Saturday, January 21, 2017

What would the early church father's think?

After recently presenting a talk on the Gospel of Luke a speaker at a local suburban church fielded a question: “What would Luke think of the cessationists?”.   It was an interesting question.  The questioner was attempting to understand a current thought pattern in terms of Luke’s understanding.  The question was asked specifically with divine healing in mind.  The question pre-supposed that Luke - filled with knowledge of all the divine healings that occur through Christ’s ministry and through the Acts of the Apostles - would anticipate that the current church would continue to observe divine healings. 
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The speaker appeared cautious in his response.  His caution possibly came from the contextual setting.   He was an invited Baptist speaker in an Anglican Diocese of Sydney church.  The cautious reply was simply that ‘Luke would probably lift an eyelid’.
I reflected on the question again on reading They Speak with Other Tongues’ by John L. Sherrill.  I did not think of the question itself but instead its practice of asking what a church father would think.  Sherrill does the same.  Sherrill’s book is a study of the Pentecostal movement in the United States in the early 1960s.  Sherrill comes to his study from a mainstream Protestant perspective.  He asks what Paul and Peter and Barnabas would think of the staid, fully programmed church service formats that are in use today.  He ponders how such services make any room for the Spirit.

“It struck me as a curious contrast with the sobersides pulpits of today that the first Christian sermon should begin with a stout denial by the preacher that he and his friends were drunk.  Why, he said, it’s only nine in the morning, how could anyone be drunk?”
Quote from page 122, ‘They Speak with Other Tongues”, John L. Sherrill
Such questions of what Luke would think; or what Paul, Barnabas or Peter would think, are perhaps of limited use.  The church changes.  The church fits to its day.  The Word does not change but the church does.  It is perhaps a luxury to contemplate what a church forefather would think of church practice in the developed West.  A forefather placed into the church today would probably have more wholesome immediate foci.  For instance, they would surely rejoice first at the church in its suppressed form in countries where Christians meet in underground settings.  Luke or Peter or Barnabas or Paul would perhaps rejoice more to see the hope that a North Korean obtains on hearing the gospel in his humble, cold neighbour’s basement than to debate the finer points of cessationism.
Note: all links good as at 21 January 2017
Note: Sherrill's book was found at a book exchange at Coffs Central Shopping Centre in Coffs Harbour.  In amongst the many popular novelists was a single Christian gem.

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