‘Then (the Sanhedrin) called (Peter and John) in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes, to listen to you, or to him? You be the judge. As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen or heard” (Acts 4:18-19).
I hear a lot of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ when it comes to evangelism these days, and I’ve issued my own fair share of them. They are only marginally effective. Traditional church members in the pews of Anglican churches seem as reluctant as ever to talk about their faith with their non-Christian friends. I sometimes think these folks would breathe a sigh of relief if someone in authority told them not to speak about Jesus (as the Sanhedrin told Peter and John); it would give them an ironclad excuse to keep their mouths shut, which is what they’ve wanted to do all the time!
Here’s a couple of alternative approaches we preachers might try.
First, instead of preaching sermons telling people to spread the gospel, perhaps we could try presenting the gospel ourselves in our sermons, in many and various ways, with such compelling power that the people in our pews are thrilled and entranced and captivated with the good news of the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, and find that they can’t help sharing it with others. Perhaps we could make a point of asking ourselves how often our sermons present the incredible good news of God’s love and make it clear that we don’t have to do anything to deserve it, because Jesus died for sinners and so we all qualify? Maybe we could be intentional about regularly preaching sermons that don’t ask the hearers to do anything other than dare to believe the good news that there is nothing they can do to make God love them more, and nothing they can do to make God love them less, because God already loves them infinitely, and nothing is ever going to change that fact?
Second, maybe we could do all we can to help the people in our pews step into the experience of the love of God themselves. Peter and John couldn’t help speaking about what they had seen and heard. What had they seen and heard? Well, they were witnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; they had seen his healing power, heard his life-changing teaching, stood and watched as he poured out his life on the cross (in John’s case), stood in the empty tomb, and then met the risen Lord for themselves. We modern Christians can’t share their experience of watching and listening to Jesus in the flesh, but the power of the Holy Spirit is just as real for us; people (including ourselves) are still delivered by the power of God from things they couldn’t deliver themselves from; God is still changing lives today. Maybe in the mainline church we spend too much time talking about what Jesus did, and not enough time talking about what Jesus does, and encouraging people to put their faith in him and experience his work in their lives. When they do that, maybe they too, like John and Peter, will be unable to stop speaking about what they have seen and heard and experienced for themselves.