From the Manse June 2014

From the Manse

"Peter and the Other Apostles replied - 'we must obey God, rather than men.'" Acts 5:29

Following the events of that first Easter the Jewish religious authorities gave strict instructions to the Apostles that they were to desist from their teaching about Jesus. The words from Acts 5:29 above was their reply to this instruction. It was a response which would increase the persecution they were experiencing, indeed a short time afterwards, Stephen, a man full of faith in Jesus, was stoned to death following an impassioned faith filled speech he made to that ruling authority.

The 'New Room' in Bristol is the oldest Methodist building in the world. It was one of John Wesley's early 'headquarters' and one of the places form which his ministry began to impact in the masses. During the recent outing 30 of us from Sutton Park Circuit' made to the 'New Room.' It was interesting to note that there were no ground floor windows in the building. While this was a way for the early Methodists to save money because of the window tax that was in place at the time it also quite probably had their safety in mind. Wesley and early Methodism, like the early Christians, frequently faced persecution from angry and violent mobs because of their faith in Jesus. Yet despite this persecution we know that in both instances the numbers of Christians increased markedly.

Chinese Pastor Samuel Lamb summarised his life and ministry in this way: "more persecution, more growth". Lamb was imprisoned in 1958 for refusing to register his house church with the government. Sentence to 20 years hard labour, he spent two decades working in the coal mines. He used the time to teach Christianity to other inmates in the camp. When he was released he returned to leading his house church, continuing to refuse government registration. The church is still unregistered and the attendance is 4000 people per week.

Christian leaders in China say persecutions have helped fuel the growth of the church. In 1949 there were 1 million believers in China: today the estimate is 70 million.

We British Christians do no normally face the same kind of persecution as that encountered by the Apostles, the early Methodists and the more recent Christians in China. Nevertheless we are being challenged by a widening environment of aggressive and dismissive secularism. I noticed a not so subtle example of this in a recent TV drama: A group of Christians were on a London Street at dawn on Easter Sunday, declaring "Alleluia Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!" A neighbour in his pyjamas called for them to be quiet saying, "Stop waking people up with your silly and meaningless words!"

As we enter the season of Pentecost I pray that the same Spirit that empowered the Apostles, The early Methodists and the current burgeoning numbers of Chinese Christians will empower us to boldly proclaim and grow the faith of Christ. For, it is indeed God, not man we obey.

With Every Blessing

John