Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Church Signs I Have Seen

"Get Right With God, Or Get Left." A Church of the Brethren sign in Markleysburg, PA.

"Jesus Died So He Could Create "My Space" In Heaven." A Church Sign on the Kingwood Pike in WV.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Harmony That Leads To Action: A Sermon

It was around this time in 1986 that I first came to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In the ensuing twenty-two years many questions have been asked by the Church body: Will the world end in 1988? Which event will trigger the End Times? Which political figure or world leader is the anti-Christ? This type of question is no longer as prevalent as it was a few years ago. But there has been a question that has been asked by many a Christian these past years and is still being asked today: When will the Church experience revival? Many a Christian pastor or speaker has pointed out that the United States has not experienced a sweeping, country-wide revival since the 19th century. Many a Christian has waited for years for revival to come, thinking to themselves "The Church and the nation can't get any worse; these have to be the very last days before God brings revival to the land." Yet things do get worse and many a good disciple of Christ groans in disappointment.

Another way of asking the question about revival is "When will the Church return to the way it was in the Book of Acts?" "What will it take to make the Church conform to the way it was in the 1st century?" People have answered this second question in various ways. When I was a very young Christian, there used to be a group of people who hung around my hometown. The men all had beards and both men and women wore the same type of clothing, which resembled a jacket a chemist might wear in the lab. One of their members told me that to live in a home alone and worship in a Church building was a sin: to live like the first Christians, all Christians should live together communally, under one roof, owning nothing, giving all to the group. Whoever these people were, they were certainly a cult. But not only cultists advocate removing the Church from Church buildings. Recently a well known Christian has put out a book advocating the abandonment of Church buildings to minister solely through house Churches. After all, this writer states, the early Church met in each others' houses. What he fails to understand is that they did so because to meet openly could have caused the early Christians to suffer arrest, torture and execution. One reviewer of this book pointed out that the early Church also met in caves and no one seems to be advocating returning to cave-centered worship. I do not put down meeting in homes in any way. I am just pointing out that some people think such a practice will return the Church to the fervor it had in the 1st century. Others argue for a movement that emphasizes the speaking in tongues as evidence of being filled with the Spirit. There are many opinions as to how revival will come. But lets see what Scripture says on the subject.

Read Acts 2:1-4. "When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

This passage is a favorite among Christians. Very few verses are more popular. John 3:16 is one of the few verses more popular than this passage from Acts. Most sermons on Acts 2:1-4 focus on the tongues of fire, the speaking in tongues, the mighty rushing wind, the infilling of the disciples with the Holy Spirit (the promise of the Father). Yet many miss an important aspect of this verse. What is being missed? Verse one tells us that THEY WERE ALL IN ONE ACCORD! In Acts 1:4-5, Jesus instructs the disciples to wait in Jerusalem to receive the Promise of the Father, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells them that they will receive power. It is interesting to note that the emphasis Jesus placed on this power was not just for overcoming sin but for witnessing. Then Jesus was taken into Heaven and the disciples returned to Jerusalem, living in one accord (Acts 1: 14). While we focus on the gift of Holy Spirit power, we fail to grasp that this power was a gift which was the result of the disciples' obedience: they were of one accord. The Greek word for one accord is ho-moth-oo-madan. Among this word's definitions are: being unanimous, having mutual consent, being in agreement, having group unity, having one mind/purpose, being of one mind and emotion. But wait. There is one more definition: A HARMONY THAT LEADS TO ACTION! This harmony does not just consist in having right beliefs, this harmony leads to unified action on the part of the Church. This harmony is not of a kind where all agree on everything. After Acts 1:14 states that the disciples were of one accord, they voted on a replacement for Judas. Some voted for Barsabbas, some preferred Matthias. They did not all agree, but their focus was on Jesus and the completion of the Great Commission, not on themselves or any personal agendas. They were not focused on getting their own way.

So, what is does this being in one accord consist of? We will see the answer from Scripture shortly. This word for being in one accord appears ten times in the New testament, nine in Acts and one in Romans. Besides Acts 1:14 and 2:1, it appears in Acts 2:46 (note here that being in one accord resulted in the Church growing), Acts 4:24 (when the Church prayed for Peter and John to be released, they prayed in one accord, in one spirit, the whole assembly did not pray the exact same prayer in unison) Acts 5:12 and 8:6. In Rom 15:5-6, Paul defines what it means to be in one accord. "Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Being of one accord consists of being like-minded toward each other. This is a restatement of the second greatest commandment: love your neighbor as yourself.

Are Christians the only ones capable of acting in one accord. Acts 7:57 answers this question in the negative. Stephen has just condemned Israels historical, multi-generational failure to obey the Holy Spirit and proclaimed his vision of Christ at the right hand of God. Acts 7:57 details the response of those who heard him: "Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him WITH ONE ACCORD..." (words capitalized by me for emphasis), and stoned him to death. The same word, ho-moth-oo-madon, is used here to describe the attitude of Christ's enemies, an attitude that resulted in the unified action of the crowd. This word appears in the same capacity in Acts 18:12 and 19:29. The most famous account in the Old Testament of the enemies of God acting in one accord is found in Gen. 11: 1-9. Give special attention to verse 6. God had commanded mankind to multiply over the face of the earth. All men, even after the Fall, were made in the image of God, and as man covered the earth, God's image would be found all over the earth, resulting in God being glorified all over the Earth. Yet in Gen 11, man was in one accord, unified in thwarting God's purposes, not glorifying God but making a name for themselves. "And the LORD said, "Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing they propose to do will be withheld from them." (Gen. 11:6) What is God's solution? "Come, let Us (the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit) go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one an other's speech." (Gen. 11:12) The Triune God gave man many languages to destroy man's ability to act in one accord. To further hinder man's ability, God began to reduce man's lifespan.

What is revival? What constitutes a "Book of Acts" Church? Not worshiping according to a particular pattern, not worshipping in homes or a Church building. Not speaking in tongues. Revival begins when we are in one accord. Some Christians will disagree. They have heard for years that revival happens when the Holy Spirit sweeps through an area, cleansing away all sin. But such a view of the Holy Spirit does not line up with Scripture. This attitude views the Holy Spirit as an "it," a force, when actually, the Holy Spirit is a person. The Bible speaks thus concerning our relation to the Holy Spirit: "How can two travel together unless they agree?" This speaks of a relationship between persons, not a relationship between humans and an impersonal force. The Holy Spirit is a person who can be grieved. Yet the Spirit can also be in relationship with us, if we are obedient by being in one accord. Other Christians may object: all is of grace, they say, and to be made in one accord is a work, and works have no place in our relationship with God. Works done in the flesh, in man's strength, do not please God. Yet in our relationship with God, there is cooperation by man with God. This cooperation is referred to as obedience. God will not act on our behalf unless we obey His commands. (See II Chron. 7:14) And being in one accord is God's command for His Church, which we must obey before the Holy Spirit brings revival to His people from within the hearts of His people. This unity is Jesus' will for us; Jesus prayed that His Church would be of one accord. (See John 17:11, 20-23 and John 13: 34-35)

Ten years ago, the Church was talking about the "Brownsville Revival" in Florida. People all over the world traveled to Brownsville, hoping to receive revival from the Holy Spirit. Today we hear nothing of this "revival." Some thought that Promise Keepers would usher in a revival, but as needful as Promise Keepers is, it failed to restore the Church. Some thought that 9/11 would drive the Church to its knees and that many unsaved would flock to our Churches. This did not happen. It is no good waiting passively for the Holy Spirit to sweep through our land cleansing His Church of sin. The Holy Spirit will work within those who are of one accord with their brothers and sisters, loving each other and God and witnessing, carrying out the Great Commission. Only when we obey on this point will the Spirit move on our behalf. It is no good to travel here and there, seeking revival. We need to follow the advice David Wilkerson gave ten years ago concerning the "Brownsville Revival." Forget traveling the globe to find revival: stay at home and get your own revival. Be obedient, and the Holy Spirit will respond.

(All Quotes from Scripture are from the NKJV.)