Where The Gates of Hell Will Not Prevail
Robert Wurtz II
And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
Although many millions of people have come to true conversion over the last century, the churches mission in advancing towards “book of Acts evangelistic practices” has been a complete write-off. We lost much ground that had been gained from the Reformation up to 1900. The stage was set for the losses in the 19th century and came to fruition in the 20th. The high-speed evangelistic crusade—sinners prayer—invitational system methods were taken under tents to influence hundreds of thousands; then onto the radio to reach millions; then onto the television to influence hundreds of millions. Today if a person asks “what must I do to be saved” they are very likely to get for an answer “Just say the sinner’s prayer.” In fact, people are now being told that if they will “say this prayer” they will be saved from hell no matter how they live afterwards, as though the prayer were an eternal sacrament. These individuals say the prayer—but as is often the case, they have no intention of repenting of their sins much less submitting to water baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit.
Is there any wonder the churches are loaded with people that have no appetite for God? Is there any wonder that these same individuals need to be entertained with a mixture of Christianity and worldliness? In the absence of genuine Regeneration there can be nothing more than carnality. If we truly want to change the church; if we truly want to change America. If we truly want to change the world, we have got to get back to changing our evangelistic methods back to what Peter and Paul did in the book of Acts. There is no other way. To think differently is to fool ourselves and continue in this downward spiral.
A Proper Reference Point
The word “reference” is derived from the Middle English word referren, which is derived from the Middle French référer, which is derived from the Latin word referre. It means “to carry back” and is formed from the prefix re- and ferre, “to bear”. A large number of words derive from this root, including refer, referee, referent, referendum, etc. and they all retain the basic meaning of the original Latin as “a point, place or source of origin” in terms of which something of comparable nature can be defined. Our reference point for evangelism is not the Old Testament, nor is it the Gospels; it is the post-Pentecost portion of the Book of Acts. The objective in evangelism is to bring a person fully into the New Covenant. Paul explained in the book of Romans and in the epistles what that entails, but for our purposes we don’t need to know all the details, we only need to understand what the Apostles did in order to see individuals brought under the New Covenant. Some have used the language “full initiation” into the New Covenant to describe fulfilling all of the requisites to complete the process.
The Gospels are written too early to give us a picture of how the process works because they only contain the elements of repentance, faith, baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit in germ—they do not describe how they were carried out. Also, John’s baptism of repentance was limited in scope and was not effectual once Christ appeared. We see this in Acts 19 where the people had received John’s baptism, but needed to be re-baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Although there was the change of covenant from Old to New, John the Baptist’s baptism model still serves well as a pattern in terms of repentance and confession of sins. Also, the Holy Spirit was “with” the Disciples during the narrative of the Gospels, but was “in” the Disciples after Pentecost. Unlike the unbelieving Jews that Jesus came to that “received Him not,” the Disciples did receive Christ giving them the authority to later become the sons of God by receiving the Holy Spirit.
The epistles and the book of Revelation are written too late give insight as to the “how” of full initiation into the New Covenant. The epistles are typically written to the saints, meaning that it was assumed that the intended audience was already in the New Covenant. This is an important thing to consider when reading the epistles–they are not evangelistic writings. Even the book of Romans were written to people that were called to be saints with a faith spoken of throughout the whole world. It was written to explain the Gospel—not teach evangelism. One may proof-text a Roman’s road from the book, but this is not the pattern for evangelism that Peter, John and Paul used. Moreover, although it is not an evangelistic writing, the book of Hebrews describes a process that the readers were assumed to have gone through as a “foundational” reality:
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1, 2 NKJV)
You will notice all four elements we have been describing: 1. Repentance from dead works. 2. Faith towards God. 3. The doctrine of baptisms. 4. The laying on of hands. Added to this list are two more important subjects that are also mentioned as having been preached in the book of Acts during evangelistic endeavors: 5. The resurrection of the dead. 6. Eternal judgment. We have an example of this with Paul at Athens in Acts 17:29-32: Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” (NKJV emphasis added)
Notice that Paul teaches in this narrative exactly why people are to repent: God is going to raise from the dead every human being that has ever lived all the way to Adam to stand before Him in judgment. The fact that Jesus came back from the grave is proof positive that we someday will likewise be raised. He will judge the world by the one that lived and died in this world. He will judge by the one that was tested in all points like as we, yet without sin. He will judge by the one that is touched by the feeling of our weaknesses. If anyone in the universe has a right reference point from which to judge the world it is Jesus Christ. He is both God and man and knows the limitation of men. Paul preached this as a warning to the hearers—alerting them that He is no longer overlooking their ignorance, but He is commanding all men everywhere to repent. The message was apparently rejected at Athens because we have no record of Paul establishing a church there. This was Paul’s approach to evangelism. It is a million miles from Bill Bright’s, “God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.” Nay verily, “God judges the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready.” (Psalm 7:11, 12) Although it is true that God loved the world enough to send Christ to die for sins, to use this reality as a means of converting rebellious sinners is not only unbiblical, it is an exercise in futility that will invite the swine to trod God’s love underfoot and turn again and tear the messenger to pieces. They may not do it literally with their hands, but they will surely do it in their hearts or with their mouths. Knowing these things it seems completely unreasonable to suggest that any aspiring evangelist should ever be coached by a “crackerjack car salesman” (as Bill Bright used to help counsel his staff) or asked to read books on making a sales pitch or How To Win Friends and Influence People. The first word of the Gospel is repent and that message, especially when proclaimed to heads of state, has been time tested to loosen ones head from their body. Can you imagine John the Baptist being an advisor to Harry Truman, Richard Nixon or any of our Presidents?
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. (Mark 5:13 NKJV)
Objections to the Book of Acts
True sola scriptura does not afford us the luxury of dismissing the book of Acts, as so many often do, as simply a narrative genre not meant to teach doctrine. Is that not a strange concept to begin with? Almost the entire Old Testament is narrative history. The means by which God has chosen to teach His people is salvation history. The Bible is not a compendium of all knowledge: it is a God’s eye view of events meant to tell a story the German’s theologians termed heilsgeschichte. Events are recorded for our learning and instruction. The book of Acts is no different. The didactic nature of the epistles must not disqualify the narrative of Acts given the fact that the epistles often utilize narrative from the Old Testament to build theological conclusions and teach doctrine.
John the Baptist in Lukan Theology
Luke was not only a historian, he was a formidable theologian with a biblical understanding of New Covenant soteriology. Luke’s Gospel as well as the book of Acts were purposefully written with theology embedded in their patterned literary structure. His treatment and detail concerning John the Baptist comes front and center as continuity is maintained from the introduction of John the Baptist (through his birth narrative) in Luke 1:13-17 to Paul’s insistence in Acts 26:20 that he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. Luke’s writings are not only bookended with general references to John the Baptist’s ministry and message, but direct references to him can be found in Acts 1:5, 22; 10:37: 11:16; 13:24,25; 18:25. Moreover, the material on John the Baptist in Luke’s Gospel is far more extensive and placed more prominently than in any of the other Gospels (Luke 1:5-25, 57-80; 3:1-20; 7:18-35). This indicates that John the Baptist’s message of repentance should be carefully understood and made front and center in our thinking as we travel through the book of Acts in search of evangelist patterns.
Peter’s Post Pentecost Directions to Sinners
Peter’s directions to sinners in Acts 2:38 contains John the Baptist’s word of repentance as the first word of the Gospel, “Repent!” as well as the first reference to Christian baptism, and the promise of the Holy Spirit–all of which are programmatic to evangelism:
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
I have chosen to cover directions to sinners early in this chapter because there are many ways a person can be brought into a state in which they are anxious for their soul and wish to know, “What must I do to be saved?” Peter gives in Acts 2:38 the basic theology behind initiation into the New Covenant and the Kingdom of God. It cannot be improved upon. The terms employed call to remembrance in these Jews minds a battery of concepts and historical events stored up in 2000 years of history. Most recently they were given a fresh look at repentance and baptism through John the Baptists ministry. What did they see? In both Matthew and Mark’s account of the events we have these details:
Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:5 NKJV see also Matthew 3:6).
Notice a frequently overlooked aspect of repentance and water baptism; confession of sins (plural). They were confessing their sins to God publicly while in the water. It is not known whether or not others standing by could hear these confessions (perhaps John could). An old rule of thumb is that repentance should always extend as far as the knowledge and extent of the sin. If it is between you and God: confess it to God alone. If others are privy to it confess it before them. If the whole of society knows about it—confess the sins before the whole of society. Our word “confess” means to acknowledge or admit to it. This is where a great many people stumble and cannot go forward in the New Covenant. We know from 1 John 1:9 and other Old Testament narratives (such as the matter of David and Bathsheeba) that God is ready to forgive when we confess and forsake our sins. If that certain sin in your life is God—serve it: but if not confess it and forsake it forever. How do we know king David repented? Because he never committed the sin again. If we will repent and be baptized in water then by implication we are moving in faith: we are receiving the word.
Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. (Acts 2:41 NKJV)
Trembling at the Word of God
Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences. (2 Cor. 5:11)
Apart from simply obeying the heavenly commandment received on the road to Demascus, Paul gives an additional impetus for persuading men to repent: Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men. In the 21st century such a statement sounds almost barbaric. Two hundred years of rationalism and humanism has made such notions obsolete. Yet the concept is not new to Paul. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but fools despise wisdom and correction. Paul preached in the fear of the Lord and sought to instill the fear of the Lord in the hearers of his messages. He understood the importance of having an utterly reverent and obedient attitude towards God. He is not to be trifled with. In fact, it is a similar concept to Stephen’s prerequisite for receiving the Holy Spirit. In Acts chapter 7 He states:
Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will you build me? says the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Has not my hand made all these things? You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you. (Acts 7:49-51)
I want to carefully make an important connection here in order to show a subtle emphasis in Lukan theology and Paul’s theology. Stephen’s statement is in reference to Isaiah 66:1,2a where God speaks, “Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?” For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD. You will notice from the text in Acts 7:49-51 that Stephen quotes all of the verse except the very last part. Acts 6:12 tells us that it was the elders and the scribes that he was speaking to. This is important because the scribes were expected to know thousands of verses of Old Testament scripture from memory. They were the copyists of the Torah scrolls, so they would have known the rest of the verse that Stephen leaves out. When his mouth stopped speaking they heard the rest of the verse in their minds… but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word. Stephen then adds his own inspired commentary… You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you.
The story behind Isaiah 66 begins with an awesome display of God’s majesty in Isaiah 6. This well known event came about as God’s answer to Uzziah’s, Isaiah’s king and friend’s untimely death. It was Uzziah that went brazenly into the Temple to make an offering and was withstood by the priests. Leprosy appeared on his head and he died that way. The lesson was that Uzziah, though he was a king, was to operate within the boundaries of God’s holy Word. Kings were not to function as priests—only Jesus Christ the King/Priest could do that. Uzziah did not “tremble at God’s word” and died for his error. The same God that we find in Isaiah 6 wants to live in man in Isaiah 66. That is a staggering thing to consider. But in order for that to happen the person must be broken, contrite and must tremble at God’s word. In other words, God’s word has to reign absolutely supreme. It cannot be treated like drivers often treat traffic laws. Uzziah learned this the hard way. Our first step back to regaining our Christian identity and heritage is to forsake the spirit of Uzziah and receive the word of Isaiah.