A World Waiting To Be Won Duncan Heaster email the author


16. Salt Of The Earth: The Power Of Influence

17. Some Thoughts On Preaching (Alan Eyre)


18. I Have A Dream: The Church In The Last Days

19. Wounded Christian Soldiers

19-1 Christians Who Fall Away || 19-2 Not Giving Or Taking Offence || 19-3 Paul And Philemon || 19-4 Vendettas And Hatred In The Church



“A small band of Jesus’ disciples spread this message: ‘He who was shamefully executed is and remains the coming Ruler in the future time of God. He who was dead has come alive again. The present age of the world is nearing its end. Jesus will appear a second time in glory and authority. Then God’s rule will be made secure over the whole earth’. This was their immense task: to challenge the people of Israel in the face of imminent catastrophe, and more, to shake the whole of mankind out of its sleep in the face of certain destruction so that all men might be prepared for the coming of the Kingdom. People from depressed and mean circumstances suddenly knew that their new faith was the determining factor, the moment of decision for the history of humankind. For this tremendous certainty, the primitive church gained the strength she needed daily from the writings of the Jewish Law and the Jewish Prophets; in the witness of holy surrender to death in a watery grave; in their communal meals celebrated to proclaim the death of Jesus; and in the common calling upon God and the name of Jesus. “Lord, come!” was their ancient cry of faith and infinite longing. That the Messiah Jesus rose from the dead and that God’s Kingdom will break in at His second coming was the message of His first followers. Death must come before resurrection, the resurrection of the flesh; the promise of a future millennium is linked to the prophecy of judgement, a prophecy that attacks the prevailing order and conditions of mankind at their roots” (1).

The organization of the preaching of the Gospel is a work of the Spirit. In the first Christian century the Lord gave instructions through unmistakable open visions (Acts 18:10; 16:9; 22:21). But the evidence is abundant that, in general, the apostles and other brethren and sisters made plans, sanctified them by prayer, and then carried these plans out. “Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing’” (Acts 15:36). The Lord’s interference was minimal. On one occasion he diverted Paul and Silas, on another he told Paul to remain in a particular city when he was disposed to call off an ongoing Bible campaign (Acts 16:6-10; 18:9). But there is little evidence of deliberate and open divine manipulation of events. Overall, in the first Christian century, as now, the Spirit of the Lord guided affairs and organized the worldwide mission through work planned by his servants and also by the hidden ways of Providence, by much use of so-called ‘coincidence’. He richly blessed the decisions which his preachers made, only overriding them when absolutely necessary. With just a few notable exceptions, the Lord’s first century witness was conducted on exactly the same principles and in a similar manner as it is done by us today. Personally, I find this a great encouragement.

The links between the Spirit of Jesus and the preachers were: prayer, fasting, and the laying on of hands (Acts 13:3). The laying on of hands was not a sacrament; it was a simple gesture of sponsorship and of identification with the missionary work. These simple sacred acts sanctified the plans and endeavours of the preachers, enabling them to feel an integral part of the Spirit’s work. There is every reason why they should be utilized by us today.

The Spirit tells us in Revelation 1:13 that the Lord Jesus is in the middle of our ecclesial world. Sometimes Revelation chapters 1 to 3 are interpreted as if Jesus is a kind of travelling inspector doing the rounds of various ecclesias. But it is not like that at all. He is right “in their midst”, just as he promised (Matthew 18:20). He is also the founder of every ecclesia. After that, we build (I Corinthians 3:10-12).

As far as these early preachers are concerned, their prayer was for boldness (Acts 4:29). It took a mere two verses of the record for that prayer to be fully answered, for immediately afterwards they “spoke the word of God boldly” (v.31). Boldness, audacity almost, is the mark of all the preaching work recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. It was dynamic, forthright, confident. The preachers knew that if their faith was strong, whatever they did in the name of the Lord, and wherever they went, it would be blessed. “You know”, wrote Paul, “that the Lord will reward everyone for what good he does” (Ephesians 6:8). Finger biting uncertainty as to whether it is God’s will or not is simply faithlessness. If He has given a general command, then He will accept the particulars. If we zealously and unitedly sow and water, God will give the increase (I Corinthians 3:7).

I once worked on a campaigns committee with a brother as chairman who was so afraid of, as he put it, “going against the will of God”, that before deciding on even the smallest matter he insisted that we use match sticks to cast ‘lots’. This was not the spirit of our early preachers: they knew the will of God. We too can know what activities are acceptable to Him, and in which He will find pleasure. A brother may have a sudden impulse to preach in (say) Eskimo and head off to the Arctic. Preaching among all nations is God’s will, so we can’t possibly go wrong! Unless, of course, we are only doing it for our own vainglory.

In the primitive church ecclesial life was dynamic, a vibrant partnership with the Lord Jesus himself. He was really among them, backing their efforts, strengthening their weak hands, and fulfilling his purposes through them. “But, brothers”, Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you…but Satan stopped us” (I Thessalonians 2:17-18). The whole work was cast in terms of a spiritual crusade, without carnal weapons, in which the well-laid plans of the preachers might be temporarily thwarted and disrupted by Satan - usually Jewish envy, but involving other pagan influences too. But they were confident that their ultimate triumph was certain and guaranteed (Romans 16:20).

Wherever new lightstands were lit, there had to be local leadership. Considering the immorality of those times, the qualifications for ecclesial leadership demanded by the Lord were quite startling (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). A recent survey in a country where there have been missionary converts for a century and a half revealed that not one ecclesia in the sample could claim that all its elders met all the scriptural requirements. In several smaller ones, it was acknowledged that not one elder passed the ‘test’ in every respect and could be considered “blameless”. Yet the apostle insists that these requirements for brand new ecclesias in Crete must be met (Titus 1:6).

What are we to make of this? It has to be that the aim, the goal, and the standard are always beyond us. If none of us dare claim that we are “blameless”, who will be an elder? Especially when James tells us that it is a very serious responsibility, not to be lightly undertaken (3:1-2). Surely the first century ecclesias must have coped with this problem, but we are not sure how they did.

Historians and commentators have failed to find a human factor which satisfactorily explains the spread of the Gospel in the first and second centuries of the Christian era. They have likewise found our brotherhood to be uniquely inexplicable in modern times. Our demise as a denomination has been predicted many times, the present spectacular expansion never. We have no headquarters here on earth, we are disorganized, quarrelsome, excessively hypercritical of each others’ efforts, stubborn, zealous, over-confident, timid - all at the same time! Because of so many bogus claimants to Holy Spirit powers in the churches around us, we tend to “quench the Spirit” which Scripture says we must not do (I Thessalonians 5:19). Yet, as in the first century, so in these last days the great work goes on - simply because it is a divine and not a human work.

How was the first century missionary work financed? We do not know and the Lord has not seen fit to tell us. It could hardly have been much different from our informal  system today, except that, from the evidence we have, the early Christians were much more open-handed and generous with their resources than we are. It is certain that the work was not centrally funded like many aggressive fast-growing modern cults and sects whose aim is to peddle a branded religious product not a living faith. Their tendency to depend heavily on special bureaucracies with complex vested interests in various developments and regions, and to whom individual preachers are personally accountable, is neither healthy nor scriptural. This nowhere appears to be the biblical pattern. There must be scope for individual preaching, ecclesial preaching, and preaching by national and international associations of brothers and sisters. But these must be kept as informal as possible. In the early days, there was obviously much informal brotherly co-operation, with brothers and sisters travelling around, sharing tasks and helping one another when problems arose (Romans 16).

We read of Scythian believers in Colossians 3:11. Scythia was outside the Roman Empire, in the modern Ukraine. According to Ukrainian sources, the Christian faith was first preached to the Scythians by Andrew, the first disciple whom Jesus called to his service (John 1:40). He is known in the Ukraine as Pervozvannyi, the first called. Certainly, some Scythians in what is now the Ukraine had already been converted to the truth of the Christian gospel within thirty years of the ascension of Jesus to his Father. The first Christian preaching was in the synagogues of the Jews. Andrew, like all the twelve apostles, was a Jew, and preached to Jews. But there were no barriers to making converts from among the native tribes, and though generally considered “barbarians”, the Scythian believers were quickly given equal status in the Christian church. Later in the first century, many Christians from within the Roman Empire were exiled to Scythia, several hundred of them settling in the capital city of Kherson, where very successful Bible campaigns were held, led by a brother named Klementos. However, the authorities viewed this effort with alarm, and Klementos was executed (900 years later his body was exhumed and taken to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital!). A very similar pattern of preaching and ecclesial growth must have occurred in Crete, Illyricum, Africa, Dalmatia, Spain and other areas mentioned in the New Testament letters.

It seems beyond doubt from the available literature that the principal method of witness everywhere in the first two centuries was to invite friends to observe the breaking of bread, so as to see for themselves how love prevailed in the midst of a heartless world. In many parts of the worldwide brotherhood today this method has great potential for enlightenment and conversion. Other methods used in the first century include Bible classes in homes, schoolrooms, public halls and synagogues, open-air meetings in market places and public squares, and impromptu proclamation on shipboard or in private transport (Acts 10:27; 19:9; 17:17; 27:33; 8:31). Times hardly change. These are common enough methods among us today. They have the advantage of spontaneity and are very cost-effective.

In absolute numbers and in rate of growth, it has been pointed out that the first hundred and fifty years of the early Christian missionary expansion and the last hundred and fifty years are roughly comparable. So we need not feel ashamed. We are not saved by membership in any “church”, big or small, but by individual faith in the truth of God. It is not more organization that we need. It is greater generosity and more sacrificial service. Two things are required for true love to flourish: effort and sacrifice. God has loved us into the truth. If we can take our cue from Him, we will be as instruments in His hand.                        


(1)   Eberhard Arnold: Die ersten Christen nach dem Tode der Apostel, pages 3-5.( Alan Eyre )