In Henry IV part 1 Glendower says he will call ‘spirits from the vasty deep’ – the sceptical Harry Hotspur irritates the verbose Welsh prince by sneering: ‘aye, but will they come when you call?’ That’s a question facing every evangelist. From what I can see of the American scene, and from some British examples, a good deal of energy and thinking is put into this – hence the mega-church phenomenon and the emphasis on certain types of music as being likely to pull in people, especially young ones. But we are, as I suggested yesterday, effectively operating in a post-Christian society, where neither the education system nor anything in mainstream culture actually helps prepare people for the Word. Too often you end up with simplistic slogans which people imbibe and they say they are ‘saved’ and have ‘assurance’, and to anyone who asks serous questions quoting the Bible, they say that the ‘unsaved’ can’t understand the Bible – thus closing themselves off from fellowship with anyone but those few who agree with them.
Christianity is not a solitary faith, would be my first port of call – we have no examples in the New Testament of a man claiming ‘I am saved’ and not having fellowship with other Christians. I am deeply suspicious of those who have no fellowship with others because that is not the model we see in Scripture. Hermits may be a part of the longer history of the Church, but I see none of them in the NT, and no call for them. We are called to up and doing. That’s not a ‘works’ theology, it’s a simple fact of Christian life. If you claim to know Jesus and you are no better in your behaviour and your life for it, then your faith is, at best, theoretical, and at worst, a sham. The very idea that you can know the Savour of the world and yet it have no effect on you – except that you go round telling other folk you’re ‘saved’ is, to my mind, blasphemous. I never knew a man or woman who was not changed by the encounter. That’s not saying they, or me, suddenly became a perfect person, or, this side of heaven, ever could be – but it is to say we try, we’re conscious of our sin, we strive to do better. Not, pace idiots who talks about being ‘saved by works’ (has anyone ever met anyone who actually taught this?) because we think that is the way to salvation – but because if we know him it manifests itself in our lives.
Not once, in the whole of the NT, will you find anyone being told about having a ‘private’ relationship with Jesus – not one Apostle says to anyone that they must take Jesus into their heart and accept him as their personal saviour. We are saved into a community of faithful – as every Apostle and disciple was. Of course that means that we develop our own relationship with Jesus – how could we not? But that develops as part of a community of disciples – saints, as Paul calls them – who help each other on their journey. Private little relationships with Jesus, all by our wild lone, are not Biblical – our relationship, whilst personal, is as part of a community – the centre of gravity of that relationship is the called out community – Scripture offers us no examples of ‘saved persons’ with no relationship to the church. In fact, such a thing was impossible, because all the evangelists warn of the dangers of false prophets and emphasise the need to hold on to the tradition inherited by word and in writing. No ‘saved person’ by himself, had access to either – you got them through the church.
Paul is very clear about this. He calls the church the temple of the Lord where “you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21). Again, Paul prays that “you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19), which he already said resides in the local body (1:23). This is why God gave us spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:11-12), so that the body of Christ would be built up, made mature, and become unified where the “fullness of Christ” would radiate (Eph. 4:12-13). There is nothing in this, or indeed anywhere in Scripture, which posits a relationship with Jesus outside of the church. Water baptism, not some ‘sinner’s prayer’ was the instrument of reception into the Church for those who had come to know Jesus. The modern nonsense about it being individualistic is simply a heresy of our atomised society where everything is about ‘me’ and not me serving Jesus and building up his community on earth with others..