In the apostle Peter’s first epistle, chapter two and verse nine, we read, “but you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession; that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” This is what I call an epitomising text, it epitomises wonderfully, the church of God in Jesus Christ. It reveals to us much in regards to the church. It gives us the reason for the existence of the church, her first and primary concern, the glory of God. Secondly, it gives us her stewardship, bearing with perseverance, the revelation entrusted to her by God, to the world. And then thirdly, it gives us her task, projecting the great mercy of God in Christ to a lost and perishing world. She is responsible for displaying God’s grace. Her worship is to be a shop window in which passers-by may behold God’s marvelous grace while reflecting resurrection joy. The text indicates the isolation of the church, God’s separated people, the antithesis. For they are a chosen, a holy, a people belonging especially to God, therefore separated by their calling out from the world. They are in the world, but they are not of it (John 17:16). There is also here the intention, God’s that is, for the church, proclamation. Of the excellencies of the One who called them. Then, of course, the very instigator of the church, God himself, who by the operations of his Spirit, calls, convicts, converts and revives his church in the midst of the years.
In regards to the glorious purpose of the church in proclamation, the question here is, how does she approach such a great and glorious task? Her principles, of course, must come from Scripture, they alone regulate all of her earthly business. It is a serious lament, however, that in this day and generation, there is a tragic, a profound ignorance on her part of her God-given Scriptures. Even amongst those who we would call would-be missionaries. If, as Christians, we are to be of any help to anyone in this fallen world that we find ourselves living and witnessing to, we must be a people soaked in the Scriptures. We need to have a worldview derived from holy writ. We need to study the Scriptures with a missional hermeneutic, we need to begin to feel God’s heartbeat for mission that unifies the Bible. And that in itself ought to unify us, God’s people.
The Recipients of the Proclamation:
Evangelism is a powerful emotive reaction to the glory of God’s grace. Our need today is to see the throne. It is yet another tragedy that theology and mission do not mix. The result is that we end up with missionary endeavor that is absent of theology, or vice versa. Where there is no theory, you have either no, or you have bad practice. Would you, for instance, send a man to build a bridge over a raging torrent who has not been to college and studied the theory of civil engineering? If not, then why send a man to evangelise a lost world, who hasn’t been in God’s school of learning, studying the theory of mission? Then there is the tragedy of theology with no missional impetus, full-time students. Bags of theory, but no practice. The Church is made for mission. But what about those who are to be the recipients of our missionary endeavors?
There are no abstract, disembodied, history-less sinners, such do not exist. Their sin-lives are determined by cultural, historical factors that we must take into account. Poverty, hunger, superstition, chronic illness, tribal morality or the lack thereof, etc., etc. It is to such we must bring the gospel of God’s grace. We must consider the question, to whom are we preaching? For instance, we do not speak to children in the same way as we would to adults. God speaks to real people, he speaks differently, though the message be the same, to different people throughout the generations. He does not speak in the same way to Abraham as he does to Moses, or even yet to Pharaoh. The Lord Jesus also speaks differently to different people. The revelation of God we are told came in a variety of ways throughout redemptive history (Hebrews 1:1-2). The incarnate Word took upon himself flesh and dwelt in our midst so that we could experience a real, living, concrete encounter with the Word. The proclaimer is not above his Master. We need to recognise the would-be recipients of our proclamation. We need to get to know them, seek them out, and love them. That is if we want to bring them also to a living encounter with the love of Christ.
That, ultimately, of course, is our aim in proclamation. That is where God meets people. Everything else that the church does, is, or should be, subservient to this. The word of God tells people what they should and what they should not do, but it is more than this, more than just theory, a philosophical system. It has for its content, God himself. We are not postmen, we are ambassadors (2Corinthians 5:20). It is in our proclamation that God himself exhorts people, that Christ confronts a lost and confused human race. Through the proclaimer (i.e., the church), the sinner should see the irresistible Christ beckoning him to be reconciled to God. What happens in mission is seriously important. That is why the how, the approach is vital. There must be a recognisable expression of Christ’s great love and the Father’s unfathomable mercy. Our attention to the matter of communication and its recipients is of the utmost importance. The proclamation must be intelligible (1Corinthians 14:23). Contemporaneity does not necessarily mean compromise. Nor is the word context a curse word. Whatever, due and serious consideration must be given to the who, the recipients of our proclamation.
The Personality of the Proclaimer:
The person or persons involved in the proclamation whatever the circumstances or wherever it takes place. The gospel must pass through living persons. There needs to be serious consideration given to this in the light of modern streaming, TV, and internet sermons. They are never, and must never become an alternative for live proclamation. It involves the entire nature, life, and temperament of the proclaimer (i.e., the church). A piano and a violin make different sounds, but together they can play the same tune, quite harmoniously. We see in Scripture Elijah and Elisha, Matthew and John the Baptist, all of them completely different characters with differing backgrounds and circumstances. We are told that Jeremiah’s whole life was monitored, molded and managed by the Lord (Jeremiah 1:5). Each was given his own task and place in God’s church. The proclaimer is not a thing, but a living organism, as is the church. So it is unwise to dictate how each missionary should approach his given task in a particular culture and community. How much more so in our modern multi-cultural society. We who are, or have been parents with the responsibility of rearing children, we well know each child is different, you may, you ought to treat them all with fairness and without prejudice, but you cannot treat them all the same.
Some missioners have sought to, and with some success reached the adult community through children’s work. Others have tried that and failed. Each missionary must unquestionably bring the same message but in different ways. Therefore the proclaimer (i.e., the church) must remain natural, be themselves, not forced or artificial. We must work with what we have got. Many of us would like to do what we see other local churches doing. But do we have the manpower, the resources, the gifts that they do, are the circumstances and needs of the communities the same? Then what about the background of the people doing the proclaiming? All this governs our situation, it either restricts or enhances our ability in our proclamation. One thing of course that we can all, and must do, is to pray. Perhaps for a new and major advance of the gospel, by the sovereign operations of the Spirit of God in revival. However, as much as each situation is different, we all as God’s human instruments must adopt biblical policies. God can and does manifest his power, through his people being themselves and doing what they can to proclaim the excellencies of our God. But doing so without looking over their shoulders, being free to do what they can, in the way they can. And at the same time leaving others free to conduct their missionary endeavors in the way that they see fit within a biblical framework. God amazingly and wonderfully uses what people and churches are (2Corinthians 4:7). We must avoid the slavish imitation of others, which puts us in bondage. It is a divine mandate, a commission from God that we are to fulfill, and it is that, not human traditions that must guide us. The proclaimer’s (i.e., the church) call is to proclaim and defend the gospel, not the traditions of men, nor yet antiquarianism.
The Circumstances of the Proclamation:
The time and the place must be given some consideration. For the encounter is significant also. We proclaim differently to folk who are sick, as from those who are working perhaps. We see how the apostle Paul’s approach differed on occasions. On Mars Hill with the Greek philosophers, we find him debating. With the seamen in peril, there is an urgency. Each moment will have its own particular opportunities and difficulties, some better than others. There are times when need to seize or even make the opportunities. We find the Lord Jesus Christ doing this, at the Feast of Tabernacles, which was a time in the Jewish calendar when they prayed for rain on the land. Jesus we find seizes this in the temple as an opportune time to speak about the streams of living water available to those who would believe in him (John 7:38). So perhaps religious seasons would be an opportunity to proclaim the grace of God to some sinners. Yes, Christmas and Easter time. Some, of course, argue they have done so for many years but it has borne no fruit. Well, God will not hold us accountable for the seed not bearing fruit, the word sown we are assured is never in vain (Isaiah 55:10-11). God knows as we do, that it is he alone who can change hearts, that is his work, not ours. But he will hold us accountable for not sowing the seed, at every opportunity we can. I find great encouragement in the work of our Saviour. I see him in Scripture, sometimes he must have been exhausted, as the crowds come relentlessly to him. But he continues to teach them. He knows the majority of them are heedless to what he is proclaiming and are careless about their own souls. But he continues to sow the seed nonetheless. He is ever our example.
The apostle Paul speaks about redeeming the time (Colossians 4:5). What about redeeming the opportunities, on a train journey, at a sick-bed, at work or in the Market Place. Paul again writing to Timothy who is just starting his ministerial career, bids him to preach both in and out of season. We are in the midst of a crisis era in history, I do believe we are in the last of the last days. These are proclamation times, and urgently so. Some argue that it is dark, there not many are responding, there are not many being converted, so why bother? On the contrary, it makes it all more urgent, vital that we continue on proclaiming the word of God. Once again, there are always different possibilities and difficulties too, in homes, at camps, hospitals, missions and in churches, on the streets, wherever. Some situations are more helpful than others. We need to remember how difficult it can be for some people to attend church for the first time. Not everyone is familiar with attending church. The author of this article was raised in Scottish Presbyterianism and knew what went on, how one behaved in church. Yet in later life on being converted my return to church after many years absence, I did not find easy at all. So we who are so used to it need to be conscious of how difficult it can be for someone who has never been in a church in all their life. The people came to John the Baptist, but Jesus willingly went to people’s homes.
On conversion we find Matthew the taxman (Levi), holds an evangelistic evening in his home, inviting people for a meal. Yes, he is young in the faith, unable to articulate his faith at this point perhaps. But he invites a guest speaker who can, Jesus (Luke 5:29). This, of course, is not to be a substitute for the church institute and her formal gatherings for worship, never. The prophet Ezekiel we find was able to speak to the people authoritatively and with understanding, why? Because he went with the people, where they were, he was with them in exile. You cannot appreciate or understand a community from outside. I recall some years ago I ministered on occasions to a city centre church, a fairly large evangelical, Bible-teaching church. It was an inner city situation with all the social problems that that incurs. I asked one of the leaders, how many of those in membership and of those actually attending belonged to the local community? He said, none! They came in from outside, all pretty much middle-Englanders, they drove into this downtrodden locality to do church. But they were not even scratching the surface in that community, let alone reaching it with the good news about Jesus. That just does not work. You cannot appreciate or understand a community from the outside. The gospel is not a soul-computer, just Google salvation and press enter and find converts popping up all around. The gospel confronts people where they are at and the proclaimer (i.e., the church) needs to be there with them.
Of course, the church, the proclaimer, must proclaim the excellencies of God in word and deed. It needs to be living, breathing, speaking for him. The sinners in and around your local church will judge the gospel, God even, by the church. It is not better gifts, or even better preachers we need, but better Christians. The enemies of Jesus accuse him of being the friend of sinners. Could that charge be laid at our feet? For a first century preacher to connect with his audience, you would perhaps imagine he would have needed to be fairly mute about the cross. I mean it was the vilest death imaginable, and to suggest that God’s Son would save a perishing world by dying such a death, would have been ridiculous, scandalous even. It is no different in our modern society today. But from ancient Ephesus to Timbuktu, the message of the cross for the last two thousand years has been bringing peace to countless thousands of souls. To those who that is who embrace the truth about themselves and about Jesus Christ. But remember, whatever the results, God is glorified in the proclamation of the gospel. That is our given task, our sole, our primary task, to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of the darkness, into his marvelous light.
(© James R Hamilton, 12th May 2014))