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Today there are churches around the world which have become very large and prosperous. We are impressed when we see such numbers, but size and wealth are not necessarily the evidence of God’s blessing upon a church. When in the Fourth Century Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and subsidized it lavishly with state funds, it became fashionable to become a Christian. Some have estimated that the Church grew ten times as quickly as before when the Church faced official persecution. However, that church eventually offered little more than dead institutional religion. While we are not comparing today’s Church with the church of that era, we do know that the size of a church is not necessarily correlated with success in God’s eyes.
Thus although we all like to see our churches grow, there are matters which are more important than simply how big our church can get. One of these is preaching the gospel according to the word of God. When we do this it is more likely that the resulting growth can be equated to increase in the Kingdom of God on earth. With regard to preaching the gospel, the apostle Paul prescribed the following in the second chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians:
“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Paul preached only Jesus Christ and him crucified with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. In most quarters of the Church today, one or both of these two ingredients are missing when the gospel is preached.
Preaching Jesus Christ crucified to bear our sins and save us from punishment in hell are not considered in sync with today’s culture. Some preachers have concluded that people do not want to hear about sin and hell and will respond better to a more positive and encouraging message more in tune with contemporary mentality. But this is contextualizing the gospel in an unscriptural way. The very essence of the gospel is Jesus Christ crucified and his blood shed for our sins. What might be the origin of this unscriptural approach?
Perhaps simply preaching Jesus Christ crucified was not very effective in the past. People did not respond and our churches did not grow as we would have liked. Why did people not respond? They did not because the gospel was not preached with a supernatural demonstration of the Spirit’s power to prove its validity. The word “demonstration” in Greek means “manifestation.” There was no actual and visible manifestation of God’s power. When the early disciples preached the gospel, we know it was often accompanied by miraculous signs and healings. But this is not the case today. The miraculous signs, generally speaking—although there are exceptions—have disappeared. They are but a distant, nearly forgotten memory from the apostolic church of two millennia ago.
This is true even of today’s “Spirit-filled” and Pentecostal churches which do mostly lip service to signs and wonders. People hear the gospel, but are not at that time presented with a supernatural demonstration which proves that Jesus Christ is the only way to escape from condemnation in hell and to enter the Kingdom of God. Thus we do not see the Acts-like results that we want. I have heard Christian leaders in Southeast Asia being quoted as saying in so many words that in order to grow their churches they cannot rely on proclaiming the gospel with miraculous signs and healings as taught in Scripture. This is because such miracles are rare. Their noticeable absence is likely one of the factors that has given rise to alternative ways of presenting the gospel which may appear to be outwardly “effective.”
Alternative approaches to sharing the gospel can include the “seeker-sensitive” model as well as the “prosperity gospel,” neither of which was emphasized by the apostle Paul. One author who has studied it concludes that the “seeker-sensitive” approach may even contain elements reminiscent of New Age practices. Some megachurches emphasize high-level, corporate-style management techniques to stay on top. One such church in Australia has been described as being “a mile wide and an inch deep.” This is what could happen when people’s faith rests not on God’s power, but on men’s wisdom (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:5 above).
The good news is that during these last days the Lord is restoring the apostle Paul’s model of evangelism to the Church. It is now possible for churches and believers to be trained and equipped to heal the sick as Jesus and Paul did to demonstrate the truth of the gospel to the lost. We can once again preach Jesus Christ and him crucified for our sins with a visible demonstration of the Spirit’s power. Unfortunately, the alternative approaches to preaching the gospel have become so successful in terms of contemporary “church growth” that we have become intoxicated with them. It may be difficult for the Church to change direction anytime soon. It’s hard to argue with the outward “success” of an alternative model and to overcome its considerable inertia.
Nevertheless, let it be known that the Church can now be equipped to preach the gospel according to Paul’s model. When we are so equipped, we do witness a satisfying harvest of souls. We will trust the Lord to speak to His Church:
Revelation 3:14-21 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. 21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
The headlong rush for size and crowds
Actual reports of preaching the gospel according to Paul’s Model:
Democratic Republic of Congo