E100 The Church is Born

Sermon Date: 
20 Jan 2013
Bible Base: 
Acts 2: 14-21, Matt 28: 16-20

David Jeans

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There is a word that you might be tempted to use over the next few weeks and months that I would like to abolish. That word is interregnum. If you don’t know the word that’s great – but I had better explain where it has been used. It has been used to describe the period that a church has between one vicar leaving and the next vicar arriving. But look at the word – interregnum. Between kings – vicars are not kings!!!
One of my heroes is a guy called Roland Allen. He was a missionary to China in the late 19th century. He had to come home because of ill health, and became a Vicar in England until he had to give that up too. He wrote a few books including one published in 1912 called Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours? He was deeply concerned that the way overseas mission worked made new churches totally dependent on the overseas missionary. Here are some of his wise words – and I hope you see their relevance:
If the first converts are taught to depend upon the missionary, if all work....is concentrated in his hands, the infant community learns to rest passively upon the man from whom they receive their first insight into the Gospel. Their faith having no sphere for its growth and development lies dormant. A tradition very rapidly grows up that nothing can be done without the authority and guidance of the missionary. The people wait for him to act, and, the longer they do so, the more incapable they become of any independent action. Thus the leader is confirmed in the habit of gathering all authority into his own hands, and of despising the powers of his people, until he makes their inactivity an excuse for denying their capacity. The fatal mistake has been made of teaching the converts to rely upon the wrong source of strength. Instead of seeking it in the working of the Holy Spirit in themselves, they seek it in the missionary. They put him in the place of Christ, they depend on him. (p 81 Kindle edition)
Allen argues that Paul was very different. When he went to a new place he preached the Gospel and taught converts. He raised up and trained leaders – and then after 2 or 3 years he left them to get on with it while he went somewhere new. Allen argues that Paul was able to do this because he had faith in the Holy Spirit:-
He believed in the Holy (Spirit), not merely vaguely as a spiritual Power, but as a Person indwelling his converts. He therefore believed in his converts. He could trust them. He did not trust them because he believed in their natural virtue or intellectual sufficiency. If he had believed in that, his faith must have been surely shaken. But he believed in the Holy (Spirit) in them. (Paul) believed that Christ was able and willing to keep that which he (Paul) had committed to Him. He believed that (Christ) would perfect His Church, that He would establish, strengthen and settle his converts. (p 149).
He goes on to say that when we limit what ordinary Christians can do ‘we speak as if we had to do with mere men. We have not to do with mere men; we have to do with the Holy Spirit.....When we believe in the Holy (Spirit), we shall teach our converts to believe in Him, and when they believe in Him they will be able to face all difficulties and dangers. They will justify our faith (in them). The Holy (Spirit) will justify our faith in Him.
So we turn to the Book of Acts, the book which describes the birth of the Church. Whose Acts? The Church has called it the Acts of the Apostles. But that is a poor title – we should call it the Acts of the Holy Spirit. We might even call it the Acts of the Unexpected.
What do I mean by that – the Acts of the Unexpected? Well for me the most important verses in the Acts are the ones we had read this morning. You know the context. The disciples filled by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost have spilled out into the centre of Jerusalem proclaiming the Gospel in many different languages. And the hearers are shocked. Who are these people? They have no education. They have not had training. They are ordinary common working people. They are from Galilee. They are northerners.
Peter’s response is to quote a prophecy from the prophet Joel. God says In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh – and what will happen?
Sons AND DAUGHTERS will prophesy
Young men will see visions
Old men will dream dreams.
Male and female slaves will prophesy.
The Holy Spirit will turn upside down our ideas about who God can work through. How dare we say that God cannot work through the uneducated? How dare we say that God cannot work through the young? How dare we say that God cannot work through the old? How dare we say that God cannot work through women? How dare we say that God cannot work through that person new to the faith? How dare we say that God can only work through the missionary or the apostle or the Vicar? And how dare you say that God cannot work through you?
You may have noticed something in our journey through the Bible. There are several themes going on. The first is that God works through people. In the creation he gives people responsibility. Then he chooses a people through whom to bless the whole world. Often he chooses unexpected people – not necessarily the oldest or brightest or even the nicest.
But in the Old Testament God tends to work most with individual leaders. He raise up judges. He raise up prophets. Kings are anointed. The Holy Spirit seems to be limited to leaders. But the prophets say that this will be changed:
Jeremiah about the new covenant – ‘I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.’
In Ezekiel God says ‘I will put my Spirit within you’.
And of course Joel says that the Spirit will work through sons and daughters, young and old, male and female.
After Pentecost it all changes. The Holy Spirit is given to all believers; the Holy Spirit gives gifts to all believers – not just apostles and vicars – but to all – young, old, clever, not so clever, male, female, Jew, Greek, Wednesday supporters, United supporters. Paul could leave his churches because he trusted the Holy Spirit.
Jesus could command his Church to make disciples of all nations because He trusted the Holy Spirit. That’s why he is able to promise that he will be with them to the end of the age. (Another theme through the E100 – when God calls he promises to be with us.)
Mel and Brian have been working on a little questionnaire for the PCC about the Vacancy – I will not use the I word for reasons which should now be apparent! One of the questions is ‘Who will look after the congregation?’. Roland Allen knew the answer to that question. He has 5 principles about how churches should operate. One of them is that from the first preaching of the Gospel new Christians should be taught mutual accountability – we should look out for and look after one another.
The Church was born on the day of Pentecost. In its birth we see something very different from what had gone before, and something which the Church has struggled to live with. The Spirit is given to all believers. God can work through all members of the Church – young, old, rich, poor, male, female, educated, uneducated, me, you.
Jesus trusted the Holy Spirit to work through the Church. Paul was able to leave his churches because he trusted the Holy Spirit to work through all of the people. I trust the Holy Spirit to work through all of you. Do you?