We want the fire! We are all agreed on that. We long for the old apostolic flame in our midst once more. Of course, our theology is sound and we know that the Spirit is sovereign – God must move! However there are certain things we can do to make ourselves ‘ignitable’. One of them is to simply, humbly and courageously testify to what Christ has done for us as individuals, being his ‘witnesses’ to our generation, as he expects us to be (Acts 1:8). Call me simplistic but it seems to me that if there is a key to gaining and keeping the fire, this is it.
In his thrilling book Grace, Grit and Gumption, Geraint Fielder reminds us of the evangelistic fervour in South Wales that was to burst into the beloved ‘04’. He entices us to read with this mouth-watering challenge: ‘Can you imagine a revival in today’s over-stressed, over-worked, pleasure-seeking obsessed, unchurched society? It can happen! Discover how in this encouraging story of a dramatic turnaround that changed a whole area of Wales.’
Evangelism and revival
I am personally convinced that there is an inseparable connection between evangelism and revival. Evangelism is either a consequence or cause but there is certainly a connection. It is the Holy Spirit constraining men and women to go out and reach the masses. Even if God should withhold from sending national revival, we can ensure there will be a personal one. Regardless of how others are impacted, something happens to us when we speak about Jesus.
There was a time when every Christian was expected to be a soul-winner. If a person was ‘born again’, they, motivated by the same love that had taken hold of them, automatically went to seek others for Christ. Admittedly, it was a daunting prospect for a new Christian but there was something noble and courageous about it – a ‘baptism of fire’ which would leave an indelible mark upon the fledgling disciple. The problem is that ours is an ‘asbestos’-type culture and has us in a fire-quenching pincer grip. Firstly, we are called to live for Christ in a smug, postmodern atmosphere. A simple faith in Christ for salvation is deemed an extremely simplistic message – one which any thinking person could never seriously be expected to embrace. We are embarrassed into silence. Secondly, Britain is a multicultural society and there is increasing pressure upon us to ‘tread softly’, carefully avoiding any accusation of being labelled ‘extremist’. We are bullied into silence.
As a result, we are being pressurised into becoming so compliant that a certain ‘bite’ is disappearing from our evangelism and is in danger of becoming rather bland – ‘nice’ but bland! We have no end of evangelistic programmes on the church calendar but Christians can be involved in them without any healthy ‘eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart’ sharing of their faith and as a result fail to develop that gritty cross-carrying type of discipleship – which surely is true discipleship. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not appealing for that brash, insensitive ‘’ave it!’ approach which is always repugnant wherever it appears. But rather for that fragrant, bold ‘taking on the world’ spirit that we see so clearly in those weak, infant churches in the New Testament.
Robert Capon wrote some years ago in his book, The Astonished Heart, that as Christians we had ‘lost our astonishment’. He said:
If Christianity is simply about being nice, I’m not interested. What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice brand of Christianity that turned the world upside-down? I’m ready for a Christianity that ‘ruins’ my life, which captures my heart and makes me uncomfortable. I want to be filled with an astonishment which is so captivating that I am considered wild and unpredictable and, well, dangerous. Yes, I want to be ‘dangerous’ to a dull and boring religion. I want a faith that is considered ‘dangerous’ by our predictable and monotonous culture.
If it is true, as many tell us, that Britain has almost become ‘1st century’ then surely it is time to imitate the faith of those who despite pressure not to speak in the name of Jesus, replied, ‘We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:20). And it was said of the infant church in Thessalonica that ‘the Lord’s message rang out from them’ and ‘your faith in God had become known everywhere’ (1 Thess. 1:8)
These guys had no reputation to lose. They were nobodies and rejoiced in it. If they were to die, it would certainly not be of dignity! That irrepressible Apostle seemed even to delight in his titles, ‘scum of the earth, and refuse of the world’ (1 Cor. 4:13) and no doubt ensured that both were listed on his CV! In comparison we think we may win a lost world by the quality of our website, literature, buildings, etc. All, of course, which we should aim for to be the best. (Let us never think that being shoddy, cheapskate or antiquated is ‘spiritual’!) But if our trust is in them, we shall depart from that vital New Testament authenticity and power – and may not even realise in our blur of organisational activity.
There is an enemy who knows only too well the importance of soul winning.
Have you noticed that JWs are now not content to visit door to door only but have stepped up their game and can be seen on street corners and in town centres everywhere?
Have you noticed (how could you fail to) the blood-curdling zeal of men and women only too willing to lay down their lives for their vile and destructive ideology?
It is rarely lack of knowledge that prevents us from sharing our faith. It is usually that we have unrealistic expectations of what we should be. The internationally appreciated Rebecca Manley Pippert writes helpfully, in her book Out of the saltshaker and into the world, regarding our reluctance to share our faith personally:
Our problem in evangelism is not that we don’t have enough information – it is that we don’t know how to be ourselves. We forget we are called to be witnesses to what we have seen and know, not to what we don’t know. The key on our part is authenticity and obedience, not a doctorate in theology.
Remember the old days
I am in no way appealing for a type of Christianity of a bygone era out of a sense of nostalgia (‘Oh, do you remember when Billy Graham came to London in the 1950s…’) but rather, for us to recapture in our day that fire-filled sort we read of in times when the Spirit was poured out abundantly on the church when every believer automatically became a witness.
We must never think being Christ’s witness is a personality thing – I must be loud, extrovert, funny, etc. I myself confess to being a shy coward by nature (no doubt a contributing factor to my dependence on booze years ago!) but I can testify to the transforming grace and power of the Holy Spirit each time this wimp comes out of his shell to speak of Jesus. And, oh, the joy of obedience! I can heartily agree with dear C. H. Spurgeon: ‘Even if I were utterly selfish and had no care for anything but my own happiness, I would choose to be a soul-winner.’
For further reading on this subject I recommend:
- Intentional by Paul Williams
- Honest evangelism by Rico Tice
- Out of the saltshaker and into the world by Rebecca Manley Pippert