In 1997, Andrew and Cathie Heard moved from Sydney to the Central Coast of New South Wales, Australia, to plant a church. This week's blast from the past is from an article he wrote in 1999, reflecting on the first two years of their church life. In it, he reminds us that God's word is powerful to change people.
We were studying 2 Corinthians and considering the issue of tolerance. I suggested we ought not tolerate teaching that adds works to grace. Surprisingly, this caused a disagreement. People felt it was too narrow and divisive to suggest adding works to grace destroyed grace. However, we stood by what we understood the Bible to be teaching—it is either grace alone, or no grace at all (2 Cor 12; Gal 1).
A woman called Wendy later told us that hearing this was like a bomb going off in her head. This was the first time she had ever heard you are saved by what God does for you, not your own works. She told us later it put her in such a spin she doesn't know how she drove home that night! Three months later I sat in her dining room and led her husband to Christ. They now host a Bible Study group in their home. God has done great things!
In all this, let me assure you, we have done nothing remarkable. We have performed no great tricks to bring it all about. We have been doing what many churches do every week. We proclaim Jesus from the Scriptures, we urge people to live in light of that word, and we pray. God has given the growth. In our circumstances it has been dramatic growth.
It has led me to ask a number of times—why here, why now? There are probably a number of reasons, but one stands out.
There are good churches on the Central Coast. They are working hard. But there are very, very few where people can go and be taught the Bible. Many places have the Bible, but it is just one ministry option among many. There's the Bible, but there's also worship, counselling, spiritual experiences, and so forth. The Bible has somehow been shifted from centre stage. Biblical ministry is sometimes considered ‘too limiting’, too bookish and not engaging enough.
As a result, what we do is remarkable. People come to church and remark on what is happening. They say they have never heard a Bible passage explained before. They say they have never heard the great Reformation statements (faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone) taught and applied. After a sermon on Philippians 2, someone remarked they had not heard a sermon on Jesus for eight months. I said it was unfortunate they weren't able to get to a church in all that time. They said they'd been going to a church the whole time!
We have done nothing special or unusual, except the remarkable activity of ministering the word of God.
The effect on my own faith has been enormous. I am more fully committed to preaching the word as the centre pin, the foundation, and the heartbeat of church ministry. It cannot simply be one ministry among many. It must be the ministry on which all else is built and fuelled. There is no better testimony to the foolishness of being distracted from Bible ministry than the hunger of people who have lost it and long for it.