It is easy for the church to lose sight of her purpose in the face of today’s challenges. During a recent commemoration of Samuel Pollard, a missionary whose life dramatically impacted large pockets of southern Yunnan, Pastor Gai of Kunming preached on the nature of the church and the calling we must not lose sight of.
The following article, published in the Gospel Times, is a summary of this sermon.
One hundred years ago, Samuel Pollard passed away in Guizhou’s Shimenkan. This great missionary dedicated his life to the cause of the gospel in Yunnan and Guizhou, with a special focus on the Miao (Hmong) people.
On September 1 of 2015, a commemoration of Pollard’s death was held in Kunming. Pastor Gai of Yunnan not only spoke in memory of Pollard but also addressed the challenges the church faces today. Gai stressed the importance of, in the face of rapidly shifting circumstances, confirming our position in Christ and also the mission he has given us in order to ensure that the church is walking in accordance with God’s requirements.
Believers Then and Now
Acts 4 offers insight into the situation faced by the early church, depicting four specific impressions:
- The apostles preach among the people and are arrested.
- They are brought to trial and Peter boldly proclaims the gospel.
- When the believers gather to pray the place is shaken and they are filled with the Spirit.
- The believers hold all things in common and there is great power as the apostles bear witness to the gospel.
As Peter preached, the chief priests, Sadducees, and the captain of the temple guard grabbed him and threatened him, attempting to prevent the continued spread of the gospel.
However, God is with his servants, and they will not be frightened by intimidation, nor will they allow threats to prevent them from spreading the good news.
The church today is also facing many challenges, and the question is, how will we respond?
According to Pastor Gai, we can find strength as we learn from how the apostles and early church responded as they faced difficulty. In the face of trials, Peter boldly proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus Christ, declaring that “apart from him there is no salvation”; neither religion nor good works can save us, only Christ, and only our faith in Christ can empower us to overcome difficulties.
Jesus not only heals sickness, he also offers salvation; ultimately every person will be left with nothing but to raise the name of Jesus above every other name.
“If the church fails to spread God’s truth, it has already fallen,” Pastor Gai pronounced.
In the face of adversity, the believers prayed in unity, and this is something we must learn. In our present days it is not unusual within the church that, encountering problems, the people fail to pray but instead accuse one another, bustling about unproductively.
Pastors need the prayer support of the believers, so that God will grant them the power to preach, the power to heal, and the ability to bring renewed life to the brothers and sisters.
What is the Church?
Author Fan Rong Zhen of “God's Missionary People" offers this definition: the church is the disciples of Jesus Christ from all over the world gathering around the one, holy, universal, apostolic faith that is built on the Word, the sacraments, and the common witness of all believers.
This tells us that the head of the church is Christ, and the church has three marks:
- The unadulterated preaching of the Word,
- The correct administration of the sacraments, and
- The witness of believers with proper church discipline.
The Word, the sacraments, and the witness of the church are like the three sides of a triangle, if the church is lacking just one part problems ensue.
The church also maintains four important attributes:
- Oneness [one church under Christ],
- Universality [for all men], and
- Apostolic nature [recognizing in practice the ultimate authority of the apostolic scriptures].
Christ is the head of the church, and he is the only head. If there is any person standing as head over the church then the church has fallen from the right path.
God’s church is holy; he requires that we come to him without any selfish interest, and only those who are holy can have audience with him.
The church across the world with Jesus Christ as head is the church proper, with each individual congregation simply one part of God’s kingdom. God commands us to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth, bringing the good news to all kinds of people in all places.
Finally, the church must rely on the teaching of the apostles as our standard, bringing to weight not only the words of the four Gospels but also the instruction found in the rest of the New Testament.
Pastor Gai explained that these four attributes can stand as a measure regarding whether or not a church is truly a church of Jesus Christ.
The Call of the Church
Before Christ ascended he gave us the Great Commission, and we as believers should regularly meditate on this command. Why? Because a church that fails to spread the gospel has already lost its fundamental characteristic.
The church belongs to Christ, and only when the she lives out the Great Commission will she walk in the pleasure of Christ.
Regardless of what circumstances arise, the vitality of the church is in the presence of Christ with her.
We have worship, fellowship, Sunday school, and acts of service which all give testimony to the mutual love of believers. But the church must also go out and work to build the kingdom of God. We must change our narrow, self-centered mindsets and enter the world to see the needs of those around us, reaching out to lost souls.
We have the whole Word of God and the aid of the Holy Spirit, so should we not be even more motivated to embrace others and share with them the truth?
In the World But Not of the World
Our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees, and only those who follow the will of God will enter the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom exists both in the present and as a future reality; moreover, it is within the hearts of those who walk in obedience to the rule of God.
In former times Jesus took on flesh to walk among us, and he will come again. In today’s society we face many challenges, however when Christ returns we will enjoy eternal life. At that time he will separate the righteous from the unrighteous and God’s justice will triumph over sin. Therefore, we must repent from our past apathy and disregard for God’s Word.
How then can we live in the world but not be of the world?
This depends on the change within our inner life, and it is not something that can be accomplished by the power of man but comes by the strength drawn from the Word of God, which ultimately comes from the Kingdom of God. Therefore, do not be distressed by the current situation and pressures of life, because ultimately we are in God's hands.
Words of Encouragement in Light of Past Believers
Finally, Pastor Gai offered this encouragement to the believers:
One hundred years ago the missionary Samuel Pollard crossed national, ethnic, and cultural barriers in order to bring the gospel to the Miao. The Miao then broke through many difficulties to establish the church.
So then, in this generation, let us even more seek to do the work of God, not simply living to satisfy our own pleasures or standing idle, but instead taking part in the call of the Great Commission.
Original article: 从《使徒行传》4章看当今教会如何面对逆境 (Gospel Times)
Header image credit: Miao Village, by Yuan Yan, via Flickr.
Samuel Pollard image credit: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
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