I was watching a talk show host interview a pastor recently, and he said, “You know, the Bible is so outdated. Don’t you think it is time that we drug it kicking and screaming into the 21st century?” In other words, Let’s sort of edit the Bible to fit the culture of today. But it is the very opposite of that. We don’t need to conform the Bible to culture; we need to conform the culture to what the Bible says.
It is because we have strayed from this that we are facing many of the problems in our culture today. We don’t need to re-envision the church today. We don’t need to rethink the church. Instead, we need to rediscover the church. It is the only organization Christ himself ever set up, and I think he did a pretty good job.
I am not saying the church is perfect. The church is not perfect today, and the church was not perfect 2,000 years ago, either. In fact, in looking at of the book of Acts, we see they had all of the challenges and problems the church faces right now. But at the same time, this is the church that turned their world upside down. Acts 17:6 sums it up beautifully: “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (NKJV).
That is what we need: a holy disturbance – in a very positive way. As G. Campbell Morgan said, “Organized Christianity that fails to make a disturbance is dead.”
It seems that wherever the Apostle Paul went, there either was a conversion or a riot, but never a dull moment.
As we read the history of the early church in the book of Acts, it seems like there was nonstop action –miracles here and people being raised from the dead there. Indeed, all of the things we read about happened. But they didn’t happen every single day. They happened over a 30-year period of time, from A.D. 33 to 63. We see people living out their faith in a practical way. And at the heart of the church’s success was the Spirit of God working through the Word of God in the hearts of the people of God.
Their world at the time was not all that different from ours today. In some ways, it was even worse. They lived under the godless Roman Empire. Immorality was rampant. In cities like Corinth, prostitutes freely walked the streets. The religious establishment was corrupt. Idolatry, spiritism and demon worship were openly practiced as well. Everywhere the first-century Christians went, they were ridiculed, opposed, persecuted and even physically assaulted for their beliefs. Yet within 30 years, the original 120 believers and their converts changed their world. They didn’t have nice buildings to meet in or many of the luxuries the church has today.
At this time, Greek had become a common language. Although the Romans had conquered Greece, the Greek culture, in many ways, had a dramatic influence on Rome. The Roman road system had pulled cultures together as never before, and with a common language of Greek, it was the perfect time for the gospel to come to the world.
In our own culture today, we can have instant communication. With the tap of a cursor, we can access and give out information through the Web. We can have immediate communication on demand wherever we want it. We are the iGeneration, if you will. And so we see a lot of parallels between the time of the first-century church and our time.
As we look at our country today, we see a culture that is turned upside down. We are living in a time when right is wrong and wrong is right, as Isaiah wrote of when he said, “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter” (Isaiah 5:20 NLT). The very foundations of our country are crumbling beneath our feet because we have lost our way.
And here is a problem I also see: Instead of the church turning the world upside down, far too often it seems that the world is turning the church upside down. Secular philosophy is coming in, and we find compromises taking place. We find the minimizing of the Bible and of the exposition of Scripture. In 2 Timothy 4:3 we read that “a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” That time is here.
Do ever get really annoyed by what you see happening in the culture, and you say, “This isn’t right. Something has to be done.” But instead of cursing the darkness, is there a way for us to turn on the light and penetrate and infiltrate culture? Far too often, the church is isolating when we ought to be infiltrating and influencing – without compromising, I might add.
So many churches are getting away from biblical preaching today. We have our drama and our skits and our videos and our music and even our dance. In some churches, preaching is seen as something that is outdated. They have even gotten rid of the pulpit and don’t want to make a big deal about the pulpit. But I kind of like the pulpit. To me it is symbolic. Yes, I want to be culturally connected. I want to make sense. But when people walk into the church where I am the senior pastor, I want them to know that place is about preaching. It is not about me, but it is about the Bible and drawing people to Christ. So we honor the place of preaching and the Word of God.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1:21 NKJV). The message preached. This is the way the God primarily wants to reach people.
In a way, the book of Acts is still being written today. It is a record of all that the Holy Spirit began to do, so we could add new chapters of church history. We are writing our own right now here in the U.S., along with other believers around the world. So in that sense, it continues on.