Do the Jews have any Divine favour?
When was the greatest revival of all?
The ideal Church
A long time ago, in a far-off place, there was a church; not a building as such, but a group of ordinary people united for an extraordinary purpose. It was the first church in this particular land and, it's fair to say, it made a huge impact there, though only for a relatively short period, as is the way with revivals throughout history
And what a church it was. Believers met in each other's homes, but were equally at ease on the streets, where people brought their sick to be healed. They also met with the common folk at their own places of worship and debated with them, even winning converts from them. In one instance they converted the leader of such a place and his entire household. Despite some hostility, they preached successfully in the open spaces and the marketplaces. As a result of all this activity, the church grew daily in numbers and in influence, even gaining converts from the priests of the old religion.
Their meetings were times of joy and freedom, an expectation of an encounter and a conversation with God, within the comfort and warmth of a home environment. It was a demonstration of true family; a group comprising of spiritual brothers and sisters communing with their spiritual Father in Heaven. There, with a plentiful supply of food and drink they would fellowship, pray, sing hymns and learn at the feet of the teachers. They would share the memorial meal of bread and wine, reminding them of the body and blood of Messiah Jesus, within a meal patterned on the Passover meal of the Last Supper, but celebrated with decorum demanded by such a solemn occasion. Hence they would ensure that there were no divisions or factions within their group, no hidden niggles and grievances, otherwise they could, in a very real sense, be inviting curses on themselves, rather than the blessing that the Lord's Supper promises.
There were also practical matters to consider at these gatherings of the church. They were to consider themselves fully equal to each other, no hierarchies or favouritism. If any had a particular need then others would freely give support, even if it meant selling their own possessions, including real estate. And this generosity of spirit was also to reach beyond the walls of their meeting places. Funds were collected and sent out to needy brothers and sisters in other churches, even those in other lands, to support the poor, the widows and the orphans. This was not giving from a position of wealth; this was giving, more often than not, from a position of real poverty - everyone gave a proportion of their income, even if their income was tiny. And this was always done with a glad heart.
The church had been planted by a small group of highly-motivated apostles who, in the early days, were the teachers and the preachers and the workers of miracles. And what wonders they performed for the Glory of God, in the name of His son, Jesus Christ; healings, deliverances and the raising of the dead with witnesses to confirm. There were even times when the sick were laid out on mats in the paths of the apostles and it was said that all were healed. On other occasions they would walk from house to house, teaching and preaching and many would be saved or delivered from evil spirits. Many were able to walk for the first time, simply by touch or proclamation. And what was the effect of such an uncommon outburst of God's grace on this land? Before opposition restricted access to this heavenly outpouring, everyone who came in contact with the church was completely filled with awe; it was impossible to remain unaffected. Too much was happening to ignore it, though the existing religious authorities did their best at first, before taking direct action.
Opposition was inevitable, although the church was initially greeted with great favour by the people in the land. Too many religious noses had been put out of joint (those that hadn't been healed!) but these new setbacks were turned into opportunities, allowing great demonstrations of God's power and grace. When one of their number was thrown into prison, the church gathered to pray for him and an angel rescued him. Another time, two apostles were similarly imprisoned and, after witnessing to their fellow prisoners, they were rescued by an earthquake that shattered doors and chains. Their witness was such that their jailer was rescued from a suicide attempt and brought to a dramatic salvation, along with his family. Opposition gave way to persecution and Christian blood was spilled when a charismatic preacher, serving as a deacon, was arrested on a trumped-up charge and killed by the religious leaders, but not before he preached the Gospel to them in power. This martyrdom sparked off an unprecedented missionary effort, taking the revival through lands to the north and the west.
So what was this Church? Its identity will be revealed next week ...
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book To Life,
A Lib Dem candidate who was due to stand in the upcoming election...