I’ve just had three days of commuting to London for the Evangelical Ministry Assembly at St Helen’s Bishopsgate, organized by the Proclamation Trust, and although I am really tired I’m also really glad I went, reinvigorated, and deeply challenged about ministry.
The theme of the Assembly this year was from Colossians 1:28: ‘Him we proclaim’. John Woodhouse, principal of Moore Theological College, in Sydney, Australia, was the speaker for the last session, and as his talk went on I found myself writing in my notes, “Do I proclaim Christ?”
It is so easy to proclaim something close to Christ, but not quite Christ. I sometimes find myself asking, for example, whether it is helpful to have a course titled ‘Christianity Explored’, when really we want people to ‘explore’ (if that is the word) Christ, not some system that has grown up around him.
Again, it is easy to be a preacher of doctrinal concepts or ethical imperatives that are all well and good, but which have become detached from Christ. Again I ask, am I proclaiming Christ? Do people hear about him, or do they hear about something else, derived from Christ, but not actually Christ?
Having said that, it is very easy to fall into an alternative trap, of thinking that anything said about Jesus is a proclamation of Christ. And here I think we must appreciate the proper relationship between Old Testament, Gospels and Epistles.
The gospels (I venture to say) do not stand alone as proclamations of Christ. Nor do they stand, as it were, above the Old Testament or Acts and the Epistles. Indeed, the conjoining of Luke and Acts should point us in the right direction, for the Christ who is presented in the gospels in Luke is the Christ proclaimed by the Church in Acts.
So to speak of proclaiming Christ does not mean I must simply preach the gospels more — or more than the Old Testament and the Epistles. Rather, at every point, whether in the Old Testament, the Epistles or the Gospels, I must preach Christ in all his fullness.
I was particularly struck by this as we went through the opening passages of Colossians and looked at the astonishing things it says there about Christ: God’s kingdom is his kingdom (1:13), in him lies our redemption, to whit the forgiveness of our sins (1:14). Most amazingly of all, “He is the image of the invisible God” (1:15); the one by whom and for whom everything was created and in whom everything now exists (1:16-17). Moreover, his body is the gathered people of God, reconciled by God to himself, along with all things on earth or in heaven, through the sacrifice of his crucifixion (1:18-20). And so it goes on.
And this is what I should be putting before people constantly, to warn them and to teach them so that they may, in this same Christ, become what they should be. By all means, I must present the one who ‘went around doing good’ (Acts 10:38), and I must impress on people the importance this has for our own actions. But I must point out that this same Jesus is the one in whom lives all the fullness of God, who is not just Lord of all, but the reason for all that exists outside of God himself.
Imagine (I thought to myself) declaring that before John Humphrys when he was ‘in search of God’, or before Richard Dawkins. And how can I proclaim this Christ also to the new widow, or the sceptic down the pub, the confident teenager or the self-made entrepreneur? How much more challenging this is than just answering questions about ‘Who made God?’ or ‘Hasn’t science disproved religion?’ with ‘proofs’ that don’t bring in Christ. It is not that I feel let off giving answers. It is just that the challenge is much bigger than I think I’d got into the habit of presuming.
But since that is what God has called us to, it cannot be anything other than the way to go.
27 June 2008