We possess the gospel – Good News! Each of us has a personal responsibility to spread the gospel – it is “beautiful… feet” that take forth the gospel of peace; and nothing will ever be rewarded as much as personal effort (Rom 10:15).

The purpose of the lectures, seminars and interested friends’ class

The focus of this article is on our collective witness through seminars and public lectures where we explain this good news in a simple and impelling way. If it is good news then it should sound like it – interesting information for seekers of truth, pleasurable to hear, and invigorating – not boring, complex and pretentious! It is not just our goal to list Bible facts; our goal is to “make disciples of all nations”. As an audience we participate in seminars and lectures to share the good news of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As an audience we are interested and encouraging.

Whatever the venue, the audience, the time of day, the basic message is the same and God will bless the increase. The topic of every public witness in the book of Acts is identical – Christ is risen from the dead so that all can rise with him. Paul says that he delivered this teaching “as of first importance” (1 Cor 15:3 nasb), that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose. Everywhere he went from Antioch to Athens he taught this one consistent message – the dead will rise because Christ rose. Peter and Paul even used the same stock quotes – Psalm 16 and Psalm 110. Perhaps this message could have more focus today in our public witness. We are the only denomination in the world, which I know of, that believe that Jesus as a person really died, and the same Jesus re-emerged from the tomb on the third day and is now bodily on the right hand of God. Are we still teaching this as the doctrine of “first importance”?

Advertising

No advertising was needed at the first public lecture – they were all present (Acts 2:14), and at the second they all ran to Peter and John (Acts 3:11). Later on it was primarily word of mouth which enticed people to hear the gospel (Acts 13:44). Paul always started from the synagogue where fellow believers in the Hope of Israel might be found, a situation without obvious parallels in the 21st century. In Athens, Paul went into the market (Acts 17:17, Gk agora) to tell people of his message. In a similar way we have gone into the market place. For many decades, since the times of the pioneers, the brotherhood has used handbills or letterbox deliveries of printed material to bring our preaching to public attention. Newspaper advertisements have been used successfully since the days of Brother Roberts. However, today’s agora or market place appears to be in many forms of the media and to be heard we have gone into this market – radio, television and internet advertising. We carefully weigh these up against Biblical models. We must be conscious that different audiences have different needs and the message may be presented in different ways – just as the four gospels were focused at four different audiences. Jesus truly understood his audience and people responded because he was not just teaching facts about the Kingdom of heaven but genuinely cared for their needs. However artificial attempts at “community engagement” may be hard to reconcile with Scriptural methods.

Means of public witness

There are many ways of teaching people the gospel. The most prominent is the public lecture. This is modelled on the days of the apostles – “the speeches of Acts”. The records of these addresses of Peter and Paul are précis of expositions intended to provoke the hearers to acknowledge the only name given by which they might be saved – the name of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead (Psa 16:8–11) and ascended to God’s right hand (Psa 110:1). Peter spoke to thousands at a time and Paul probably addressed hundreds. In later times Brother John Thomas spoke in the City Hall, Glasgow, Scotland to an audience of approximately 5,000 people for four nights. Such a size for a single audience has probably not happened often since Jesus sat and taught on the shores of Galilee. Robert Roberts was a gifted public lecturer who at the young age of 22, with the help of his wife Jane, organised a series of talks in Huddersfield. A permanent record of these fine addresses is to be found in the book Christendom Astray. In 1866 Brother Roberts gave talks in Birmingham Town Hall, a practice that is still happening in 2008 – but not to 2,000 people!

A second way of teaching has been discussion classes or seminars in smaller public rooms, an approach practised from apostolic times. Paul’s daily addresses in the school of Tyrannus in Ephesus are legendary. These were not one way monologues, for Paul “disputed” with them (Acts 19:9). Paul obviously encouraged interaction in a way that we might find challenging. Some of our seminars have become just lectures by another name. Are we really willing to engage our audience and have genuine interaction as Paul did? Another distinctive thing was that Paul spoke there for probably up to five hours a day, day in day out for the two years! Effective preaching is consistent, in the same place, with the same message. Interaction with the audience should not be something to be cautious of. Having given a series of lectures, Brother Roberts would invite the audience to a tea meeting for “an open conference for the asking of questions and the statement of difficulties in connection with the views advocated in the thirteen lectures that will have been delivered” (The Christadelphian, 1885).

A third approach is one-on-one and in small family groups. Perhaps the best example is Peter’s words to Cornelius and his house (Acts 10). Having completed hours of solid public discussions in the school of Tyrannus, Paul went from house to house educating the people of Ephesus to the risen Christ (Acts 20:20). Today this one-on-one teaching can happen via email or by telephone as well as face to face.

A fourth approach is to use the mass media. We are well aware of the reach of weekly Bible radio programs and the conversions that have come from TV programs. Although some might feel less comfortable with these media they are certainly part of the modern agora and a place where we can talk with people given an observed reduction in community and an increased focus on the home.

The role of the audience

We are now used to having larger audiences attending seminars, even though a number turn out to be the “pathway” or “stony ground”. Yet even when we speak to few we should not be discouraged – there is a useful audience at most seminars and lectures. Just think about the audience:

  • First timers who have responded to an invitation or curious people who have walked in off the street just today. First impressions are important and we want them to go away believing that they have found the opening to the well where there is water that can satisfy.
  • Friends who have been coming to seminars for a while and are ready to make the transition to Sunday evening lectures. In the seminar they were helped to find the Bible passage and taken through at a relatively slow pace. When they come to our hall we need to be careful that we don’t confuse them with too much material.
  • Young people who are unbaptised. There can be anything between 1 and 40 in the audience in this position. Surprisingly we find that when we instruct them for baptism many of these have not absorbed a lot from lectures. Perhaps the lectures have not been focused on clear gospel teaching or the speakers have taken no stock of the composition of the audience. Our speakers should include this very special audience.
    All brothers and sisters, who can always do with a re-invigoration of our belief in fundamentals of the Good News.
    The audience can be a great help or discouragement to the speaker. It is very distracting when the audience is obviously not paying attention, doing their readings or writing letters. On the other hand it is the speaker’s goal to keep everyone’s attention so that nobody wants to wander off.

It is also not very welcoming when at the end of the lecture we rush into small groups to chat without so much as a smile or acknowledgement of the visitor who should be our first priority.

The role of the speaker

Good Bible teaching requires at least three things:

  1. Knowing the subject – the greatest Teacher had the most expansive knowledge of the subject and could answer any question. Brethren ought not to put themselves forward as teachers unless they have done the hard work of study, reflection and memorisation.
  2. Being convinced – “I believe and therefore have I spoken” (2 Cor 4:13). This is not only the motivation to want to speak, but someone who really believes comes across with authenticity and authority. Our conviction and passion will convey as much as our words.
  3. Being aware of the audience. Jesus was moved with compassion and spoke to their needs. Surely we must notice as speakers that our audience is lost or bored or, more encouraging, when they are clearly fully attentive.

If we are going to convince people of a particular Scriptural idea then we do need a well structured and logical approach. The young Robert Roberts provides excellent examples preserved in Christendom Astray. In apostolic times we notice a variety of approaches. Paul’s speech in the synagogue of Antioch recorded in Acts 13 used a chronological approach – moving progressively forward from God’s blessings to Israel in the past to the promises of the King to David to the eventual fulfilment in Christ. Peter’s speech in Acts 2 focuses on key verses such as Psalm 16 and Psalm 110 to build up an irrefutable case proving the identity and work of Jesus.

The way to convince our audience is to turn up the Bible; rhetoric alone will not do. Brother Thomas frequently used the words of Isaiah 8:20: “To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word it is because they have no light in them.” Conviction will grow if we encourage interested people to read the Word for themselves, with a Berean willingness to search and test.

So-called presentation aids such as PowerPoint have become the bane of the modern address, a solution to insomnia in after lunch talks. Yet PowerPoint may have a useful role if we think carefully of what we are doing. The greatest Teacher used visual aids in his teaching all of the time. Jesus pointed out the sower and spoke of the soils. At times he was asking his hearers to use their imagination to understand the analogy he was using – sweeping the house, seeking for lost sheep, pruning the grape vine. This is the best way to teach – using analogies which can be visualised. There is no doubt that visual material in the form of maps and newspaper ‘cuttings’ can be valuable to support a talk on prophecy, but we must never forget they are aids to understanding Bible truth and not an end in themselves.

Lights in the world

Each of us knows that Christ wants us to be lights in the world, the salt of the earth. Our collective preaching is an extension of our personal witness. The Christadelphian community has been known from the days of Brother Thomas for its desire to tell others of the Good News. This is not surprising, as we follow a tradition from the days of the apostles to convince those who are willing to hear. But empty halls on Sunday evenings are a sad reflection on our lack of commitment in the last days. Let us invigorate our public witness. Let our preachers be convinced and convincing. Let all of us be active supporters of gospel witness in all our ecclesias, not conspicuous by our absence. Our goal is to witness to God’s work, so that more might be drawn to Christ before the finality of Gentile times arrives.