the Kingdom. And he rules over sin, death, and Satan. He didn’t send his disciples out on a mission of their own devising with the success dependent on their cleverness or ability to cajole unbelievers into accepting Christ.
Second, we learn from this Great Commission that the mission is to the Jew first then to the Greek. When Peter mounted the Temple steps at Pentecost to announce Jesus Christ as Messiah of the Hebrew prophets, he modeled for us what true evangelism and apologetics must be. For Jews it meant deciding whether Jesus of Nazareth, recently crucified in Jerusalem, was in fact the one he and his disciples claimed that he was. But as the story in the book of Acts unfolds, Jesus’ Great Commission is already beginning to be fulfilled as the Gospel expands to include Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. The ministry of Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, is the dominant example there. Mounting the steps of the Areopagus in Athens, Paul found himself surrounded not by Jews familiar with the messianic prophecies, but with Greeks, who as we read there loved debating the latest ideas. Drawing on their own Greek sources, Paul chided his audience with worshipping an unknown god and announced boldly that God has proved not only to Israel, but to the whole world, that he alone is God by raising Jesus from the dead. The God of Israel is vindicated on the world’s stage as the only God and the King of the all the earth. Both Peter and Paul knew their audiences well and were willing to tailor their arguments without changing the content. For both apostles the message was that the decisive moment in history had come and the resurrection of Christ is the proof that at last the day of salvation has arrived.
In this program we are going to take a look at some of the sermons and apologetic strategies that we find in the book of Acts and see how the Apostles themselves confronted unbelief with the good news of Jesus Christ.
June 17, 2007 Commentary:
"Preaching Christ" An Interview with Dick Lucas
Preaching is the principle means through which God's two announcements, one of divine judgment, the other of free justification, bring conviction and faith. "And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news." While quite fond of elaborate oratory, the Greeks found the plain, simple, forthright preaching of Christ crucified to be less than spectacular. Couldn't there be something else to make Christianity more exciting than a boring sermon-perhaps some signs and wonders, or practical wisdom for handling stress? Paul declares, "Greeks look for wisdom, and Jews seek miraculous signs, but I preach Christ and him crucified, foolishness to Greeks, and a stumbling block to Jews."
Preaching continues to be "foolishness" and a "stumbling block" to the success of the church-or, at least, one would think from the church growth literature in which human cleverness often displaces the preached Word. It is interesting to note the resolve with which the reformers refused to pursue secondary reformations through secondary means. While other reformers sought to curb the rampant secularism and immorality, Luther, Calvin, and the others insisted that the only power God left to his church is the power of the Word. That Word is divided into two parts: law and gospel. With one word he condemns, with the other he saves.
While the Anabaptists were relying on the secret revelations of "Prophet Fred," and Rome was pointing to an infallible pope, the reformers themselves insisted that God speaks only in his Word, and the miracles that attested to the authority of the biblical writers are still sufficient to defend the same Word preached fifteen centuries later. It wasn't as if the Medieval church didn't have any preachers; in fact, there were many outstanding exceptions to the rule, but what was the message that dominated? Whatever it may have been from church to church, it's clear that the focus was not on Christ's sufficiency in his saving office. If, as Paul says, faith comes from hearing that word, the gospel, then there can be no genuine faith in all of so-called Christendom unless that word was being faithfully preached.
And, folks, the same is true for us today. Do we really believe that the gospel is God's power unto salvation? Are we sometimes not ashamed of its foolishness to Greeks, and don't we attempt to adjust it to satisfy their felt needs in order to make it more powerful? Or is it not true that sometimes we turn to signs and wonders for the power of God in our churches? Is the gospel no longer relevant for people struggling with dysfunction and their wounded inner child? Both Lutheran and Reformed traditions have always emphasized the sacramental character of the preached Word. In other words, the power of preaching doesn't lie in the preacher, but in that which is preached. And it is through that preached message that God actually saves people. It's not merely a passing on of information-the sort of thing you can get off the Internet-but is a saving announcement, an encounter with God, an event through which the Holy Spirit actually conveys faith and eternal life. God will not speak to you directly, not in your inner, inner, inner heart. He will not whisper a message to you that he has not published for the whole world in Scripture. So not only is preaching sacramental; it's public. Everyone has access to this announcement, and whoever accepts this declaration as pertaining to himself or herself is instantly united to Christ and clothed in his righteousness. What other announcement, however dramatic, can accomplish peace with God? It is through the Living Word in flesh and the written Word in print that God mediates his saving grace, and apart from this Word the Holy Spirit does not act. Word and Spirit go hand in hand in this marriage that really was made in heaven.
So what are we to make of the preaching in our day? Are we seeking other sources of power and grace in our churches and in our lives? Is the church distracted from this task today and what can we do to get back on course? Joining us in this important discussion is a special guest, the Reverend Dick Lucas, rector of St. Helen's Bishopsgate, one of the largest parishes of the Church of England, with remarkable outreach to the whole city of London. Dick Lucas has also founded The Proclamation Trust, training hundreds of parish ministers from various denominations to recover a passion and a skill for preaching God's Word.
June 10, 2007 Commentary:
"Prophet, Priest & King"
In this particular program, we are taking a look at the offices of Christ: prophet, priest, and king. It's easy to find churches today that claim to be "Christ-centered." And, no doubt, many are Christ-centered in the sense that they talk about Jesus a lot. He's promoted at every event, complete with t-shirts, bumper stickers, and coffee mugs, but is it really enough to do a word count of the number of times Jesus' name is mentioned? Or, is being Christ-centered a lot more than that?
John Calvin suggested that one way to talk about Christ's person and work is to speak of his offices: prophet, priest, and king. Even where Christ is a headliner in Christian circles today, the focus is on rather different offices. Instead of prophet, priest, and king, you might say he's thought of today as coach, therapist, and manager. But just look at the differences: As prophet, Jesus Christ tells us the truth. But he isn't a prophet like earlier prophets; he isn't just the herald of the Word, he is the Word incarnate. He doesn't just tell us the truth; he is the truth. He doesn't just show us the way; he is the way to the Father. He doesn't simply provide the directions; he is the destination. He doesn't just tell us about God; he is God in action.
Furthermore, as priest, he mediates the dispute between God and sinful humanity. Yet here, too, he surpasses all previous high priests in Israel's history. Unlike them, he's God as well as man. Unlike them, he doesn't have to offer a sacrifice for his own sins and then for others. He has perfectly fulfilled God's law. Unlike those previous high priests, he doesn't offer a substitute; he is the substitute, both priest and victim. And unlike those priests of the past, his priesthood never ends because he never dies. His sacrifice never has to be repeated. It's full, perfect, complete, and all-sufficient.
And, finally, as king, he's not waiting for us to make him lord of our lives; he is Lord and therefore has the invincible power to save us from the power of sin, death, the devil, and condemnation. He refuses to allow part of his sovereignty to be seated to other lords, other power brokers, other "experts," regardless of their rates of return, clever marketing, or short-term benefits.
A prophet, priest, and king is very different from a coach, therapist, and manager. We'll talk about the differences that Christ really makes, and the good news that he alone is the adequate object for our faith.
June 3, 2007 Commentary:
You know, only a few years ago, a lot of Christians were talking about "spiritual mapping," trying to figure out which demons (alcohol, lust, bad hair-dos...) control which parts of the country so that they could bind them. Of course, there's nothing remotely suggestive of such a procedure anywhere in the Old or New Testament, but it does raise an interesting question: What would things look like if Satan actually took over a city? The first frames in our imaginary slideshow will probably depict mayhem on a massive scale-widespread violence, deviant sexuality, pornography in every vending machine, the Democrats winning all of the chambers of Congress and the White Horse, churches being closed down and worshippers being dragged off to City Hall. Well, over a half-century ago, Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of Philadelphia's Tenth Presbyterian Church gave his CBS radio audience a different picture of what it would look like if Satan took control of a town in America. He said, "All of the bars and pool halls would be closed, pornography banished, pristine streets and sidewalks occupied by tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing, the kids would say, 'Yes, sir,' and 'No, ma'am' and the churches would be full on Sunday where Christ is not preached."
Not to be alarmist, but it looks a lot like Satan is in charge of a lot of cities and towns right now. Not only in the United States, but in many places around the world I've seen, churches seem captive to persons, places, and things other than Christ. These other things aren't even necessarily bad. In fact, many of them are appropriate effects of a church that is focused on Christ and his saving work. However, when they become the main attraction, distracting us from fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, then they are clearly in the way, even if they are good things in themselves. As provocative as Barnhouse's description remains, it is simply an elaboration of a point that's made throughout the story of redemption. The story behind all the headlines of the Bible is the war between the serpent and the offspring of the woman. That promise, begun in Genesis 3:15, creates an enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, an enmity that would culminate in the serpent's destruction and the lifting of the curse on humanity.
In this program, we're taking a look at the question of "Christless Christianity." It sounds like an oxymoron; indeed, it is an oxymoron. But it would seem that increasingly, even in evangelical circles which has historically maintained a Christ-centered witness and confession, Christ is pushed to the sidelines, to the margins, very often-not explicitly, but implicitly in the life, preaching, worship, teaching, and witness of the church.