I have been reading the book of Acts with a friend of mine. We’ve had a lot of fun discussing it too! Especially enjoyed trying to figure out what Peter and Cornelius must have talked about for “a few days” after Cornelius’ conversion.
As I read the book that shares the stories of the development of the first century church, I noticed some areas we need to grow in as the twenty-first century church – 2 thousand years later.
PRAYER — Go to the Renovare website (use my links list) and read Richard Foster’s Pastoral letter from May 2007. We need to pray. And it’s not that we need to pray “more often” so much as it is we need to pray without ceasing. The early church spent time in prayer, pouring out their hearts for the church, the lost, the hurting, the poor, the imprisoned, the widowed, and so much more. There is this pervasive / over-arching theme of prayer in the book of Acts. As many “wonders and mircaculous signs” as there are in the narrative, there is that much more prayer. Two passages come to my mind that show the vigor, relentlessness, boldness, and ceaselessness of the first century church’s prayer life – Acts 4:23-31 & Acts 7:59-60
SERVICE — The early church did not exist to preserve itself. They left that up to God. Instead, it existed to preserve those God was seeking to make holy (or as we so bluntly put it today – the lost). They sought out ways to serve those in need. They created service teams of righteous men to feed widows. They divided their possessions among themselves and gave freely to those who were in need. They considered their talents as rightfully Gods talents and gave them to him on the altar of service. They found their identity in Christ, and not what they were doing. And this freed them to serve in any capacity at any time and in any way necessary to advance the cause of Christ. Of course Acts 2:42-47 comes to mind.
PERSECUTION — Perhaps the most stark contrast between the first century church and the twenty-first century church (at least in my mind) is the attitude toward persecution. I see the apostles rejoicing for having been flogged. I see people fleeing peacefully to other regions to avoid conflict that might hinder their cause. The only time I see disciples arguing or debating is when they are told not to speak about Christ. Even then, their response isn’t to fight for freedom! They give no thought to the desire for freedom of speech. They simply say “Judge for yourself whether we should obey you or God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” I have been concerned about the American Church for some time now, and our preoccupation with freedom. We want freedom for Christians and unfreedom for pagans. Wouldn’t we better spend our time just speaking about Christ as did the apostles? I have also been concerned about what we call persecution in America and how we deal with it. First of all, people making homosexual marriage legal is not persecution! And secondly, even if it were persecution, we would be handling it wrong – for Christ commanded us to rejoice in the face of persecution, as did the apostles in Acts 5:41. “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” Furthermore, we see no bitterness toward those doing the persecuting in Acts. Take Stephen for example, who imitated Christ in his own death, saying these words while being stoned to death. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And did this prayer have an affect? YES! Just ask Saul.
We have much to learn from the churches in Acts – much, much more than I have shared here. I have been greatly convicted and blessed by my re-reading of Acts and suggest you tap into the power soon!