We take up with Terry today for our final installment as he is speaking about the emphasis on the Word of God. If you have enjoyed this series, please do buy the book and consider attending 300 Leaders.
We can never jettison this emphasis, especially today when people are so full of their own ideas about God and life. Even when showing interest in the Christian message, many want to continue to eat of the tree of independent knowledge of good and evil instead of submitting their minds to what God has revealed in his word. J. I. Packer has said: “People have got into the way of following private religious hunches rather than learning about God from his word” ( J. I. Packer, Knowing God, Hodder & Stoughton, 1973). Human perspectives of God and His requirements fall far short of God’s revelation. “You thought that I was just like you,” God complains in Psalm 50:21. A. W. Pink said: “The foundation of all true knowledge of God must be a clear mental apprehension of his perfections as revealed in Holy Scripture. An unknown God can neither be trusted, served, nor worshipped” (A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God, Baker Book House, 1975).
People not only come into the church with their own views of God, but sadly, many within the church develop their own concepts by simply gathering up crumbs that fall from the wrong tables. So we hear such things as, “I don’t think of God like that” or “My Jesus would never say that.”
Sadly, some Christians have developed such a love and respect for the word itself that simply to hear it faithfully expounded can become an end in itself. Delighting in “sitting under” good teaching, we can be in danger of becoming like Ezekiel’s hearers – that is, those who love to hear a love song sung well, or an instrument played well (Ezekiel 33:32). The fact is that Paul’s gospel was with word and power. He reminded the Corinthians, “my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4–5).
After Paul’s ministry, supernatural power flooded the Corinthian church, and as B. B. Warfield has argued:
There is no reason to believe that the infant congregation at Corinth was singular in this. The apostle does not write as if he were describing a marvellous state of affairs peculiar to that church… We are justified in considering it characteristic of the apostolic churches that such miraculous gifts should be displayed in them. The exception would not be a church with, but a church without such gifts… Everywhere the apostolic church was marked out as itself a gift from God by showing forth the possession of the Spirit in appropriate works of the Spirit – miracles of healing, miracles of power, miracles of knowledge whether in form of prophecy or the discerning of spirits, miracles of speech, whether of the gift of tongues or of their interpretation. The apostolic church was characteristically a miracle-working church. (B. B Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles, Banner of Truth, 1972, pp. 4–5)
Or as F. F. Bruce argues:
The testimony of the New Testament writings to the regularity with which these phenomena accompanied the preaching and receiving of the gospel in the early apostolic age is impressive in its range. The “mighty works and wonders and signs” which marked the ministry of Jesus (Acts 2:22) continued to mark the ministry of the apostles from Pentecost onwards (Acts 2:43)… Similarly the recipients of Peter’s first epistle are reminded how the gospel was first preached to them in the power of “the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven” (1 Pet. 1:12).
(F. F. Bruce, “Hebrews”, The New International Commentary of the New Testament, Eerdmans, 1990)
Evidently the early church advanced through the preaching of the revealed word of God and through evidence of power in their midst. The advance of God’s rule has always been through demonstrations of power. When Moses came out from Egypt leading the redeemed Israelites, power was demonstrated in signs and wonders and the opening of the Red Sea. When Canaan was inhabited, Jericho fell through the power of God, and other victories were won through the intervention of a God who acts. David advanced and he established his kingdom through God’s powerful activity. As in the Old Testament, so in the New Testament the early church expected manifestations of God in order that the gospel might advance effectively.
Gordon Fee has argued: “The message of the gospel is truth accompanied by experienced reality… God verified its truthfulness by a display of his own power through the ministry of the Holy Spirit” (Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, Hendrickson, 1994).
Truth and Fire
It has been a source of great sadness to me to see two schools of thought within the evangelical church over many decades now. Those who come glorying in manifestations of power sometimes seem dismissive of those whom they regard as “cold theologians”. I once heard a man speaking at a large conference saying that theology was the enemy of the church and that if only we could abandon doctrinal perspectives, the church would be a happier place. What tragic nonsense!
We also see and hear those who love theological insight and savour the doctrines of Scripture expressing equally dismissive remarks about Christians who are enjoying God’s power, as though they were mere children preoccupied with experience. How I long for a recovery of true biblical Christianity, where the apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Romans, also raised the dead! It seems that profound theology and great signs and wonders happily cohabited in Paul’s life and ministry.
Jack Deere says, “No text of Scripture says that the Bible was given to replace the need for the miraculous confirmation of the gospel message.” He adds, “The miraculous phenomena were not simply signs of the Kingdom of God, they were an essential part of it. Miracles and the Kingdom of God are inseparably linked” ( Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, Kingsway, 1994).
Many cultures less sophisticated than ours in the West seem to have no difficulty in embracing the supernatural dimensions of the gospel. The amazing evangelistic success currently taking place in China, for example, is characterized by such signs and wonders.
If we are to see a massive turning among the heathen so that they repent of their sin and reject their independence and embrace a life of the obedience of faith, we will need to see the same power and be submitted to the same apostolic doctrine as the apostle Paul brought to the nations so successfully. As a result of his clear declarations, he was able to establish churches of great clarity and authority, like that at Thessalonica, from which the gospel sounded out to the whole region with powerful effects.
Copyright. Used by permission of Monarch Books.