Reverend Bryn MacPhail / August 4, 2002
I suspect, that as we continue to make our way through the Book of Acts, what will become manifest is the tremendous courage the members of the early Church possessed. This Spirit-given courage enabled the early Church to proclaim the Gospel in the face of tremendous opposition and great danger.
But what about us? Is there any need for you and I to be courageous in our Christian faith? None of us risk imprisonment, or any kind of physical harm, because of our attendance here today. In what sense then, do we need to be courageous?
For us, preaching Christ, sharing our faith with others, is not dangerous, but it is unpopular. In our postmodern context, in our pluralistic society, the one thing that is intolerable is an exclusive claim to truth. This, of course, poses a challenge for Christians. Because anyone familiar with their Bible knows that it is a Book that is filled with exclusive claims. Subsequently, affirming these exclusive claims about Christ has become unpopular and unwelcome in our society.
The reason why many of us, myself included, struggle at times to share our faith is because we are acutely aware of how unpopular the exclusive claims of the Gospel are. Who then, is going to be able to share the Gospel with others? The Christian Church needs individuals who are marked by audacity. Webster defines audacity as “bold courage”. It is not simply courage we need, but bold courage. And because we do not want to be obnoxious with the truth of the Gospel, it is imperative that we be marked, not simply by audacity but by a godly audacity.
There is no shortage of Christians marked by godly audacity in the Book of Acts, so let us turn to our first example, in chapter 4.
What has transpired is that Peter and John have healed a man who was lame from birth and, as a result, a crowd has gathered around them. And while Peter and John are speaking to the multitude about the Resurrection of Jesus, they are approached by the temple priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees (4:1).
The captain of the temple guard, responsible for preserving public order within the temple, would likely have been commissioned by the priests and Sadducees. These temple authorities would have been greatly alarmed by the nature of the apostles’ teaching, not to mention, threatened by the number of their people who were joining with the apostles. And so we read in verse 3 that, “(the temple authorities) laid hands on (Peter and John), and put them in jail until the next day”.
Now, someone might object at this point, that the audacity of the apostles was foolish because it landed them in jail---and what good could they do in jail? But Luke, probably intentionally, vindicates the apostles audacity by recording for our profit that, as a result of Peter and John’s bold proclamation, “many (of the multitude) believed the message; and the number of the (church) came to be about 5,000” (4:4). We remember from chapter 2 how 3,000 were added to the church in response to Peter’s preaching. And now, just a few weeks later, the church has grown again by about 2,000 people.
Nonetheless, Peter and John are in prison. And the next day they find themselves before the high priest, along with the temple rulers and elders. Their question to Peter and John is, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” (referring to the healing of the lame man).
If ever there was a time for diplomacy, this was it. If ever there was a time to soften their stance, and temper their message, this was it. But what does Peter do? Peter responds with godly audacity. Luke records that Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, says to the rulers, “let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God has raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by the builders, but which became the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” (4:10-12).
In our postmodern context, I suspect that it is Peter’s final statement that our society would deem most distasteful. Our society can tolerate talk about the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus; they may even entertain the possibility that Jesus performed miracles, but what our society greatly objects to is this last sentence, “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”
Can you feel the force of this universal claim in our pluralistic age? "There is salvation in no one else!" ‘Do you really mean no one, Peter? Or are you just speaking in a limited Jewish context?’ No, he says that “there is no other name under heaven (that’s anywhere!) given among men (that’s anyone!) by which we must be saved.”
Pastor and author, John Piper, commenting on this verse says that “this is the kind of truth that either makes converts or makes enemies. It is not a live-and-let-live truth.”
One of my favourite Presbyterian ministers, the late Reverend James Boice, has an excellent commentary on Acts. Commenting on this verse, Boice writes, “If you want to be laughed at, scorned, hated, even persecuted, testify to the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. Say that Jesus is the only Saviour”(Boice, Acts, 78).
I suspect that one of the reasons why Christians are so shy about sharing their faith with others is because we are keenly aware of the world’s distaste for our proclamation that Jesus is Lord of all, and that the Gospel is true. Boice, commenting on this, writes, “the witness of Christian people often fails or is given in an ineffective way . . . we are afraid to proclaim (the Gospel), and the major reason is the world’s intimidation”(Boice, Acts, 75).
As if this wasn’t tragic enough, what is even more tragic is that the proclamation of Jesus as Lord, and the gospel as truth, is unwelcome by some professing members of the Christian Church. As a result, we have ministers of the gospel who are afraid to preach the gospel. We have ministers of the gospel who feel they need to water down Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through Me”(John 14:6).
I confess to you my own nervousness in approaching this subject. Truth is, I need this godly audacity that I am preaching about! I am new here. I don’t know what each of you believe about Christ. I don’t know how comfortable, or uncomfortable, you are about the exclusive claims made by Him.
Part of me wishes that I could stand up this morning and tell you that it does not matter what you believe, because we are all going to heaven anyways. But, if I told you this, I would no longer be preaching the Bible, and I would no longer be fit to be called a minister of the Gospel.
What does the Bible say about salvation? Verse 12, Peter says, “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” Friends, this is what is meant by the Latin phrase, ‘Solus Christus’—salvation by Christ alone.
Now, someone will ask, “Isn’t it grossly arrogant for Christians to claim Jesus is the one and only way to God?” How shall we respond to this? First of all, it is imperative that we articulate that Christianity is not the only religion that claims exclusivity. For example, Muslims radically claim exclusivity—believing that the sole, sufficient, miracle is the Koran. Buddhism is also exclusive given that it began with the rejection of the fundamentals of Hinduism (Ravi Zacharias from Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Faith”, 149).
And, it is not as if the exclusive nature of Christianity is something new. This concept is everywhere in the Old Testament, including the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods besides Me”(Ex. 20:3). So the statement that Christians are arrogant by claiming exclusivity ignores the reality that every other major religion does as well. And only someone who doesn’t understand the world religions would ever claim that they basically teach the same thing.
In this postmodern age, we have been conditioned to believe that the most repulsive thing is a truth that excludes. Yet, truth, by definition, is exclusive. Logically, something can only deemed “true” over and against something that is “false”. Truth always excludes the opposite. If Christianity proclaims “A”, and Buddhism proclaims “non-A”, they both can’t be right.
Friends, we should not be shy about the exclusive claims of Christianity. I would maintain, that the challenge for us is not to abandon these exclusive claims, but to learn how to hold to our exclusive claims in a loving manner.
It is important that we think about tolerance on two levels. On the doctrinal level, we are intolerant—if the Gospel proclaims “A”, doctrinally we cannot tolerate “non-A”. At the same time, on a personal level, tolerance is of paramount importance. Disagreeing with our neighbour’s views does not preclude our loving our neighbour as our self.
This is why we so desperately need Godly Audacity. We need the bold courage to tell our neighbour that “A” and “non-A” are incompatible. But we also need our audacity to be clothed in godliness, we need our audacity to be clothed in love for the one we are disagreeing with.
Friends, the Gospel is the most wonderful news in the world. It is the perfect medicinal compound for the soul. Do not be intimidated by the world and its values. Bring the gospel to your unbelieving neighbour with boldness; go to them in love. Pray that the Holy Spirit would grant you today, Godly Audacity. Amen.