Monday, April 12, 2010

Apostolic Churches and the Apostolic Age

By Ben Zemmer

The current state of the western world bears a striking resemblance to the world at the time of the early church. George Hunter points out that functional pluralism and practical secularism – (the absence of substantial Christian influence) marked the days of Paul in ways very similar to today (Hunter, p.20). Rather than viewing the demise of “Christendom” in despair, Hunter sees the current era as a time of extraordinary opportunity (Hunter, p.22-24). He holds that if the church maintains traditional methodologies and structures, many within its ranks will follow the same fate as socio-political Christendom. To avoid this outcome and grasp the opportunity for growth, Hunter presses the importance of reaching secular un-churched non-Christians (Hunter, p.25). To those that accomplish this task well, Hunter gives the title “Apostolic Churches” because they recognize the importance of their calling and mission just as the Apostles did (Hunter, p.28). Churches that bear this title focus on the “gospel of early apostolic Christianity” and adapt “to the language and culture of the target population” (Hunter, p.28).

Hunter correctly diagnosed one of the significant problems with American Evangelicalism. Whether it is American individualism or the plain tendency of human sinful nature to be self-focused and complacent, there are great numbers of professing believers who “believe evangelism is very important, but...still don’t do it” (Hunter, p.24). Hunter made some insightful prescriptions including a renewed focus on the Scriptures, prayer, compassion, and commission (Hunter, p.29). While a focus on these areas is absolutely necessary, I would only add that such a focus and such a desired change cannot happen without the faithful proclamation of the word. The only thing that will sustain vital and real compassion for the lost is gospel reality worked in the hearts of God’s people by the Holy Spirit. The local body of believers need to see continually how the lines connect between the gospel and its outworking, particularly compassion for the lost that results in sharing the gospel. Hunter’s prescriptions because they are not laden with gospel have a tendency to man-centeredness, rather than Christ-centeredness.

Clearcreek has historically been among the category of churches that does not as a community continually reach out to un-churched un-believers. There are some wonderful individuals within the body who are gifted with evangelism, but this has not been a mark of the body as a whole. However, in recent years, Clearcreek has been growing and it is clear that the body is beginning to cast is eyes outward and gain a passion for the commission from our Great Shepherd. This is not due to any seeker-sensitive methodology, but rather the careful exposition of the Word. Greater growth will come as we corporately step out with confidence on the truths we know by grace.

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