Dear Praying, Helping Friends:
Clara and I just returned from visiting two of our supporting churches in southern Virginia, Calvary Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Hampton and Covenant Heritage Reformed Church (CREC) in Newport News. The Lord gave us a blessed weekend with old and new friends. Our common bond, after our bond in Christ, is our commitment to and love of our Lord’s work in Central & Eastern Europe. We came home tired (it rained all the way and traffic was very heavy), but we rejoiced greatly in the privilege of being with those who are very special to us. In both places, I emphasized that we are “coming down the stretch” in our work to have the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central & Eastern Europe self-supporting and self-governing by the end of 2014. People sometimes say: “Who is your successor?” And the answer is – our 16 church planting pastors. They are the successors. And they have been in training a long time, first as students at our school, then as church planting evangelists and pastors. Yes, we have many programs, but in the end it’s all about building Christ’s church in the Hungarian lands, the RPCCEE.
So we are now “coming down the stretch.” Pray Clara and I will have the stamina we need at 80 years of age to do what needs to be done in the next three years. Pray for our 16 men and their 22 congregations in Hungary, Romania and Ukraine. And pray for this great tool that God has given us for this stretch run – the Book of Romans. As I have said before, our church has gone through various phases. First, a period when our students were excommunicated from the Hungarian Reformed Church for preaching the gospel (God used this to help us organize). Then a period when we were everywhere maligned by this HRC as “the dangerous Miskolc sect” (God used this to get word out everywhere that we were the new kid on the block. Some of our congregations started as a result of this “excellent” publicity). Then, in the last few years, we found the general public no longer viewed us as dangerous, but began to respect us. That was nice. But then we saw we were spending more and more time with these new admirers, only to find them less interested in hearing the gospel. More work building relationships with them and less effect. It was in this milieu that the Lord heard your prayers to show us this new Romans course. The first step was to understand that our church membership course needed a bridge course – something more powerful than our friendship with sinners could bring about. The second step was to think in terms of some place in the Bible that could be a combined primer on evangelism and discipleship. This led me to the Book of Romans which I began to see as a powerful book on both themes. So, starting last fall, I worked out an outline for Romans 1-8 + Romans 12:1, 2 that would meet this need. The old name for this tool was the gospel, the “dunamis/dynamite” of God. What was new was the way we presented it to people– a course without a teacher on what the Bible teaches about man’s greatest need. Not meant to be a catchy title, but a profoundly biblical idea of having people read and study the Word on their own where our men would not be teachers, but tutors helping people with their questions about what they have already read.
The crazy thing is that most of the people who once did not want to talk to our men about spiritual things now wanted to read what the Bible itself had to say. Why didn’t we think of this earlier? This has turned out to be an amazing tool – the old gospel, starting with the bad news of God’s righteous wrath on sin and His condemnation of all according to His righteous justice (Chapters 1, 2) – then the glorious work of our Lord and Savior (Chapter 3), how to receive that glorious offer (Chapter 4) and the first fruits of receiving it (Chapter 5). This gospel is really showing itself to be powerful. We were killing ourselves to give this gospel to people – and with much less effect. Then we tried this, and it has been awesome. Each of our 16 men has an average of 10 people (160 total) in this program, and each week, 6 – 10 of them (110 total) have our men in their homes, asking questions about what they read and anxious to understand it (we help them mainly with the key idea of each chapter – what they really need to know).
At the end of chapter 5, the course takes a distinct turn from Basic Evangelism to Basic Discipleship (Chapters 6-8). I knew this when I designed the course, but did not know exactly what our men needed to look for at the end of each chapter as a condition to go to the next one. I knew that in the early chapters, people would need a clear understanding of the key idea. But starting with Chapter 3 and especially Chapter 4, Paul starts talking about faith. Now faith means so many different things to people, and these notions complicate what should be a simple idea. But faith is simply a conviction that what God has said is true and the willingness to act on it. Still, act on what? Well, the offer of the gospel. And here is where so many are amazed –amazed that the offer appears to be free. But if true and if free, what should be done to receive it? Here is where Jesus’ reference to the brazen serpent in the OT has been so helpful. Faith is not a work or even an effort; but it is a response. What could those Israelites who were bitten by the serpents do? Nothing. They were dying and could not help themselves. Yet Moses gave them some-thing to do – not a work or effort, but a response – look to the brazen serpent and live. Some did that and lived. Others, in their anger toward God, refused to listen to God’s servant, Moses (whom they hated), or look to that brazen serpent on the pole, the symbol of God’s judgment on them. They all died.
This, then, was the key for our men to know what to look for before going on the Chapter 6, the chapter that speaks of our union with Christ. Look for faith, simple faith, faith as a mustard seed. But how could we know if the people, somewhere in Chapters 4 or 5, had taken this step? The answer is Romans 10:8-10. It’s called “confession.” In these three verses, Paul seems to make two conditions for receiving the gospel. Actually it’s one condition, the condition of faith, where the second one, confession, is an extension of that same faith. For no one can receive the free offer of the gospel without coming to Christ, and no one come to Christ without coming to Him as Lord. So the condition for our men to go on to Chapter 6 is faith, simple faith –made known to them by a willing, uncoerced confession of that act of faith!
Another interesting aspect of this program is that, of 160 people who have started, no one has quit. This gospel is something they had never heard, and now they want to know more, for it seems to answer their deepest need. Many of them thought they knew what was in the Bible, but we are now hearing people say, “I didn’t know this was in the Bible.” Or “I thought I was a Christian, but now, according to this, I am not.” Others are on “cloud nine,” just rejoicing in the good news their souls have long craved to hear. And some are finding some serious sin exposed in the process. But no one has quit! This matter of no longer being a “slave to sin” but a servant of righteousness is also glorious. And the Holy Spirit? Who is He? You mean He lives within the believer to help him overcome the world, the flesh and the devil? Some of our men, finding that some of their students do not understand the key ideas or may not have exercised true faith at Chapters 4, 5, are wondering what to do. The Lord has helped us in this, too. If they don’t want to quit, we won’t. We’ll just keep going back for more review until they the light enters or they become tired and want to quit. But no one has quit yet! And this includes those who have been told, we can’t go to Chapters 6-8 yet – since it is for believers. Thanks be to God for the Book of Romans!
Let me close by saying that the gospel is the greatest tool of the church, yet we still need the Spirit of God to bless His Word and breathe upon the minds of these sinners and give them life. So pray for Clara and me, our 16 men, our church, and all these people in this new program. And for the 18 camps we have this summer in Hungary, Ukraine and Romania (see the Supplement). And the financial needs of our work. The Lord has been good to us. At the same time, we keep losing donors due to death, illness or job loss. So we need new people to take their place. We also need $125,000/year to meet the 50% of our 16 pastors’ needs which their congregations do not yet provide. Finally, we have two more payments to meet in the next 3 months (totaling $35,430) to finish major renovations at our seminary and center in Miskolc, Hun-gary. We are counting on your prayers and sacrificial giving.
Yours in His faithfulness,
Bob and Clara Rapp