Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Express Evangelism

I've been reading and thinking about 1 Thessalonians this morning. Having made it to Thessalonica on his second missionary journey, Paul proclaims the good news about Jesus in the city before moving on due to the vehement Jewish opposition (Acts 17:10). After some time in Berea (Acts 17:14), Paul arrives in Athens, from where he sends Timothy back to Thessalonica to hear if the new church and the new Christians are continuing in the faith despite such turbulent and troublesome beginnings (1 Thes 3:1-5).

1 Thessalonians is the letter Paul writes back to the city on Timothy's return. Paul is suitably encouraged to hear that they are indeed keeping going in the faith - as the news is spreading of their conversion across the whole region (1 Thes 1:8-9), as well as their 'work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope' (1 Thes 1:3).
What struck me most in reading the letter was just how much they already knew and had learnt from such a short time of instruction. Paul was probably in the city for just three weeks. We're told that 'on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures' in the synagogue, before the Jews got jealous and made sure Paul and his companions were evicted.

So you've got just three weeks to establish a new church, and teach them the basics of the Christian faith. How much is possible? What could they learn in that short time?

- The gospel itself. 'our gospel came to you...' (1:4). 'you received the word of God' (2:13)

- The role of suffering in the Christian faith. 'You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit...' (1:6). 'For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews.' (2:14). 'For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.' (3:4)

- The need for conversion. 'You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God...' (1:9)

- The resurrection of Jesus. '... to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead...' (1:10)

- The return of Jesus. '... to wait for his Son from heaven... Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.' (1:10) 'Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.' (5:1-2)

- The important work of evangelism. 'For you remember, brothers, our labour and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.' (2:9)

- The need to walk rightly as Christians. 'For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.' (2:11-12) 'we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.' (4:1) This is spelled out in terms of abstaining from sexual immorality and self-control, because 'the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly warned you.' (4:6)

- The centrality of love. 'Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another...' (4:9)

- The sharing of encouragement in God's word. 'Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.' (5:11)

Nevertheless, there are still some things that are lacking. For some, Paul supplies teaching in the epistle (for example, about the fate of believers who have already died: 'But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep...' (4:13)), but for others, he desires to see them face to face 'and supply what is lacking in your faith.' (3:10)

That strikes me as a lot of learning in just three weeks. As we approach the first anniversary of my institution in Aghavea, I'm reflecting on my first year in the parish. What have we been learning together? Are there bits that we've missed out, despite having a lot longer? How can I develop my ministry in this next year and continue to proclaim the whole counsel of God?

The 'diet' of the first year consisted of the Apostles' Creed, Luke 1-2, Ephesians, the Sermon on the Mount, and John 11-21. As we begin the second year we'll begin exploring the Old Testament, kicking off with a series in Genesis 1-11 on Sunday mornings, but what comes after that, only the Lord knows so far! We're also beginning a new midweek Fellowship Group / Bible study, so there'll be more opportunities to share in God's word and work on the application to individual lives and discipleship.


  1. Talking of Genesis 1-11 and the reception of the Gospel in the Pauline missions, how far is a literal reception of the Genesis account of creation important for salvation apropos the Gospel?

  2. Thanks for your comment and question, Anonymous. I'm not sure just what your question is driving towards, or the motive behind it, but as an initial response it's helpful to remember the importance of Adam in Paul's theology.

    Just as we are all 'in Adam' with him being our representative head, so we need to be 'in Christ' as our saving representative head. The direct comparison/correlation as declared in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 can only work if Adam is the first man, created by God, from whom we are all descended.

    Perhaps you'd like to respond and elaborate on your question?

    1. Yes I think that I will. The question is 'driving at' an answer. Nothing more. The 'motive' is nothing more than the fact that this is the internet and we can all get involved. I am interested, this is the internet and I wish to be involved in your public thinking.

      A re-phrasal: Does one have to accept the Genesis version of Adam as historical fact (as opposed to religious truth) in order to receive salvation in Christ?

      Your assertion that we are all descended from Adam would imply such. This would require that we accept an anthropological history of no more than +/- 6,000 years. It is this point that interests me the most.


    2. Thanks for your response. I'm not sure I would want to drive a wedge between 'historical fact' and 'religious truth' in the way your question seems to imply - that we could have a religious sentiment without any link to history.

      As I've hinted above, Adam is key to the whole plan of salvation, and without him we have no starting point for the whole enterprise:

      - The genealogy of Jesus as found in Luke's gospel traces right back to and through Adam.

      - Jesus regards the early chapters of Genesis as historically true, and quotes or refers to them when declaring that we are made in God's image, affirming marriage, as well as using the days of Noah as a warning of impending disaster.

      - Adam's place in Paul's theology (as above).

      For these and other reasons I would suggest that Genesis is a record of what happened, not just a powerful myth. However it's not the most important issue when considering salvation in Christ - the important thing is to call on the name of the Lord Jesus, who died for our sins - and the promise stands that 'everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved' (Acts 2:21).

      Genesis and Adam isn't the make or break issue - it doesn't say that everyone who believes in Genesis literally will be saved - the issue is our sin and rebellion against God. Get that sorted first, and then we can deal with all those other issues...

    3. I see. So you would consider yourself a Bible literalist then?