This article was found in the November 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Notes from an address by the Rev. Ronald M. Ward, B.D.
The book of the Acts of the Apostles, as its name implies, is chiefly concerned with the work of the early Christian leaders - men called and chosen by God and endowed with special insight into the meaning of the Gospel. Without them there could have been no Christian Church. They are as essential to it as the prophets were to Israel.
But Christianity did not spread rapidly across the world only through the preaching of the Apostles. There must have been thousands of laymen too, their names now lost, who carried the message everywhere. The success of the Gospel in its encounter with pagan society was as much due to this hidden and unrecorded work as to anything.
The message which the anonymous lay Christians took with them was probably a very simple one, lacking in theological subtlety. Perhaps it could be summed up in the three words, "Jesus is Lord". And yet it was this message which had the power to turn the world upside down.
For the Jew, oppressed with a legalism he could not fulfil, hedged about with regulations and dominated by an ecclesiastical authority, the message brought a sense of joyous freedom. In the name of One who had declared Himself Lord even of the Sabbath the converted Jew dropped a religion which had become a burden for him to carry and in exchange found a faith which carried him.
Men who lived in terror of evil spirits found in the message One who was stronger than they. Millions who had been taught that the stars in their courses determined life, and who therefore felt themselves to be helpless victims of fate, learned that Jesus is Lord of the heavens no less than of the earth. The cold state of religion of the Roman Empire, which could satisfy no human heart, was undermined, because Jesus had claimed lordship over every earthly power, and taught that a man's conscience did not belong to Caesar. And the sad dignity of the Stoic was transformed into the courage of the martyr, willing to give his life not as a lonely illustration of virtue in the face of adversity, but as a triumphant vindication of the truth that Jesus is indeed the Lord.
Our situation to-day is very different from that in which the early Church found itself. Behind us are centuries of Christianity, and this constitutes both an advantage and a disadvantage. Many feel that Christianity has been weighed in the balance and found wanting, and this makes our task doubly hard. But there are points of similarity between our world and that ancient world into which Christianity came. Like the men of those times we are conscious of an increasing pessimism. Like them we are conscious, too, of a prevailing moral and spiritual decay. And like them we feel as though something massive and inhuman were weighing upon us - in their case the Roman Empire, in ours the growing power of modern industrial states which it seems no man can direct or control.
Our world knows no Imperial cult, but it knows nationalist self idolatry. It does not know physical slavery, at least in the West, but it knows desperate poverty and economic slavery. The Roman arena has gone, but much of modern life is equally vicious and unhappy.
The need today is for the same message - "Jesus is Lord". And the method for releasing the transforming power which that message contains must be the same too. It is not enough to leave the propagation of the faith to parsons and professional religious teachers. For one thing there are not enough of them. For another their work only touches a tiny fringe of life. What is needed is for every Christian to shoulder part of the responsibility for evangelism which is laid upon the whole Church. Not all are called to preach sermons. But all may do something to influence others with the truth that Jesus is Lord.
This should be felt with special force by Congregationalists at the present time. For we have now been called to enter the next phase of the Forward Movement, and this means that every Congregational Church is invited to undertake an evangelistic Mission during the coming year.
Such a task should not be entered upon lightly. It involves much more than a series of meetings conducted by special speakers. What is required is that the Church as a Church should earnestly seek to win others for the Christian faith, and every member should ask himself how best he can take a share in this.
If you are in sympathy with these aims, will you make a point of attending Church meetings during the next few months, especially if you are one who seldom comes? We need some sign that the Church has been touched in its heart by the need for evangelism. A sudden and substantial increase in attendance at Church meetings would be one way of giving a silent witness that this is so, and would be an encouragement to us all.
Nothing can be done now, however, without personal preparation and dedication, and each member is soon to be asked to subscribe to the following covenant, which will be published with our new Constitution. Let us use it as a starting point for a missionary enterprise.
"The members of Romford Congregational Church desire to live in absolute dependence upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and own in Him their only Lord, Saviour, and Mediator. Praying for strength to stand by the covenant into which Almighty God has graciously entered with the whole Church of Christ, they solemnly bind themselves to strive to love and serve Him with all their hearts, and to walk in unbroken Christian fellowship with one another."