Acts; God’s Blueprint for the Christian Church
Key Texts: 1:8
The English title for the this book, “The Acts of the Apostles”, although very ancient is not inspired. While this name is in many respects quite appropriate it is an imperfect representation of the content of Luke’s volume. Throughout the narrative the apostles come and go from the stage of history. Peter is prominent in the first half but by the end we have no clues as to where he continued ministering. John appears at the beginning but then vanishes entirely. The ministry of Paul is dominant in the second half of the narrative but we are left at the end on a “cliffhanger” with the apostle in prison. Most of the apostles hardly get a mention, if at all in this book. The thread that runs through this book is not the ministry of the apostles but the power of the Holy Ghost. We observe the movements of the Spirit of God as he prompts and energises his servants in the establishment of the New Testament Church.
The Importance of Acts
Luke, inspired by the holy Ghost, made an invaluable contribution to the Christian Church, in writing this account for two reasons:
A This is a foundational book in relation to understanding the historical and cultural background of the early church. Our understanding of the epistles are greatly enhanced by our knowledge of the congregations to whom they were written, which Luke furnishes us with. Our knowledge of Paul’s testimony and ministry in particular is a vital component of the history of the early church, which is found alone in Acts, although Paul alludes to this in his letters. In particular the details regarding the change of emphasis in the ministry of the church as the Gospel eventually went to Gentiles first on account of the Jewish rejection of Christ, is most illuminating (13:46-48). In many ways this helps us appreciate the parable of the olive tree and the wild olive tree of Romans 11 and shows us why the Church is primarily a Gentile movement today.
B Acts is also a book of instruction in that it lays down certain principles which are true of the church in all ages. The characteristics and methods of the early church are the model which the church today ought to aspire after.
The Principles of the New Testament Church
1: The Holy Ghost – The Power of the Church
A Revival – In Acts 2 the Holy Ghost was given according to Christ’s teaching in Acts 1:8. Acts 2 is a watershed in the history of the church. For the first time the Holy Ghost was made freely available to all Christians. Prior to this the Spirit moved in certain people at certain times but was not present in all of God’s people all of the time. Acts 2 is also a revival and as such is a pattern for every revival in the history of the church. It is a demonstration of the awesome power of the Holy Ghost when God’s people are energised with “the power from on high”.
B Regeneration – In 2:38 Peter called on the repentant on the Day of Pentecost to “receive the gift of the holy Ghost”. The conviction and transformation which occurred on that day and which took place wherever the apostles preached teaches that true conversion is a work of the Holy Ghost.
C Guidance – Throughout the Acts of the Apostles the church relied heavily on spiritual guidance in the decisions they made as they served God. The first missionaries were chosen as the church was prompted by the Spirit (13:1-3) and Paul was evidently directed into Europe by the progressive guidance of the Holy Ghost (16:6-10). Other passages which illustrate Holy Ghost Guidance (8:29,39,10:19, 11:12, 11:28, 21:11)
D Infilling – It was regarded as a vital qualification for serving God that the believer experienced the fullness of the Spirit (6:3,5, 7:55, 9:17, 11:24).
2: Prayer – The Communion of the Church
From the first prayer meeting in the Upper Room (Acts 2:11-14) the Church was conscious of their need of prayer. When the first signs of persecution emerged (4:23-31) and when Peter was later cast into prison and facing certain death (12:5) the people of God took their recourse to God. It was a primary and key characteristic of the early Christians as was evidenced in Saul of Tarsus after he was converted (9:11).
3: Preaching – The Proclamation of the Church
Wherever the Apostles travelled they preached the message of the Gospel. There are many sermons recorded in the book beginning with Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost (2:14-36). The sermons of Philip, Stephen and especially Paul are given as examples of Apostolic Preaching. In content these sermons quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures, testified to Christ’s perfect life, his atoning death and his remarkable resurrection. These facts are set forth repeatedly teaching us that true New Testament preaching must proclaim Christ. The ministry of the Apostles was unequivocal and uncompromising. Jesus is the only way of salvation (4:12).
4: Baptism – The Testimony of the Church
The sacrament of baptism was practised by the early Church, most notably on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 bore witness to the work of the Spirit upon their hearts. The Ethiopian Enoch (8:36), Saul (9:18), Cornelius (10:48) and the Philippian Jailer (16:33) are examples of believers who bore witness to Christ in the manner.
5: Witnessing – The Evangelism of the Church
Apart from public ministry there is evidence that individual Christians were constantly speaking of Christ and spreading the Gospel in their daily lives. After the first persecution the believers went everywhere preaching the Gospel, or talking about Christ (8:4). The words “scattered abroad” refer to the scattering of seed. God regarded his people as being seeds which he scatters in order that fruit might be produced in the form of precious souls.
6: Persecution – The Opposition to the Church
The Acts of the Apostles is the record of Satan’s work in opposing the Kingdom of Christ. The martyrdom of Stephen (7:54-60) and James (12:2) are recorded as well as the imprisonments of the Apostle Paul, which is where the book concludes.
7: Missions – The Outreach of the Church
Christ’s programme for the Church extended beyond Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and into all corners of the globe (1:8). Philip was the first missionary who carried the Gospel to the Samaritans (8:5). Peter, who later joined Philip, was the first missionary to reach out to the Gentiles in the form of Cornelius and his house (10). It was early missionaries who carried the Gospel to Antioch in Syria (11:19-21). This Church as well being the home congregation of Paul, Barnabas and Silas was the first truly missionary minded congregation in the history of the Church. It was they who made the decision to appoint Paul and Barnabas to the work of missions thus marking the beginning of a new era of evangelism. Paul’s zeal in spreading the Gospel, the places he travelled to and his faithfulness continue to be the greatest inspiration to the missionaries of today.
8: Church Planting – The Organisation of the Church
The early missionaries were keen not only to evangelise but to plant churches. Paul established churches across Asia Minor and Europe. He not only established these congregations but he continued to teach them through his many epistles. In planting Churches Paul always ordained elders in order the churches might be organised and led effectively (14:33, 20:17).
9: Division – The Challenge of the Church
It has always been the case, that divisions threaten the peace and well being of the Church. In this book the Church is taught that resolutions can be found if the problem is considered in a spiritual manner. The division between Jew and Gentile in the ancient world was a constant thorn in the side of God’s Work. When it was perceived that the Greek widows were being disadvantaged Apostles called on the congregation to elect seven godly men to oversee the work (6). When Jewish believers attempted to compel the new Gentile converts to follow the ancient Hebrew customs Paul and Barnabas appealed to the council of Apostles and Elders at Jerusalem (15). Therefore by establishing proper leadership and by following the decisions made the Church was spared schism in its early stages of development.
10: Unity – The Fellowship of the Church
Unity was prized from the inception of the New Testament Church. The first prayer meeting was characterised by men and women who were of one accord (1:14). The first believers sold their possession surrendering their property to the Apostles so that poor brothers and sisters could be cared for (2:44-45). Wherever the Apostles travelled throughout the world they found a kindred and friendly spirit among the people of God, characteristics that we should prize today in the church.
1:1-8:3 The Beginnings and Development of the Church In Jerusalem.
8:4-12:25 The Spreading of the Gospel to Samaria and Among the Gentile Peoples and the Conversion of Saul of Tarsus. .
13:1-28:31 The Missionary Journeys of the Apostle Paul.