Friday, March 1, 2013

Ecumenism: Witness Begins at the Center

Part 4.2 of an ongoing Bible study on ecumenism. See links to other lessons at the bottom of this post.
taken from

TEXT: Acts 2:14-36
14 But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them...
22 "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know — 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 "But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. ...
29 "Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 "And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE, 31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. 32 "This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 "Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. 34 "For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says:
36 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ — this Jesus whom you crucified."

Exegetical Data. This is Peter's first sermon, delivered during Pentecost to the crowds that had been attracted by the disciples' tongue-speaking. Although most of the crowd were sincerely amazed at the manifestation of the Spirit's power in the Church, certain mockers dismissed the miracle by saying that the disciples were simply drunk. Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, used this opportunity to preach the gospel.
  • His sermon deserves our close attention because it's the first sermon in the history of the Church. It established a pattern that would be followed by subsequent teachers of the church, and should be practiced in our churches today.

For our purposes, I just want to draw out one point from Peter's sermon: witness begins at the center. What “center” is that?
  • Q: What were the main points of Peter's sermon?
    • Jesus the Nazarene is the Messiah spoken of in Scripture
    • You crucified Him, but God raised Him from the dead
    • God has made Him Lord
    • Repent, be baptized, receive forgiveness, receive the Holy Spirit
    • This message is for all whom God will call
  • Q: What did Paul deliver “as of first importance,” according to 1Co 15:3ff?
    • Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (v.3)
    • God raised Him from the dead in accordance with the Scriptures (v.4-8)
    • God has made Him Lord (v.24-28)
    • Repent, receive salvation, receive forgiveness, persevere in the faith, pursue the kingdom (v.2-3)
Did you notice that Peter's message in Acts 2 and Paul's writing in 1Corinthians 15 have the same points? The wording may be different, but their main points are the same.
  • This similarity is striking, since Paul wrote 1 Corinthians twenty years or more after Peter delivered his message on Pentecost. Much had come to pass during that time. The Church had grown much larger. The gospel had been taken to the Samaritans, then the Gentiles. In fact, by this time, it's possible that there were already more Gentile believers then there were Jewish believers. And yet, the message remained the same, and the center of the apostle's preaching remained the same, and that center was the things “of first importance.”
  • The apostles never departed from these first things, but continually built their theology and practical applications on these things.
Challenge. Let us therefore beware, lest our churches take for granted the first things. Let's take heed, lest the gospel lose its centrality in the ministries of our churches.
  • One indicator that this is happening is when the pastor and other teachers of the church no longer explain the word of God to the people, but prefer to string verses together in order to come up with light, upbeat, “practical” messages. Instead of wrestling with issues of eternal significance first, these preachers are often distracted with “how tos”--how to have a happy family, how to do well in college, how to pursue courtship, etc. Please don't misunderstand me. There's nothing wrong wanting to know about these things. But the pastor's job is much like the job of the prophets of old: to set before the people the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Need we point out that the Bible was not written in order to answer people's “how to” questions
    • Q: The apostles followed a certain order when teaching doctrines and practical applications to the churches. What was it?
      • Practical applications were always derived from doctrine. This is one of the distinctives of evangelicalism, and is expressed very concisely in Paul's exhortation in Rom 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice”. This is the pattern that biblical preaching should follow.
  • A further indicator of this error is when the church invests a disproportionate amount of resources into projects that deal with issues that are not central to the gospel. For example, I know of a church that has invested much in promoting Asian and Filipino pride. As part of their program, a few years ago, they set up a temporary museum called “The Asian Century,” which basically glorified Asian cultures and achievements, and prophesied that the 21st century would be the time when Asia would rise up to become prominent in the world. What a waste of the church's resources!
Challenge. The principle we can learn from this and apply to ecumenism is that a church may have what we would call “solid” or “good” doctrine, it may have a orthodox creed, but that won't stop it from losing its sense of the centrality of the gospel in the whole life and ministry of the church. Any church that dabbles in secondary, peripheral issues instead of proclaiming the gospel has lost its balance, and is flirting with disaster. If such a church will take the counsel of Scripture seriously, it will address its internal crisis before looking outward to ecumenical minsitry.

Today we looked at the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples on Pentecost and how His presence was manifested in a very visible way through tongue-speaking and bold preaching.
  • First, we drew the point that the most important manifestation of the Spirit is proclamation, not mystical experiences, or even displays of external power. Unfortunately, many evangelicals misunderstand Scripture on this very important point. On the other hand, it is possible that sincere Christians are seeking charismatic, mystical experiences because they want something more than what cold orthodoxy can offer. Clearly, reformation is needed from both ends, and ecumenical efforts must therefore have a reformatory approach.
  • Second, we learned from Peter's sermon that faithful witness begins at the center, that is, the gospel. Applying this principle is essential for the health of the church, and any church that has lost its bearing in this regard should focus on fixing its internal crisis before attempting ecumenical ministry.

Related Posts:
  1. Ecumenism: The Need for Ecumenism
  2. Ecumenism: Heresies, Part 1
  3. Ecumenism: Heresies, Part 2
  4. Ecumenism: Wolves in Sheeps Clothing
  5. Ecumenism: Witness and the Church, Part 1
  6. Ecumenism: Witness and the Church, Part 2
  7. Ecumenism: The Holy Spirit and Reformation

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