Acts: A Model for the Church Today
Mar 27, 2015
The book of Acts was written by Luke after his gospel as the second part of a two-volume work on Jesus Christ and the early Christians. Whereas the Gospel of Luke focuses on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the Acts of the Apostles—more adeptly called “Acts of the Holy Spirit”— builds upon what Jesus did and taught (see Acts 1:1), by recounting the story of the young, emerging Church and the work of the early Apostles as they went forth as witnesses of Christ “unto the uttermost part of the earth” (v. 8).
During Christ’s lifetime, the spreading of the gospel was focused on the house of Israel, and consequently most of the events occurred in Judea and Galilee. In Acts, however, the commission was to minister to scattered Israel and to spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. This expansion was not without its difficulties. Long, dangerous travels, persecutions, issues of Church policy, incorporation of foreigners, and maintaining distant congregations challenged the Apostles as they sought to fulfill their commission to carry the gospel message to the nations.
Many modern Church leaders have stressed that one of our greatest callings in this dispensation is to further the kingdom of God on earth. For this reason, the Church is more of a world organization than ever before in its history. Yet this growth has not come without its own stumbling blocks as well. Besides the continual struggle against the adversary who constantly fight against the ministry of the Church no matter what day or age, many logistical and cultural challenges arise as the Church grows in various parts of the world.
Consequently, in spite of the many centuries that separate us from the early Church of the New Testament, we can relate to the circumstances facing the Apostles in the book of Acts as we confront similar challenges of contemporary Church expansion. The Apostles’ efforts, struggles, and successes provide great lessons and models for believers today as we strive to fulfill the commission to carry the gospel to the entire world. In likening the scriptures unto ourselves, we can examine some episodes from Acts and ask, how did the first Apostles overcome obstacles in the growth of the early Church and how can we incorporate their solutions into similar modern-day dilemmas?
The first adjustment the early Apostles faced was the absence of Jesus. They had spent several years accompanying Jesus during His ministry, but upon His ascension they were left to carry on the work alone. These Apostles were given a commission to be witnesses of Christ “unto the uttermost part of the earth,” and they were promised power through the Holy Ghost in order to help them fulfill their stewardship (1:8). With this endowment of spiritual power, the Apostles truly became the pillars of the growing Church with Peter as the chief pillar.
Today the church has been given more opportunity, resources, and privilege than ever before. We are still responsible for fulfilling the Great Commission and it can be done in the same way as it was done in Acts—through the power of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit is the one who not only aligns himself with us, but also channel’s God’s authority through us.
Replacing Church Leaders Acts 1:15-26
One of the early Apostles’ first actions as the authoritative body of the early Church was to replace the vacancy in the Twelve resulting from Judas’s betrayal and death. Peter stood in the midst of about 120 disciples and encouraged them to choose someone to take the vacant office (see 1:15, 20–22). They decided to select a man who had been a living witness to Christ’s ministry, and so they put forward two names, Joseph Barsabas and Matthias (see v. 23). They then petitioned God, who knows men’s hearts, to show them which of the two He would choose (see v. 24). They cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias, who then joined the eleven Apostles (see v. 26).
The church was never meant to be a democracy, it was, and always should be a theocracy ruled by one… God. The early apostles knew this. They were first off, spirit led. They listened to the Holy Spirit bearing witness to their spirit as to who they should choose. The Spirit of man is the candle of the Lord. From there the apostles let God choose thorough casting lots. Notice they did not poll the people, cast a vote amongst themselves, or conduct interviews! The church should fill vacancies the same way today—through hearing the Holy Spirit and appointing individuals that God chooses.
Gift of Tongues —Acts 2ff
It nearly goes without saying that tongues were central to the early church. The structure and order of the salvation process was laid out clearly over and over during the book Acts. Salvation though confession of Jesus as Lord, Baptism in the name of Jesus, and then immediate infilling of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. The church today certainly has the same prerogative to teach the same flow from salvation to the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
Additional Church Organization—Acts 6:1–8
As the early Church began to expand and include different groups, one particular administrative issue arose that required the attention of the Apostles. Acts 6:1 describes a situation where Grecians were murmuring against Hebrews because their widows and poor were neglected in the daily ministration. The Grecians, usually referred to as Hellenists, were a group of Greek-speaking converts to the Church who were living in Jerusalem as Hellenized Jews. Hellenism was the spread and influence of Greek thought, culture, religion, and language throughout the eastern Mediterranean.
The issue that arose between these two groups was over caring for the poor, specifically the widows among the Hellenist community. The Hellenists felt their widows were being neglected by the Hebrews, so they took their concerns to the Apostles. The Apostles met with the Hellenist community and explained that with the growth of the Church and the need for their missionary service in new areas, they could not adequately care for the widows alone (see 6:2). They decided, therefore, to call seven men from among the Hellenists to take this responsibility so that the Apostles could continue to focus on the “ministry of the word” (v. 4). Thus a new Church leadership position was instituted that helped the Church wide work go forward while also addressing the local needs of members.
The modern Church’s rapid growth in areas throughout the world has created many challenges in administering such a vast area while still nurturing the individual. There are thus many examples of organizational changes that have allowed the Church to expand globally yet continue to assist members on a more local level. One such example personally has been the advent of the internet, and the power of live streaming, this has created additional needs within the Body for discipleship, involvement and follow up. This account in Acts is powerful for me because I am developing and leading the new Internet Campus for Bill Winston Ministries and LWCC in Chicago. I have been given a position that was non-existent 5 years ago: “ePastor,” yet the creation of new positions and the flexibility to implement new structures is based out of Acts 6, 7.
Cultural Diversity —Acts 8:26–39
As the early Church began expanding, it brought together many different cultures, which was both a challenge and a blessing. An interesting account in Acts that highlights the growing diversity of the Church and its converts is the encounter between Philip and an Ethiopian in Acts 8:26–39. While en route fro Jerusalem to Gaza he overheard an Ethiopian man, a prominent official of the Ethiopian queen, reading from a key messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53. The Ethiopian did not understand what he was reading, which provided the opportunity for Philip to explain and preach of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. After some teaching and traveling, they came upon a body of water, where the Ethiopian proclaimed his belief and was baptized. This encounter is interesting because here was an Ethiopian, probably a Jewish convert or God-fearer, since he had gone to Jerusalem to worship and was reading from Isaiah, who was baptized by one of the seven leaders chosen to watch over the Jerusalem Hellenist Christian community.What a potpourri of cultures, languages, and backgrounds! Yet the Spirit brought them together.
Due to the globalization and movement of peoples throughout the world today, the Church has continued to expand among many different cultures, sometimes even among people living away from their homeland where the Church has not been fully organized. This expansion and blurring of borders has created some interesting results along with problems as some congregations, especially in major cities of the world; bring together many different cultures, languages, and backgrounds. Some individuals become pioneers in a very real sense as they take the gospel back to their homelands to introduce Christianity on new soil.
Spreading the Gospel beyond Original Cultural, National, and Racial Groups—Acts 10
Another particular challenge the early Church had was taking the gospel beyond the house of Israel to the Gentiles since so much of their past history and efforts were focused on the “covenant people.” Acts 10 details two intertwined visions involving the conversion of Cornelius, a Roman centurion and most likely a God-fearer, which were key experiences for Peter in widening the expanse of the work towards the Gentiles. The chapter opens by recounting a visionary, angelic experience Cornelius received wherein he was told to summon Peter from nearby Joppa (see 10:3–6). As Cornelius’s men were journeying toward the city, Peter himself received a vision of a large cloth whereon were all types of strange beasts and fowls. In the vision he was commanded to partake of the animals, but he resisted due to their unclean status (see vv. 9–14). After two repetitions of the same command and refusal, the cloth returned to heaven and Peter was left to puzzle over its meaning. At that moment Cornelius’s messengers arrived and enquired after Peter (see vv. 15–17). Peter received a spiritual prompting that they were sent from God, and he, along with some companions, accompanied them back to Cornelius (see v. 23). At Cornelius’s house a small group had gathered desiring that Peter preach to them, which led to an outpouring of the Spirit (see v. 44). The Christian companions that had accompanied Peter, who were of Jewish background,were astonished that the Holy Ghost was also poured out on the Gentiles (see vv. 45–46). Peter pointed out that since the Gentiles had received the witness of the Holy Ghost, what should preclude them from being baptized? At which point Peter commanded that they be baptized in the name of the Lord (see vv. 47–48).
Peter and his companions learned through the vision and through the spiritual preparation of these Gentiles that “God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (34–35). Peter also felt he could no longer call any man common or unclean (see v. 28). Apparently this new attitude towards the Gentiles was resisted by some Jewish Christians, as some contended with Peter when he returned to Jerusalem and they found out about his dealings with the Gentiles (see 11:1–3). It was very difficult for many of the early Christians to envision the gospel including non-Israelites because so much of the covenant focus, and even Jesus’s ministry, had been toward the house of Israel. Now they were being asked to extend the blessings of the gospel beyond lineal boundaries and focus on worthiness and the Spirit instead. But after Peter shared his vision and experience with them, emphasizing the manifestations of the Spirit among them, they were pacified (see vv. 4–18). Yet this issue continued to hang over the early Church as they tried to understand the role of gentile converts vis-a-vis the house of Israel and Mosaic customs.
The book of Acts provides many helpful examples of issues and stumbling blocks the early Apostles overcame as they worked to fulfill their commission to take the gospel to all the world. As they did so, they relied heavily on the Holy Spirit to not only strengthen themselves and make decisions but to manifest conversion in others. Because of the Holy Spirit’s witness, they knew they could take the gospel beyond the house of Israel and include others that had not been part of the ministry before. Modern Apostles today also rely on heavenly direction through the Holy Spirit to know how to lead the Church and how to administer such a rapidly growing and diverse membership in an orderly fashion. In the process, new policies, procedures, and leadership positions have been implemented just as in the early Church. We can better understand some of the challenges facing the Apostles in Acts because of similar issues today, and hopefully we can gain strength and insights from their solutions as we support our Church leaders and fulfill our own roles in carrying the gospel throughout the world to all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples.
Nathaniel Spiers is a minister, business owner, and eternal student of the Word of God. He has been called as a teacher to the Body of Christ around the world. His commission is to prepare the church to be the bride Jesus deserves. He is passionate about seeing Christians become Believers and Males become Men.