What was the approach of the church in the New Testament? In Acts 1:6, Jesus' disciples asked if the kingdom would be restored to Israel in the sense of the theocracy under king David, cf Luke 1:68, 74. Note the disappointed hopes of Jesus’ followers after his death, Luke 24:17, 21. They had expected a political redemption.
Like the old motto of Youth for Christ we need to be “Anchored to the rock geared to the times.” In other words, we need to be fixed and flexible. But what is flexible and what is fixed? The Emerging Church is flexible where it needs to be fixed. Traditionalists are fixed where they need to be flexible.
1. Fixed: the gospel message never changes
1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is a succinct, yet full statement of Paul’s gospel.
A big and glorious gospel. As 2 Corinthians 3 demonstrates, authentic new covenant ministry is more effective than Sinai. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. Christ – his person and natures. He is God, but not all of God, 1 Corinthians 12:3-6, the Trinity. Christ died for our sins. The more secular our society, the more superstitious it becomes. Mystical spirituality has little interest in facts. Experience is what matters, but the gospel based on events. Christ died for our sins. What is sin? Relativism speaks of values, not absolutes, but most people believe that paedophilia is absolutely wrong. Some who profess relativism will hold that their favoured cause, such as women’s rights is inviolable. Romans 1 & 2 tells us that man, made in the image of God has an inbuilt sense of right and wrong. Even Hitler raged against those who betrayed him. The transcendent God of biblical revelation guarantees the existence of moral absolutes. Sin is lawlessness, but Christ died for our sins to bring us back to God. His death was an act of penal, substitutionary atonement. The Evangelical Alliance held a debate on Steve Chalke's charge that PSA was tantamount to "cosmic child abuse", but PSA should not be a matter for debate amongst Evangelicals. It is fixed gospel truth. Would we discuss whether murder is right or wrong? According to scriptures. Peter Enns and Andrew McGowan are wrong to question biblical inerrancy and so undermine biblical authority. Raised the third day. The resurrection of Christ changes everything. The risen Jesus is Lord. The gospel demands a believing response, 1 Corinthians 15:1. We must preach with a verdict.
a) God doesn’t change
God is the Rock, Deuteronomy 32:3-4, he does not change, Malachi 3:6 neither does Jesus, Hebrews 13:8, or the Spirit, Hebrews 9:14.
b) The Word doesn't change
We hold to the faith once delivered to the saints, Jude 3.
c) Human need doesn't change
Romans 5:12ff. The problem of sin and death. Rich and poor, educated and uneducated may catch swine flu. People are different, but are afflicted by the same ailment that needs urgent treatment.
It is not the job of churches to conduct surveys to see what the world wants, but to make disciples. The church must set the agenda, not the world, 1 Corinthians 1:22-23.
d) The gospel method doesn't change
The 1st century was a highly visual age – temples, idols etc, but the apostles preached the gospel, Acts 13, 17. Even with modern day technology TV, internet etc. people can still listen. The Reformers preached in a context where people were used to religious imagery. The Puritans preached in the theatre-going age of Shakespeare. Likewise Whitefield preached when stage actors like Garrick were hugely popular.
We must practice what we proclaim, Matthew 5:13-16, Colossians 4:5.
Even in churches with large Sunday congregations, relatively few turn up for the midweek Prayer Meeting. Why is this? Are we building work that will last the testing fires of judgement, or will our efforts go up in smoke, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15?
The gospel message that sets the church’s agenda is fixed.
2. The need to be flexible
David “served God in his generation”, Acts 13:36. The context in which we serve is changing. The task of preaching is to build a bridge between the world of the biblical text and the twenty first century.