Do you think our world is bad today? Do you think we’re in trouble? Do you think we’re facing turmoil? Some might say we’re a walk in the park compared to first century Rome! The family was breaking down, the social structure was disintegrating and basic moral values were drifting by the wayside.
In his message, A Dynamic Force, Pastor Jeff Vines begins by asking some questions about today’s society and the role our faith system is seen to play in it. Looking back at the great awakening of the first believers, the influence they had over their communities, and the impact their actions had on our current world, it’s all evidence of a dynamic force.
Transforming the Church
The book of Acts is written about the happenings of the first church, but how does it relate to us today? Do you think the Western world is getting more moral or less moral? Do you think the church is having a positive impact? If you were to ask most irreligious people in the West to explain Christianity and what it’s about, what do you think they would say?
‘How many of us are familiar with the Great Awakening in the middle of the 18th century,’ asks Greg. ‘Both in Britain and in France, there were great social inequities and the inequities between the rich and poor were quite appalling. It was the beginning of the industrial revolution. These inequities served as a powder keg getting ready to explode.’
But a miracle occurred in the Great Awakening. Masses of people found themselves captivated by the message of Jesus Christ. Over the next few decades, the rich became generous with their resources because greed always surrenders to generosity at the point of conversion. The poor also received the power and the truth that moved them towards self-discipline, hard work, and the rejection of entitlement.
‘William Wilberforce partnered together with his friend John Newton,’ says Jeff. ‘And they lobbied the British Parliament explaining that African slaves were being abused and tortured. Until finally Parliament passed the abolition of the slave trade. In fact, the song Amazing Grace was written by John Newton.’
John was introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was so overwhelmed with the reality that he could be forgiven for these atrocities, that he was not able to rest until he could express himself in song. Many historians today believe that the only thing that’s going to save our Western society from all this turmoil is us is another great awakening.
‘In first century Rome, the followers of Jesus so infiltrated Roman society with the message of Jesus that by the third century, the Emperor had to declare and acknowledge that Rome had become a Christian society,’ says Jeff.
In the book of Acts, Luke tells us the rest of the story of what happened after Jesus suffered and died and was resurrected. Through this book, we’re able to see why this little group of people in the first awakening were able to impact their society to totally transform it.
The Essence of Christianity
‘You discover two things,’ says Jeff. ‘One is the essence of original Christianity, and why it had the power to transform individual lives, communities and cultures. If we all knew the essence of Christianity today, our society wouldn’t look the way it does now. We would have transformed it.’
The true essence of Christianity is about what Jesus has done, not about what we’ve done. Luke says Christianity is not about us being good. It’s ultimately about someone else and what He’s done. God says in the gospel that the first Christians do look at their humanity and their unfaithfulness. Our offence must be paid for, and that’s why Jesus suffered.
‘The first great awakening began when Christians realised all the death and destruction we deserve because we all violate the Ten Commandments,’ says Jeff. ‘All of this came down on Christ, who became our legal representative before the God of the universe and paid the penalty you and I deserve. The barrier has gone. The debt is paid. We are on the receiving end of the most staggering level of grace and generosity in the universe because God loves us.’
Jesus Rose From the Dead
The second thing we learnt is that not only did He suffer, He rose from the dead.. None of the disciples were expecting a resurrection, and even when it happened, they didn’t believe it. They went to the tomb and saw the stone rolled away and the linen lying there.
‘That’s why Jesus had to go and physically appear to the disciples,’ says Jeff. ‘If you think you’re saved by following the teachings of Jesus, you will not transform society, you will separate from it. You can’t transform culture by standing on the outside, looking in.’
‘Part of the essence of original Christianity is not only that Jesus died. It’s that He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. Jesus goes up not to get away from us, but to continue what He started through us.’