Sunday 24 May 2015

To-day is Aldersgate Sunday, and each year on this date, or a Sunday close to it, we remember this day especially because it shaped the ministry of John Wesley, when he had a spiritual conversion three days after his brother Charles had a similar experience.

John had been to minister in America and it had been a dismal failure so had returned to England. On this date he had gone to a small chapel in Aldersgate in London when there was a discourse on Luther’s Letter to the Romans, when his spirit was strangely warmed and moved. He then understood that forgiveness of sins and acceptance by God was a free gift from God, and there was nothing we can do on our own to make us acceptable in God’s sight; this was all accomplished by God through the death of Jesus on the Cross.

We are called to believe that we too can have the biblical doctrine of assurance, that we can by God’s grace and through faith know our sins will be forgiven and be assured that by His death on the Cross Christ has given us eternal salvation.

The events of that week-end, which was also Pentecost Sunday, culminated in the start of an evangelical revival that spread throughout the Kingdom. When that spirit of evangelical preaching ended I often wonder, but there seems little of it about these days. I fear Charles and John would hold their heads in shame at some of the words being used today in our Churches.

We are celebrating Pentecost today also, when Peter made that dramatic sermon which led to the conversion of three thousands of people. That was a great day in the history of the Church, for it was then that the Holy Spirit came on the Church in a very special way. The Holy Spirit was the source of all guidance for the Apostles, bestowing power and courage, and was that which Jesus had promised.

This was one of three great Jewish festivals which every Jew who lived within twenty miles of Jerusalem was obliged to attend, and was also known as the festival of weeks, because Pentecost fell on the fiftieth day after the Passover festival.

We are told they were all together in the one place, which was the Temple Courts, when suddenly a sound like a blowing wind and fire filled the whole place. A breath of wind was understood to be a symbol of the Spirit of God, and they able to speak, and fire his holiness which destroys all impurity.

The Apostles were able to speak in other languages of all the people present. The list of nations represented covered most of the area where the Jews had dispersed.

When people are confronted by something they cannot understand they generally respond in one of two ways; either by trying to work out what was meant, or by dismissing with contempt. The crowd accused the disciples of being drunk, which was dismissed by Peter as it was at nine o’clock in the morning.

Peter who had taken over leadership of the Apostles, stood and preached his sermon. The pattern and theme he followed was common in the early Church; an explanation of events followed by relating the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This was accompanied by a call to repentance and to be baptised.

Looking at the events recorded in Acts, the normal pattern to becoming a Christian is that someone ‘repents, believes, is baptized, and then receives the Holy Spirit’. This, however, is not a chronological order. These are the essential components to becoming a Christian, but God can change the order in which they happen as was the case with Cornelius and the Ephesian believers.

It is because Acts and the New Testament do not give a chronology that has lead the overwhelming majority of Christians over the Church’s history to feel that it is right to baptize the children of Christian parents. However, it is the fact that, in Acts, it is the normal order that has also led some equally sincere and committed Christians to refuse to baptize anyone not old enough to decide for themselves

The people who heard Peter were cut to the heart, meaning they wee deeply convicted. They began to realise God was involved in their daily lives.

Repent is a word generally misunderstood. Most people think it just means saying sorry. The word biblically means to change your way of living and acting. You accept Jesus was not just a great teacher and social worker but was the Son of God.

No Christian doctrine has been so abused as that of baptism. Everywhere in the New Testament before baptism has been administered there has been a declaration of faith and a commitment made.

During the early years of the Church the practice of baptising infants of practising parent believers who would bring up their children within the family of the Church. As the years passed the practice has developed where outside of the Baptist denomination, someone telephones the local Vicar or Minister to arrange a baptism and are told to be at the Church at a time and date. Vows and promises are made which everyone present knows will not be honoured.

Having seen the discord caused by those attending who invariably take over the Church with little or no regard for the rest of the service, I find myself not attending such services, and would certainly not take one of these indiscriminate baptisms.

I love the Church, which has been the major part of my life, and I hate to see it so abused.

God comes to us in different ways as we seek to serve Jesus.
It may be we see a poster outside a Church with a message which immediately touches us; others through friends telling them of the Church and their own experience. But most are brought to Christ through biblical preaching, which is why it is so important for all preaching to be thoroughly bible based.

For some people there is indeed a dramatic experience such as Paul had on the Damascus Road, whilst for others there is a growing in grace. Charles and John Wesley, who are in our minds at this time, experienced the Holy Spirit in special ways, too. Both were ordained into the Church and ministered as such for some years, yet both had deep spiritual experiences which changed their lives in May 1738, and went on to do greater things as a result.

Charles wrote his most loved and famous hymns afterwards, and experienced a ‘strange palpitation of heart,’ and just a few days later John felt his heart ‘strangely warmed.’ From that time on, the Wesleys were used powerfully by God to spread the news of salvation.

For others there is just a steady grow in grace. We may take as an analogy two situations from life. A man and woman may meet at a social occasion and such is the chemistry between them they fall in immediate love and marry soon after, which may or may not last. Another couple may meet, find they enjoy being with each other, and gradually become totally dependent upon each other and spend the rest of their life together without ever being able to determine exactly when that came about.

Thousands attended the great Billy Graham Crusades in the 1960s/80s and were immediately affected by the atmosphere of massed choirs leading joyous praise with so many people, and hearing the preaching of the most successful preacher in all Church history. They rushed forward to the altar call, committing their lives to the Lord, but on returning to their local parish Church found 1662 Matins with chants of canticles and indifferent preaching were disillusioned. Others just grow in grace to love the Lord.

We each come as the Lord calls us, but should know when there was that moment we understood what the gospel was all about. For me, it was being at a Pentecostal meeting in Mombasa in Kenya.

Jesus told the Apostles they were to be His witnesses and that duty has now been passed down to His Church and all its members. The Church can be His witness by faithful preaching of Scripture, as all its Ministers vow to do at their ordination, and offer people a credible and united teaching. Individual members can do so by their manner of living, reflecting the image of Christ rather than the ungracious kind we too often see.

The Chapter today goes on to tell us that the people converted to Christ on that first Pentecost Sunday continued to meet to listen to the teaching of the Apostles, and the Church grew. When the Church today preaches and listens to the teaching of the Apostles, it too will grow.

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