Based on a talk by Mike Hill, Bishop of Bristol, at the Keswick Convention 2013.
There's a huge burden on my heart, as to how we are going to set about re-evangelising this nation. It's easy for us Christians to get into a season of complaint about the way the world is and the things we see happening.
But we have a conundrum. Why is it that we aren't seeing more people come to Christ? We're going to review some of the Biblical stories about this. Then, as now, the opponents of the Christian faith knew exactly how to arrest the development of the Christian faith.
How might we re-engage with the process of seriously trying to re-evangelise our nation? Firstly we must remember, as 1 Cor 3 tells us, that it's God who gives the growth. We do the planting and the watering, but it's the triune God who brings those who he will save.
We're going to look at Acts Chapter 4 to think about it, verses 5-31. We think evangelism is hard now, but of course it was hard then. At that time it was evangelising a pre-Christian culture, and now we're evangelising a post-Christian culture. Both are hard. They were pantheists, they had lots of idols, and the Romans were occupying the region. And the idea of a triune God was offensive to the Jews.
Let's pick out some things from this passage, which might help us in our task of evangelising today. These were Peter and John, men of conviction. Verse 12 tells us, that the apostles were clear as to the fundamental message they had to proclaim: that salvation is found in no-one else, from no-other name than Jesus. Unless you have a conviction in line with this, you will never even see the need to go out and seek to win others for Christ.
I spend some of my time meeting with other faith leaders. In the current politically correct climate, it's completely wrong to think that we should go and evangelise other faiths. But I have a very good reason to do evangelism among other faiths – that there can be no fuller revelation of God to human beings.
Other religions only get the rough gist of what God is like. Jesus is the fullest revelation of God. Take a look at the opening verses of the Hebrews. I can't understand why anyone wouldn't want to know God through the fullest way.
In Acts, these are men who have great conviction. Secondly, they have great commitment. I can remember a woman once saying to me, 'if you mention evangelism again, I'll kill you'. She's probably [heard] 15% of what's required, then! We've got to be highly committed to the task.
Verse 13 tells us that these apostles weren't doctorates in theology - they hadn't been to mission college. They were ordinary men. It says that they had been with Jesus, and that's the most important thing. That describes the heart of any believer – they've been with Jesus. Not in his physical presence necessarily, but in the power of his Spirit. And now we are seeking to follow him, in a committed way. So it's interesting that these first opponents of the Christian faith, they observed that the apostles had been with Jesus.
erse 17 shows that the Council's analysis of the situation is very telling. "But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus' name again." This was then the defining mark of disciples. The Council's primary intention was to try to stop the Christian faith from spreading, so their analysis is to warn them to speak no longer in his name.
So, go and get a tattoo with this statement: 'if you want to stop a church from spreading, all you have to do is stop it from speaking'.
These were people who were pooling their possessions and giving them to the poor. But the opponents of the church weren't trying to stop their social action – they were trying to stop them speaking.
There's no such thing as a Christian silent witness. We're called to witness with our lips and with our lives.
We can also see that evangelism takes courage. In verse 19, Peter and John replied; "Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard." That's what a witness does. A witness shares their experience. You don't have to be schooled, or massively intelligent. You need to have been with Jesus and have some experience to share with others.
If you pray for opportunities to witness to your faith, God will really answer your prayer. Do you feel like this? I can't help from speaking about what I've seen and heard? Do pray about it.
Verse 23 says that Peter and John then went back to their people. In our denomination (Church of England), there would have been only one response to this – we'd have formed a committee. 'For God so loved the world, that he didn't send a committee!' But the apostle's first response is to pray.
And it's a really great prayer, in verses 29 and 30. "Give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power: may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus". Then what happens? The response of God, in verse 31. The place where they were meeting was shaken, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke the word of God boldly. It didn't say that they started waving their arms in the worship service or sing hymns a little louder. It said, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. We have to pray for this boldness. In the tides of secularism washing over the church, we have to pray for a measure of defiance.
It's important to know that the new atheists are not massively successful in creating lots of new atheists, but they have been very successful in shutting down any space for religious discourse in the public square. I've been hissed at in the House of Lords, for standing up for Jesus - and I'm really proud of it.
I believe the church needs a shaking and filling with the Holy Spirit, that we might preach the word of God boldly. All Christians are called to be witnesses. It's no good you being the kind of person who goes around speaking about Jesus if you're not very nice. We've all met people like this. They weren't very nice before they became Christians, and they're not very nice afterwards. But Jesus said, by their fruits you will know them.
Romans 1:16 declares that St Paul said, 'I was not ashamed of the gospel'. In the churches, is this the case today? Once I met a lady who had just come to Christ. She said, I've been standing in this church for years, and it's as if Jesus was the best kept secret! Sometimes it seems as though the church is proud of lots of things, but is it proud of the gospel?
All preachers should know this. Our responsibility is to preach the gospel. If we don't preach it, how will anyone be saved? If people don't hear the word of truth, how will they be saved? Faith comes from hearing the message. The message is heard through the word of Christ. How is a preacher ever going to get to a pulpit without a Bible? How does anyone preach who never starts with a text, and tries to convict the sinners and focus the minds of the saints on a verse?
I had an interesting dialogue with a major evangelical network in this country. I said that I had I opened your magazine, and I read stories about what churches are doing. Some of them are doing great things - Foodbank, credit unions, that sort of thing. There's nothing wrong with that. But when are we going to stop telling people what we are doing, and get focused on telling people what God has done? Without the preaching the gospel, how will anyone ever be saved?
David Watson said, if he'd done his life over again, he'd have put more focus on evangelism. We've got to get back to this, friends.
We've got to be focused in our prayers. Try doing 'Operation Andrew' - praying for three unsaved friends consistently, and meet in groups of three to do it. In our group when we did this, 90% of those we prayed for became Christians. Let's have this intentional stuff. It's not going to happen unless we put energy and imagination into this evangelism.
ou can't just wade into a culture you don't know anything about. We shouldn't assume in our multicultural society that we understand the cultures by looking from them from a distance. I once met a bizarre looking evangelist, with black hair, black lipstick and piercings. She was trying to reach goths. I didn't even know what goths were. I thought they lived 1000 years ago in central Europe, but apparently they're still around.
Study Paul's speech to the Athenians in Acts 17 - the only example of his preaching to the Gentiles. His preaching is different to that in the synagogue. He engages them. I never get the impression that Paul would have an alternative career as a stand-up comedian, he's usually very serious. But here, he starts off with a joke, 'I see you're all very religious people,' he says. Then he starts from creation, and ends with the judgement. A few people gave their lives to Christ.
Paul had developed a theology of the atoning work of Christ on the Cross - but he doesn't even mention it. Instead, he engages with them by borrowing from their culture. He also challenges them, by telling them that there is a time when every people will be judged.
Finally: those of us who stand in the pulpit should be becoming more like Jesus, not less like him.