Why this difference between the Early Church and the Church of Jesus Christ today? Someone will answer, “Because there is so much opposition today.” Ah, but there was opposition in those days: most bitter, most determined, most relentless opposition, opposition in comparison with which that which you and I meet today is but child’s play. But the Early Church went right on beating down all opposition, surmounting every obstacle, conquering every foe, always victorious, right on without a setback from Jerusalem to Rome, in the face of the most firmly entrenched and most mighty heathenism and unbelief. I repeat the question – “Why was it?” If you will turn to the chapters from which I have already quoted, you will get your answer.
Turn, for example, to the first chapter from which I quoted, Acts 2, and read the 42nd verse: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.” That is the picture,very brief but very suggestive, of the Early Church. It was a praying church. It was a church in which they prayed not merely occasionally, but in which they all “continued steadfastly … in the prayers”. They all prayed, not a select few, but the whole membership of the church; and all prayed continuously with steadfast determination. “They gave themselves to prayer,” as the same Greek word is translated in Acts 6:4. Now turn to the last chapter from which I quoted, the sixth chapter, verse 4, and you will get the rest of your answer. “We all give ourselves continually to prayer.” That is the picture of the Apostolic ministry, it was a praying ministry, and a ministry that “gave themselves continually to prayer,” or, to translate that Greek word as it is translated in the former passage (Acts 2:42), “They continued steadfastly in prayer.” A praying church and a praying ministry! Ah, such a church and such a ministry can achieve anything that ought to be achieved. It will go steadily on beating down all opposition, surmounting every obstacle, conquering every foe, just as much today as it did in the days of the Apostles.
There is nothing else in which the church of today, and the ministry of today, or, to be more explicit, in which you and I, have departed more notably and more lamentably from apostolic precedent than this matter of prayer. We do not live in a praying age. A very considerable proportion of the membership of our evangelical churches today do not believe even theoretically in prayer, that is, they do not believe in prayer as bringing anything to pass that would not have come to pass even if they had not prayed. They believe in prayer as having a beneficial “reflex influence,” that is, as benefiting the person who prays, a sort of lifting yourself up by your spiritual boot-straps, but as for prayer bringing anything to pass that would not have come to pass if we had not prayed, they do not believe in it and many of them frankly say so, and even some of our “modern ministers” say so.
And with that part of our church membership that does believe in prayer theoretically – and, thank God, I believe it is still the vast majority in our evangelical churches – even they do not make the use of this mighty instrument that God has put into our hands that one would naturally expect. As I said, we do not live in a praying age. We live in an age of hustle and bustle, of man’s efforts and man’s determination, of man’s confidence in himself and in his own power to achieve things, an age of human organization, and human machinery, and human push, and human scheming, and human achievement, which in the things of God means o real achievement at all! I think it would be perfectly safe to say that the Church of Christ was never in all its history so fully and so skillfully and so thoroughly and so perfectly organized as it is today. Our machinery is wonderful, it is just perfect, but, alas, it is machinery without power, and when things do not go right, instead of going to the real source of our failure, our neglect to depend on God and to look to God for power, we glance around to see if there is not some new organization we can get up, some new wheel that we can add to our machinery. We have altogether too many wheels already. What we need is not so much some new organization, some new wheel, but “the Spirit of the living God.
(continued with # 3)