The Book of Acts has always held a special fascination for me.
Apart from being the only book of its kind in the New Testament (a theological history of the expansion of the early Christian church), its narratives are as powerful as they are colorful.
Who can forget the giving of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the mass conversions and the first church sharing all of their possessions, Ananias and Safira’s dreadful fate, Simon the magician, Paul’s dramatic conversion, Cornelius and the tense (nay historic) debates of the Jerusalem Council, Paul in Athens and before Festus, King Agrippa and his Jewish countrymen in Rome?
This is the stuff of heroes and courage and sacrifice and the relentless movement of a transformative message from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
Idealism or Forgotten Identity?
But beyond the dramatic, the Book of Acts is also fascinating for what it stirs up within us as we live in our modern day church context. Many individual Christians as well as churches yearn for the type of transformed lives and dynamic church experiences exemplified in the Book of Acts.
…A church where no one was in need, where tongues of fire brought ecstatic utterances and divine power for ministry, where all were of one heart and mind, where neither Jew nor Gentile mattered but rather Christ resurrected, where people felt worthy of being persecuted for Christ’s name, where all demonic forces were subject to Christ’s authority and the lame were healed on command, a church where the Holy Spirit reigned supreme and whose effect was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Teaching the Book of Acts
This term I have been privileged to teach the Book of Acts and along with my students have had the thrill of reassessing the message of Acts for our time. At the same time we have all felt that pull of idealism and inspiration toward a more dynamic church experience.
This is not to imply that there is a shortage of “the Spirit” in Colombian churches. Goodness no, the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are growing like gangbusters here with many exhibiting signs, wonders and ecstatic utterances not unlike in Acts.
It is in the other areas where the challenges and the “idealism” of Acts is most pressing: its call for a greater social justice, for a real unity within the church and with other churches in the city, its focus on missions and on breaking down racial, cultural, religious and ethnic barriers.
Finally, the need for a mature theology of the Spirit is great, whether in the baptism or the filling of the Spirit, in the nature of tongues and on the repeatability of these events. It is in these areas where we have had the most discussion and disagreement.
Acts is a beautiful part of the New Testament giving us some of the most dramatic narratives in the Bible and laying out a picture of the triumph of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire.
At the same times it calls us to re-examine our lives and church practices and to yearn for more unity, more mission, more power indeed more of the Holy Spirit working in and through us to accomplish God’s purposes for this world.