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Chapter 6: Helps and Hindrances

The Christian Church underwent a huge sea change in the 4th and 5th Centuries which goes a great way to explaining why it is the way it is today. Initially a grass roots movement saw Jesus as Lord and felt it was imperative to preach the Gospel to the lost before the End came, which was expected quite soon. The preaching of the Gospel and the building of the Kingdom was a life and death issue which demanded total commitment from everyone. Joining the church was joining a team. It involved ghastly persecutions, secret meetings, incomprehension of the vast majority of people, and the preaching of a message very hard for people to accept. The total commitment of each one in all the various ministries they undertook was to bring the Christian church close to becoming the faith of the Empire by 96 AD and indeed St. Paul was able to say much earlier that the Gospel had even reached the fringes of the Royal family in Rome.

By the early years of the 4th Century under Constantine, Christianity was to become the official religion of the Empire. While this must have seemed a great victory to the believers, and a great relief to be free of persecution, the Church had now become an instrument of the State. The prodigious diversity of Christian beliefs and practice had to be brought under the unifying influence of the State and the Bishop in Rome was given the task. This meant that only placemen appointed by the central authority of the Church were allowed to head up local church communities and teach. Later, the law made it an offence subject to severe penalties to engage in Christian ministry without the authority of the Church. The awful persecutions of believers who had the temerity to preach the Gospel in the face of the Church's widespread nominalism led ultimately to the Inquisition and even in England to the clergy seeking out and imprisoning Anabaptists and other evangelicals relatively recently - in the last 250 years or so.

What had happened was that the Christian Church had become an Institution: the very big difference in activities and attitudes as compared with those we read about in the New Testament, become much more understandable. The whole institution of ordination in the Church of England flows from this Roman concept of succession, originally to provide authentication for official Church appointments. This was claimed by Luther to be a fraud. At theological college I was appalled by the awful battles, massacres, and indeed plainly evil acts perpetrated by those who felt their positions were under threat. The terrible things that happened to that exemplary group, the Puritans, were often alluded to by Dr. J. I. Packer in his lectures to us.

Often those who take the initiative in desiring to serve face considerable difficulties and even suspicion; David M. and David Cullimore, two young graduates and part time evangelists with O.A.C., attended an evangelical church in Bristol - at that time a really popular Brethren fellowship with an excellent leadership. They felt God wanted them to go and preach the Gospel in Paris for 3 months so the Senior Elder (one of Britain's foremost Bible teachers) convened a meeting of the Missions Committee; one evening the two Davids were ushered in before these worthies, Alan as Chairman, and two 80 yr. olds. The interview lasted about an hour, the vision was duly shared, and Alan asked a number of questions. After about 15 minutes the two elderly gentlemen fell asleep and one appeared to be in imminent danger of falling off his chair. Towards the end of the meeting, the other was snoring quite audibly. The two Davids had to exercise enormous self-control to keep a straight face - however, nothing came of this meeting. The lads went off to preach in Paris, and not having any financial backing, survived sleeping on a concrete floor in a church building and eating refuse from the street markets - which, fortunately, took place every day. Obviously their preaching ministry was not valued by their fellowship. Often the Gospel appears not to be a significant aspect of church life.

If you want to be an evangelist, you will not have a well-worn path to follow. People assume you will want to lead crusades like Billy Graham but few succeed in this for long. Even a renowned and successful evangelist like Eric Delve found the pressures on himself and his family so great that he retired gracefully into the Anglican priesthood, and international figures like Luis Palau do not find crusade evangelism particularly effective in Europe - in fact it is a struggle to get a group of local churches to agree to host a crusade on any scale nowadays. However, the work of an evangelist can be extremely worthwhile as a long-term, regular, local ministry with impact on the lives of large numbers of people.

Evangelism that really works uses transferable skills as part of its training programme to enable part time workers to play a significant part: some very fine young men and women coming through the part time programme, and enjoying success in the ministry as a result, go on to become full time evangelists/missionaries - but age doesn't really matter. After a Christian Caravanners' conference where I was speaker one evening, a retired vicar and his wife, Vernon and Stevie Ball, shared how they longed to go as missionaries but had been turned down by all the agencies. I was able to help with some suggestions, as they had already sold their home with a view to being more mobile, and that summer invited them on a team in northern Greece working in the towns and villages. Afterwards they went on to work very successfully as full time missionaries there for three years and made a splendid contribution both to church life and as evangelists amongst the Albanian refugees, often living in very difficult circumstances out in the countryside. On returning home, they became our schools workers in Oxfordshire and have some wonderful experiences to share with the children.

Transferable skills are an essential element in Christian work but not many people appear to understand this. Vernon and Stevie could not have functioned in Greece without the necessary skills needed by the local fellowship, nor could they have pioneered their really excellent schools ministry without learning how to do the job properly from professionals. It is astounding to me how even Christian organisations will commission workers for schools ministry with no practical training. Church pastors / managers seem to think evangelism is something you just do. You appoint somebody, pay them a salary, they will tell people about Jesus, and that's it. The consequence is that the Department of Education guidelines are broken, teaching staff are offended, and the school is closed to further visits from Christian "outside" speakers. Enormous damage has been caused in Bristol by this sort of approach.

Local evangelism requires leadership and co-ordination.

For many years O.A.C. has been the only evangelism/missions agency offering this in the South West on any scale. A shared vision is a very strong basis for fellowship. The team fellowship prayer meeting and meal each week in our home, to which all involved in evangelism are invited, gives the recognition and encouragement needed by people involved in this front-line work. Ideas, difficulties, inspiration and "being part of a large team" means successes become the shared property of the group. This combats the feeling of discouragement which can beset someone working in a difficult area.

For most evangelists who succeed in establishing a regular full time ministry in the community, management of their programme can be a real problem. Many will not have served an apprenticeship or had the benefit of any formal training, and their life becomes a series of more-or-less similar preaching opportunities, which may not appear to them actually to lead to a recognisable "end product". It is essential to have aims and objectives set for each week, each month, each year or 5 years, so that they can sit down periodically and tick off ACHIEVEMENTS in their diaries. This leads to an appreciation of how God is using them and the direction their ministry is taking. Being part of a team or an organisation involved in similar work is terribly important for the same reasons. Networking in this way has given Anni and me the satisfaction of keeping in contact with dozens of our trainees in many different countries, and sharing the joys of their achievements as well as encouraging them with our prayers when things seem to be hard.

Prayer backing is essential for the work.

We seem to have been unsuccessful over the last 25 years in getting much prayer support from the churches in Bristol - just one or two phone us for up to date prayer requests - yet there are over 400 churches in the area. What happens to our prayer letters and news bulletins? Presumably they are put in the bin. It has become increasingly apparent that prayer letters from those operating in the front lines are no longer an effective means of communication. Many people will express astonishment on hearing about our work, or that we have been doing assemblies in their local schools for years, yet we know that our letters have been sent regularly to their church secretary and/or to a "keen" member of the congregation.

At his home church in Plymouth, where Mike Getley was based for many years as an O.A.C. Staff Evangelist, his ministry was never mentioned to the fellowship - in fact there were about twenty there who had become Christians as a result of Mike's street ministry. His Christian assembly programme in about 65 local primary schools reached about 220 children each morning. That is far more in terms of sheer numbers than all the churches in Plymouth have ever had in Sunday school! Furthermore, Mike had become by then an extremely professional worker for whom Christian leaders in the city had a great respect. My niece and her husband attended the church for 5 years and had no idea that Mike was part of that fellowship. His ministry was never mentioned for prayer or news. The church did not support him and his financial situation was very difficult though we did what we could to help. As a result of his ministry in Spain, leading teams on open air missions at Easter, he was very well known in Madrid - he was always the first to be welcomed. His pentecostal church elders clearly had no interest whatever in reaching either Madrid or Plymouth with the Gospel and much of their growth came through transfer from other churches. They were not able to offer him support as an evangelist - they were however able to spend £8,000 on chairs for the minor hall. Eventually Mike was recruited as a Pastoral Assistant and went on to become pastor of an Elim Church in the North. Mike is a very fine Christian minister of enormous experience and maturity and it seems a great pity that such a man cannot be supported other than as an employee of the Corporation.

John and Nicky Kingston were keen supporters of our work in the early days; they joined a large Anglican church in Bristol and became isolated from us through their involvement in various church activities and new loyalties to the leadership there. This eventually resulted in their losing touch with us completely: only three years later I was to meet Nicky in the street, and she wanted to know whether we were still in Christian work.

Most fellowships seem to be possessive to the point of isolating their congregation from what God is doing in the real world. My own experience was that when I got to Bible college after 22 years in the Anglican church, I knew nothing at all about Church history, what Christian missions there were, had never even heard of the Christian Brethren! I had been led to believe that the Anglican church was pretty well all there was, of any significance. This attitude is not confined to England. My daughter Anne was attending a charismatic fellowship in Tauranga, New Zealand, when news broke about the Kosovar refugee crisis in 1998. She telephoned the pastor to ask for permission to share the need for prayer and possibly financial help for her friends, Ian and Caralee, coping with the influx of several thousand refugees to feed, but he was adamant that she must on no account do so - he "had other plans for the fellowship"... so the people in that fellowship are not allowed to choose what their priorities are or even to pray about them. Keeping the congregation in ignorance of certain things seems to play a significant part in management tactics of many local churches. This can only hinder the work of the Holy Spirit as he seeks to lead and guide.

Factors which assisted the growth of the Early Church

  • By and large, there was peace in the world.
  • Most people could understand Greek.
  • The road system facilitated travel which was reasonably safe in groups.
  • The old religions and worship practices they involved did not satisfy thinking people.
  • There was widespread respect for the ethical monotheism of Judaism.
  • The geographical location of Palestine made it a crossroads for world travel.
  • Preaching in the market places meant that merchants who became Christians then took the Gospel far and wide, so the middle classes were reached fairly effectively.

Factors which hindered the growth of the Early Church

  • The Cross was a huge barrier in that the worship of someone who had been crucified was unacceptable particularly as gods were supposed to be winners.
  • There was widespread religious confusion with all sorts of competing ideas, many of them fairly similar to the New Age ideas we see today.
  • The public preaching of the Christians took place in population centres where they were susceptible to identification, arrest and imprisonment or worse.
  • The very poor out in the countryside were never reached with the Gospel, as far as we can tell.
  • In times of persecution, which were fairly frequent, meetings were held in secret often in catacombs under various cities. The catacombs in Rome are well known, but those in Syracuse extend for 10 square km.
  • The practices involved in worship, particularly the celebration of Holy Communion, could easily give rise to misrepresentation and rumours which aroused disgust amongst the local population. It was sometimes alleged that cannibalism took place.

The fact that the Church grew so dramatically is a terrific testimony to the faithfulness of the believers who all worked so hard at such great risk to make Christ known so widely. I have produced a short analysis of the Apostolic ministry on a sheet of A4 (see Appendix) which sets out who was preaching, who the listeners were, what the result was, and where it was all taking place - beginning with Peter's preaching on the Day of Pentecost. I have always felt that he stood up on a number of different occasions to reach the numbers of people to produce 5,000 and then 3,000 converts. I imagine him in the general area of the Temple courageously preaching possibly to crowds of 500 at a time, which is in my experience straightforward without loudspeakers. The very large numbers packing such a small area meant that lots of people would have heard the message who didn't necessarily intend to listen.

These early evangelists knew that they were sacrificing security, career, and sometimes even their lives, to the urgent call to bring the Good News to a needy world - that Christ, the Saviour, had come, died on the Cross for our sins, and rose from the dead. Their simple message, a call to repentance and faith, their total commitment, and their immediate availability to those who heard them, were all factors which made their ministry very effective indeed. Perhaps the greatest hindrance to the spread of Christianity today is that most of these factors are missing - indeed with 9,000 separate denominational groups in the world (according to David Watson) there seems to be some doubt about the precise nature of the message to be preached. In many European countries the established Church as an instrument of government led to church membership being the imperative call, rather than the acceptance of salvation by grace. This led to a series of quasi Christian cultures with an intellectual religious framework in which Christ is largely unknown. The public preaching of the Gospel in many of these countries therefore inserts the central key to the jigsaw in people's minds and means that most ordinary people in, say, Roman Catholic or Orthodox countries, are very interested and very reachable: they want to hear how a personal relationship with Jesus can be established. Although opposition will arise from committed religionists and even religious fanatics, even these people will quieten down and listen and often their sincerity wins through as we establish personal conversations with them.

In a television age where on average people watch for hours each day, some say about 9 hours, statements by a British T.V. chat show host such as Ludovic Kennedy or Michael Buerck carry enormous weight. Their conversations with carefully selected humanists and liberals often allude to the outdated nature of Christian belief in a modern world. The fact that so many Christian leaders do not themselves embrace traditional Biblical Christian faith also adds to the confusion in the minds of ordinary people. The man in the street is totally unaware that none of these people can really offer more than unqualified personal opinion. People who do know something about the issues - such as Dr. J. I. Packer, or Revd John Stott - are carefully excluded from the debate presumably to allow sufficient leeway for fanciful ideas to be aired. The effect is that of a carefully organised propaganda campaign to discredit the Christian message.

As modern societies move through the post-Christian era into the anti-Christian era, all kinds of factors emerge. There is almost total antagonism towards the whole concept of sin. Right and wrong within the law appear to be perfectly acceptable - i.e. as long as you don't actually break the law, doing wrong to others is not considered sin any more, in fact it is regarded as clever and amusing. Programmes such as "Men Behaving Badly" and "Absolutely Fabulous" are highly subversive in that they portray immorality and immoral fantasies as fun comedy entertainment. Christians as portrayed in "The Vicar of Dibley" are a bunch of quaint idiots, and vicars are usually written about as bumbling fools.

The total relaxation of the Sunday Trading laws has had a powerful impact on church attendance in the U.K. and this impact will undoubtedly increase. To most families today, Sunday seems to be a time to spend at the local shopping Mall, or watching videos at home with a beer. The very large numbers found in the Malls on Sunday mornings would seem to be an opportunity for the Christian church to provide some sort of Christian entertainment programme for the children which would be very much appreciated by their parents. It could also provide a means of making contact with the parents. However, the church is not equipped for the kinds of mobile ministries and all the new skills involved that such future outreach opportunities are going to demand.

The Christian Church is faced today with the most enormous opportunities for growth in its history.

Worldwide communication is now instantaneous, you can reach the other side of the world in a day by air, and in Europe particularly the old cities are full of millions of people available and open to hearing the Gospel. Travelling to different countries in Europe over the last 25 years, working with churches who have never before taken any serious steps to sharing their faith, the response of the crowds on the streets has been excellent.

Twelve years ago Jim Reed (President of the Evangelists' Conference in Spain that year) and I took a sketchboard and Jim preached in Spanish in one of the smaller squares in Madrid. Jim was a very large man in his thirties with a delightful manner and an ability to make good contact with his listeners. In the crowd was a shortish guy in his twenties, who says he listened because he had never seen such a big man or painting on a sketchboard before. He came back to lunch with us, and joined the street team that week as a new Christian. He had trained as a mime artist in Rome, and was currently earning his living as a janitor in a Madrid hotel.

Farid Ernesto Lozada is a Columbian and joined Jim's church, living in their tiny flat with Jim's family. Four months later, Farid came back to England with us on the O.A.C. bus. A tremendously vibrant and entertaining person, he had become a much appreciated part of our open air team; he had written a mime about a faithful worker called Manuel, who does everything right in his life. Farid would dramatise the daily routine of this man in a wildly expressive caricature which the crowds really enjoyed. Manuel then dies, the ambulance takes him away, and he wakes up outside the gates of Heaven. The scene is then one of great pathos as his name cannot be found written in the Book of Life: the presentation ends abruptly with an absolutely huge voice from a member of the team standing behind the sketch board, playing St. Peter, saying "WE DON'T KNOW YOU. GO AWAY!" At this point the crowd was always absolutely thunderstruck that such a good man would not go to Heaven and the message of grace could then be powerfully presented by the preacher.

On arrival at Dover, I had no idea that Columbians could not be granted a visa for entering England other than in very exceptional circumstances. As we filed through Immigration, the officer stamped Farid's passport "Entry Refused". Not knowing what to do, I was advised that I could appeal against the decision. I appealed! Farid and I were ushered into an office where a senior immigration officer met us. This gentleman should have been on leave that day but was substituting for a colleague who was taking part in a golf tournament: he said "Hallo, Korky! How long do you want him in for?" "Three and a half years, so he can complete the O.A.C. training programme, please." Peter said "I don't think there can be any problem with that," and granted him a 4-year visa. I still have no idea how the officer knew who I was ... but he certainly seemed to know of us.

Llerena, Spain
Farid came to stay with my colleague Christopher Mathieson in Bristol, and we entered him for Trinity Theological College where he was given a great deal of help by both staff and students. He obtained an excellent Diploma and during the summer holidays played a leading part in evangelising cities in Spain on our summer teams. Often at Easter there will be 2-3 million people in the streets of Seville, Malaga and Cordoba for 4 days and Farid's absolutely brilliant communication skills played a significant part in tens of thousands of people hearing the Gospel. Eventually he married America, sister in law of the pastor of the Spanish Church in London, and he and "Miss America" as he calls her returned to Bogota, joining the Worldteam church-planting team there. In about 18 months he played a major part in establishing a new church with a membership of over 1,000. He trained many others in the skills of the public ministry of preaching the Gospel and went on to evangelise two cities in Venezuela.

Today Farid is involved in planting a church in Medellin, considered the most dangerous city in the world. His brother Fernando became a Christian on one of our summer campaigns in Spain, and was involved in the ministry to street children in his home city: he was killed on a street corner a few years ago. Farid is in constant danger from the drug barons who see evangelical Christianity as a threat. When he visited us in Bristol not long ago, he told us about a drug gang member who had become a Christian, and was then instructed by his bosses to fly a planeload of drugs to the north. He telephoned Farid in the middle of the night for help: Farid told him "Brother, I can't help you - but I know someone who can - let's pray!".... The plane was subsequently found to be faulty and the flight was unable to take place. Farid can tell of a dozen such instances where God has intervened, and points out that it is very important to share the Gospel with those in power in Colombia, as without change at the top, the society will never be free of such evil. He says we are quick to preach to the poor, but the rich need to hear as well. Farid's story is a continuing saga illustrating the sovereignty of God at work in a person's life. No fellowship ever displayed more than a very tenuous passing interest in him or his work but the solid commitment of people like Jim Reed and Christopher Mathieson gave him the encouragement to continue, no matter what the cost. More importantly, Farid found himself amongst many of the leading role models in the world in the field of evangelism.

Farid's story illustrates vividly how the Holy Spirit works to overrule quite insurmountable difficulties; Farid could have been classed as "unreachable" in terms of the normal restricted area of church ministry, but here he was brought into contact with people who knew just how to communicate with him. Every step of his future life consisted of a series of divine appointments which ultimately brought him to his present highly effective church-planting ministry in his own country.

Merida, Spain
To look back on this series of events, having been involved myself at every stage, I have come to appreciate that no organisational bureaucracy could possibly have achieved what God has done in Farid's life. The way in which seemingly insurmountable barriers were pushed aside has taught me that difficulties we perceive as major problems are not barriers where God is concerned. A remarkable event in Jim Reed's life showed me the extent to which the Holy Spirit is in charge when we listen to him.

An old college associate of Jim's was being married in Lima, Peru. Jim - having arrived at the airport - had to catch a bus to a district the other side of Lima. Getting off the bus, he realised he was in totally the wrong place. Two Indians, sitting on the ground at the bus stop, redirected him. They asked him where he was from, as his Spanish accent was not South American. Jim told them about his life in Madrid as a missionary: the old couple shared their concerns for their son, who was in Madrid with some cult, who wore saffron robes. Apparently the lad had got into the drug culture, his parents had not heard from him for a long time, and they asked Jim to find him. Not wishing to explain to them how impossible a task that would be, Jim gave them a blessing and left.

A few weeks later, back in Madrid, Jim was on a hospital visit and, passing through a ward, saw an Indian lad with a strange haircut, lying in a bed. He went up to the guy, addressed him by his name, and offered to take him home. This was indeed the lost son. Jim picked him up and walked out with a very reluctant young man whom the hospital hadn't quite known what to do with next. Jim and his wife Marilyn nursed him back to health (in the tiny apartment where they lived with their four boys) and often spent nights in prayer dealing with the lad's demon possession. Jose Marie eventually became one of the church leaders in Moratalaz and has now returned to Peru as a missionary.

Jim Reed taught us all so much about missions. When he died at the age of 45 he had been instrumental in establishing 11 churches in the suburbs of Madrid. Always keen to encourage evangelism, he was the first to recognise the value of street preaching as a means of reaching Spain. He trained many others in the necessary skills, and had many wonderful stories of his experiences. He told me that on one occasion in the middle of one of his messages in a town up in the sierras, a wind carried his sketch board 100 metres up into the sky: he said he had no idea his message was so powerful! He set up a factory to produce sketch boards in Spain and sold 150 to his trainees. He loved working with the gypsy churches and visiting the gypsies, many of whom had been re-housed in municipal apartment blocks - often rather against their will. We were both highly amused to see a donkey looking out of an 8th storey window and enjoyed the idea of it travelling up and down in the lift.

Jim Reed was one of the finest role models I have ever met. To work alongside him was always a memorable and joyful learning experience which blessed us all. When you are part of an international team which includes people like Jim, the hindrances to evangelism (which in our perception seem so great) pale into insignificance. It becomes so much easier just to get on with this marvellous work and forget about the problems - most of which aren't half the problems we thought they were, as God pushes open doors in all sorts of areas. Missions and evangelism appear to attract the very finest men and women who give their lives sacrificially, very often working in extremely difficult areas of ministry.

While these wonderful events are taking place, the Church back home in England continues to suffer huge losses on a First World War scale. Part of the reason is surely attributable to large numbers of leaders whose beliefs do not encompass normal Christianity. I was astonished to be told by a Presbyterian minister that Samuel is a mythical figure. He gave the impression to the congregation that much of the Bible is fiction, in his view. A visiting preacher in my own church stated one Christmas that he realised not many people believed in the Christmas story any more and that provided our beliefs were sincerely held, God would be perfectly happy. He also said that as the wise men were astrologers (in fact they were Magi, not astrologers) it was quite acceptable to look at horoscopes for guidance! On Bristol radio twenty years ago, the pastor of a very large and "successful" Baptist church described the doctrine of the Atonement as "a barbarous and thoroughly unpleasant idea".

With turkeys like this in positions of leadership, it is hardly surprising that the Christian Church today very often appears to lack any sense of direction or purpose or even self-belief. Gerald Ratner, describing his firm's popular jewellery products as "trash", destroyed confidence in his nationwide chain of retail outlets within a week. Inexplicably, Bernd Pischetsrieder publicly described the Rover workforce, which his firm BMW had just acquired, as incapable of making quality cars - thus making them almost unsaleable. Poor leadership which totally fails to inspire is the greatest hindrance facing the Church today. Belief in the product - as any businessman will tell you - is fundamental to the success of the Company. Attempts to broaden the appeal of church attendance by changing the Christian message in line with sociologically derived wisdom and removing, say, the call to repentance, reduce the Church to a rather meaningless club. It would be a service to the Christian Church were such people to have the intellectual integrity to remove themselves from office.