I am delighted to be speaking alongside Jeff Vanderstelt (vice-President of Acts 29) and Elliott Grudem (from Mars Hill) at a conference combining some fascinating Biblical themes. Some would argue that ‘Reformed’ and ‘Charismatic’ could never live together, but I am reminded of an event in the life of the Apostle Paul when, confronted with the challenge of Corinth, a hostile city, he was encouraged by God not to be afraid, but to go on speaking.
I have many people in this city
It’s fascinating to see the combination of Reformed, Missional and Charismatic in this encounter. Paul was wonderfully strengthened by God with the promise that He had many people in the city. It might be asked, how God could say in advance that He had people in a city that Paul had barely started evangelising? But those who embrace the wonderful Reformed doctrine that salvation is of the Lord will be confident, knowing that God himself foreknows whom He will call and those who are ordained to eternal life. He can encourage Paul that, if he will continue to evangelise, God’s elect will be awakened by the gospel and will respond. Paul is ultimately a servant of God, and God’s purpose was to call from death into life those He had foreknown in Corinth.
If God does it, we can relax!
But of course it is often argued that if we emphasise that it is God who saves we will encourage passivity in the church and cultivate congregations who neglect evangelism. If God is going to do it anyway why should we worry? Happily that was not the Apostle Paul’s response. Rather the opposite, Paul was encouraged by the certainty that God would act in partnership with him in saving the elect.
He found fresh courage to stay on in a hostile city for another year and a half preaching the good news about the Lord Jesus. Paul’s faith in God’s sovereignty in no way robbed him of his passion to preach the Good News. Nor did embracing that same doctrine prevent George Whitefield, William Carey or CH Spurgeon from being fervent and effective preachers of the gospel and being passionately committed to the mission.
You shall receive power from on high
The third ingredient in our conference is the Charismatic. How did Paul learn that God had many people in the city? God spoke to him in a vision (Acts 18:9), as he did to Peter in Acts 10 in connection with Peter’s commission to go to Cornelius’s house.
Peter tells us that this age will be characterised by men seeing visions (Acts 2:17). We are in the promised age of the Spirit and the Holy Spirit was manifestly involved in the mission, directing, encouraging, restraining, comforting, fortifying. He came upon the original Twelve, releasing them from the concealment of the upper room into the streets of Jerusalem and empowering them to stand boldly against the fearful authority of the Sanhedrin. His confirming signs and wonders authenticated their powerful preaching so that their hearers were confronted by the Word ‘with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven’.
The coming of the Holy Spirit upon these unlearned fishermen transformed them from being Christ-deniers into becoming Christ-proclaimers, demonstrating a boldness reminiscent of Jesus himself. Apart from the enduement of the Holy Spirit, it is incomprehensible that this feeble band of followers so scattered, so fearful, could earn the reputation of being men who were now turning the world upside down. They had skills and courage beyond anything they had known before.
Paul’s claim to the Thessalonians was that the gospel didn’t come to them in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thess. 1:5) so that even though they received the word in much pain and pressure, they also knew the supernatural joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:6). Similarly the powerful gospel preaching of Stephen and Philip was accompanied by Holy Spirit activity.
How the 21st century church needs to rediscover its roots in the sovereignty of God, its call to be on a mission and the promise of the Holy Spirit’s power enabling them to fulfil the task. Maybe you should consider attending what should prove to be a very timely and fascinating conference, organised by Acts 29.