A Provocative Church: Teaching With Boldness
(I believe that we are called to become what Graham Tomlin has labeled “a provocative church”- a place which adopts the characteristics of the early Christian church, and thus becomes a place which draws people to faith in Jesus Christ. A provocative church is a church which teaches the faith with boldness.)
Today I want to focus our attention on the last chapter of the Book of Acts. Luke, the genius who wrote the Book of Acts, shows us here the drawing power of the church, even in the midst of opposition and oppression. Paul was under arrest in Rome. He had been sentenced to die. He was confined and guarded round the clock by Roman soldiers, yet he continued to preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what we read in the Book of Acts: “They came to him at his lodging in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the Kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus, both from the Law of Moses and from the prophets.” Then we read these words: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” Some translations read: “He was teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and no one could stop him.”
That’s the way the Book of Acts ends, on that rather abrupt note: “teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ will all boldness and without hindrance.” Lloyd Ogilvie was right when he said that the Book of Acts ends like an unfinished symphony. If the Book of Acts is the story of how the church became the church, then it is left unfinished intentionally so that we can add our own chapters to the story. I would be bold enough today to say that I would hope and pray that we in this church might add our own chapter to the Book of Acts.
I want us to be a church which teaches about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness.
In other words, I want us to be a church which brings head and heart together. Some churches emphasize the heart, the will, the feelings, the emotions, but they do it to the neglect of the head. Other churches emphasize the head, the intellect, the doctrines, the knowledge, but they do it to the neglect of the heart. I want us to be a church which brings head and heart together. We must have a faith that is big enough to hold our hearts, yet at the same time big enough to stretch our minds. Like Paul at the end of the Book of Acts, we must both inspire and instruct. We must touch people’s hearts with the inspiration of the Gospel, yes, but we must also stretch people’s minds with the knowledge of the Gospel. Only then can the church be the instrument for God’s change in the world.
Several years back, a book was published entitled, Against all Hope. It’s the story of a man who spent twenty-two years locked away in Cuba’s hideous and notorious Isla de Pinos prison simply because he believed in Jesus Christ. The man’s name is Armando Valladares. When at last the Communist monolith in Cuba crumbles, as surely it shall, we then shall learn all the details of how that dreadful prison became a hotbed of Christian transformation. Until then, we gain a hint from the story of Armando Valladares. In the midst of horrors too demonic to describe, a little band of Christians in that prison began to teach the Gospel to one another. They began then to win other prisoners to their faith. They inspired the hearts and stretched the minds of those prisoners in such a way that their lives were transformed by the Spirit of Christ and they took on great power. Fidel Castro and his henchmen were so unnerved by them that they began to systematically execute the Christians one by one. But every Christian who was executed went to his death crying out “Viva Christo Rey.”- long live Christ the King. Consequently, the executions had an effect opposite to that desired by Castro. The other prisoners embraced the Christ of these dying men, and they poured themselves into a study of the Scriptures. Valladares himself wrote: “It was at that point that Christianity became not just a religious faith, but a way of life for me.” As a result, that monstrous prison, that scene of acts of inhumanity sufficient to stun even the most callous of souls, became a place of phenomenal Christian revival; a place where Christian knowledge grew deeper and deeper and Christian love grew more sublime.
What happened in that prison is what I hope and pray can happen in our church. I want us always to teach with boldness the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I want us always to teach with boldness the truth of the Scriptures. I want a church that inspires and binds our hearts, yes, but also instructs and stretches our minds, for where Christian knowledge grows deeper Christian love grows more sublime.
I think it all comes down to this…
In the midst of one of the fierce land battles of the Second World War, a Roman Catholic chaplain crawled out to assist a wounded soldier. Risking his own life, he edged up to the soldier’s side and reached out to him. The wounded soldier looked up at him and said: “Chaplain, I don’t belong to your church.” The chaplain’s reply is worth remembering. He said: “No, Son, but you do belong to my Christ.”
That’s the kind of church I think Christ want us to be—a church that welcomes all who come to us—and a church that boldly declares the Good News of Jesus Christ to all. For then…
No one will be able to stop us!