What’s been happening in our assemblies during 1963? Have we been winning souls to Christ? If so, how many? Or are we afraid to count?
Luke wasn’t afraid to count the converts in Jerusalem. In Acts 2:41, he records the addition of 3,000 and later he says the total has risen to 5,000 men (Acts 4:4). Do we think we’re holier than Luke just because we don’t count our converts?
Shouldn’t we face facts? If our assemblies aren’t winning souls for Christ, then let’s admit it — and start asking “Why?” With little or none of the New Testament written and with very limited resources other than the Holy Spirit, the early Church won thousands for Christ. With the Word of God complete and with the same mighty Spirit of God, the Church today could do likewise if we really wanted to!
Some assemblies are winning souls. Praise God for this! The numbers might be small, but every soul is precious. Even one soul saved means that the Holy Spirit has been at work through His people. We must be grateful for every indication that He is working in any degree whatever.
But some assemblies are not winning souls. Probably there are scores of places where not a single convert can be counted for the past year, or two, or three… .Even those who have won a few would be the first to admit that the numbers are mournfully small. Surely no one can be satisfied with the results of our current evangelistic effort. Can any of us fail to share the Saviour’s burden for souls? (Luke 19:41). He wept about the perishing. Do we? Sometimes we hear that these are the days of small things, the days of the two’s and three’s. True, perhaps —but have we not made it so by our own failure to evangelize aggressively and effectively? Peter and Paul would never have been satisfied with two’s and three’s. Why should we be?
Some tell us that our responsibility is to witness, not to make converts (let alone count them). No doubt it is only the Holy Spirit who can make a true convert. But why is the Spirit of God not making more converts than He is presently making through our witness? Perhaps we’re not witnessing as we should — in the power of the Spirit!
Others say that we shall be commended for faithfulness, not success; after all, the servants in Matthew 25 were commended for being faithful, not successful. To imply that this completes the interpretation is dishonest and hypocritical, for the servants who were faithful were also successful! They doubled their master’s holdings! And if we are failing to see any spiritual increase, what right have we to think we’re being faithful? The servant who was unsuccessful was the one condemned for unfaithfulness. The likelihood is that our lack of success in winning souls is largely the result of our lack of faithfulness. Are we really evangelizing in God’s way, by the power of God’s Spirit?
What did the church at Jerusalem do to evangelize the surrounding community? In chapters 1 to 7 of The Acts, Luke tells us in considerable detail how the first church reached out with the Gospel to the people in the immediate neighbourhood. The results are staggering and thrilling. It would be a healthful exercise for every assembly to compare (and contrast!) both its methods and its results with those of the assembly in Jerusalem.
First of all, the Christians at Jerusalem felt a special responsibility for a definite field of service. The Lord Himself had given them the command that “they should not depart from Jerusalem” (Acts 1:4). They were to await the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Then their witness was to commence at Jerusalem (Acts 1:8). True, they were not to stop at Jerusalem. But they were certainly commanded to start at Jerusalem.
Have we started at our respective “Jerusalems”? “Why, of course! Don’t you realize? We have 100 in our Sunday school and the Gospel is preached every week from our platform!” Praise the Lord for every such effort, and for every soul who is hearing the Gospel and responding to the message! But there’s another way of looking at the question.
Take any assembly. In each of the four directions, measure off five blocks from the meeting place. Estimate the number of families and individual souls who are living in that 100-block area. Depending on the density of population and the size of block, there could be anywhere from 2,500 to 6,000 families in such an area —possibly from 10,000 to 25,000 souls!
Then start asking a few questions: How many of these people have been converted through the assembly’s testimony? How many of them are known personally by the Christians in the assembly? How many of them has the assembly befriended in a personal, neighbourly way? How many of them know the assembly exists, and what it stands for? How many of them have ever heard a representative of the assembly clearly tell the Gospel story in a personal or collective situation — in the home, the Sunday school, or in a Gospel meeting? Can we honestly say that we’re concentrating on our “Jerusalem” when we find it difficult to think of anyone from the immediate community who has been saved and added to the local church?
If we plan to do anything at all about evangelizing the community in which the local church is situated, then let’s start by really concentrating, and let’s aim to do it thoroughly —not by the haphazard, once-over-lightly methods that are so common today.
But not only did the church at Jerusalem concentrate; in doing so, they were obedient to the Lord’s instructions. “Then returned they unto Jerusalem” (Acts 1:12). “They entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught” (Acts 5:21). Purely human influences could not deter them; they were conscious of the fact that “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
It’s a great thing to support foreign missions. After all, the Lord doesn’t want us to stop at “Jerusalem”! And besides, our missionaries abroad are in general very inadequately supported. Our giving would need to be doubled in order to provide adequate support for the work that needs to be done and that could be done with existing staff if we were giving as we should.
Nevertheless, while our vision must include “The uttermost part of the earth,” the evangelistic effort of a local church begins in its own community. Perhaps it’s because we have failed to obey in this the area of our primary responsibility that we have also failed to send more missionaries to distant fields and failed as well to properly support those we have sent! “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22).
Basic to their spiritual progress and success, of course, was the fact that the church at Jerusalem was also united in prayer and love. How little we grasp the importance of this today! “All continued with one accord in prayer” (Acts 1:14). “They were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1). “They lifted up their voice to God with one accord” (Acts 4:24). “Lord… grant unto Thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak Thy Word” (Acts 4:29). “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32).
Can we not emulate this to-day? If not, why not? How about attendance at prayer meetings? Do we find that only about 25 per cent of the assembly attends? What do you suppose might happen if the entire assembly, led by godly elders, were to turn out regularly for prayer meetings, with hearts cleansed from known sin and bodies fully yielded as living sacrifices; crying to God for blessing; pleading with Him for a moving of His Spirit amongst His people; seeking the power of God in the preaching of the Gospel? Would we not then be able to count more converts?
What might happen if we were to come to prayer meetings properly prepared — spiritually ready for fellowship with God and His people, intelligently informed and genuinely burdened for the souls of men and the needs of the saints? The Word of God has guaranteed results: if we give Him His due, He will bless beyond all imagination (Malachi 3:10).
Picture an assembly with a prayer meeting in which all the saints are present. Every heart is filled with love to Christ, to fellow saints, and to perishing sinners. Every brother present takes a couple of minutes to audibly express to God a burden on the hearts of God’s people. Could the Lord possibly fail to bless? Would souls still be saved in numbers so small that we could count only half a dozen in as many years?
As we look forward to another year, in His will, let us resolve as never before — individually and as local churches to concentrate on the priority tasks which the Lord has assigned us, to be fully obedient to His will in all things, and to go forward in prayerful love and unity to witness unto Him!