Applying Acts (Part 1)

It is fairly obvious that the main method of evangelism in the first century was oral.  Paul and other missionaries proclaimed the Gospel to people who “hear the word of God.”  Since travel was limited in the ancient world, the missionary had to travel to places where the most people will hear the message.  It is doubtful if Paul’s mission would have done very well at all if he had stayed in Antioch and taught people who came to hear his message.  Since he was called to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, he needed to travel to large cities where he could find public venues for his proclamation of the Gospel.

As Schnabel points out, this need for maximum exposure means the market place, where people were accustom to hearing various speeches (Paul the Missionary, 37).  Traveling orators frequently turned up in the agora, gathered a crowd and made philosophical speeches.  For example, Dio Chrysostom describes the Cynics as hanging around public places and publicly mocking other philosophers:

…still these Cynics, posting themselves at street-corners, in alley-ways, and at temple-gates, pass round the hata and play upon the credulity of lads and sailors and crowds of that sort, stringing together rough jokes and much tittle-tattle and that low badinage that smacks of the market-place. Accordingly they achieve no good at all, but rather the worst possible harm, for they accustom thoughtless people to deride philosophers in general, just as one might accustom lads to scorn their teachers, and, when they ought to knock the insolence out of their hearers, these Cynics merely increase it. (Orations, 32.9)

When describing orators in Tarsus, Dio Chrysostom says:

Accordingly men come forward to address you who are both empty-headed and notoriety-hunters to boot, and it is with mouth agape for the clamour of the crowd, and not at all from sound judgement or understanding, that they speak, but just as if walking in the dark they are always swept along according to the clapping and the shouting. (Orations, 34.32)

For Paul, this may have been a problem since he consciously separates himself from the orators. Because of the nature of his mission he must go to the market place and speak to crowds when possible, but he does not want to be confused with the others working these crowds.  In 1 Thess 2:3-8 he makes it clear that he does not use elements of rhetoric (flattery, etc), but rather the Gospel is successful because of the power of the Holy Spirit.  Because he proclaims the gospel Paul runs the risk of appearing as an orator, but he works very hard not to be confused with them.

But Paul did not go everywhere – there is no record of his preaching in a pagan temple.  He seems to avoid them altogether in his mission.  In Lystra, he may have been in the temple precincts since the priests of Zeus try to make a sacrifice to him (Acts 14), and in Athens he preaches on Mars Hill near the altar to the Unknown God.  Neither case went the way Paul would have liked.  If Paul had gone into a temple or temple court, how might the have addressed any crowd which might have gathered?

Here is the problem for the application of Paul’s mission to present mission efforts: How do we to people “where they are at” while making it clear that we are not “where they are at”?  Are there lines which cannot be crossed if the Gospel is to be genuinely given?

3 thoughts on “Applying Acts (Part 1)

  1. Missionary principle #2: when in Rome evaluate the Greco-Roman Stock Exchange (GRSE). Decide which stock options will increase your profile and which ones will hinder growth.

    Pagan temples were notorious for having prostitutes, and likely drug paraphilia and even possibly some ancient rock and roll (sex & drugs & rock & roll anyone?). Not only are all these things against Paul’s morality (minus rock and roll, because I enjoy it, and we know how much we enjoy reflecting our character on those of others) but also preaching in these forums would alienate his audience from receiving his message. Also, maybe the accusation of hypocrisy?

  2. Paul did say he was in stocks and bonds, so I guess your first comment applies.

    The second is the issue – eating at the Temple was hard to separate from worship at the temple, so Paul (likely) avoided it. But is attended a Rock Festival for the purpose of doing some sort of ministry (free water bottles, etc.) the same sort of thing? Or, can a Christian put together a serious, quality rock band and play at a Festival which is not specifically “Christian”?

    I think this goes back to the point of the original post – Paul probably would not do those things, but does that make the illegitimate forms of mission?

  3. I go back to the principle of evaluating the stock exchange. In this way, if something diminishes your testimony and the effectiveness (as well as your credibility) of your ministry, would not participating in something then hinder the Gospel and not stimulate it? Which is at the crust of my “When in Rome” principle #2 (using these principles to demonstrate how Paul’s example shows the principle and not the law of missions).

    We are supposed “ambassadors of Christ” why then would we indulge in something that would harm and potentially destroy our missionary efforts? Thus, Paul most likely avoided the temple as an appropriate forum because doing so would completely go against his own ministry.

    As far as Rock bands are concerned, I think this principle can be applied to this as well. If your ministry is to reach the drug induced then why would a “Christian” atmosphere be appropriate for you ministry? I see this whole concept in terms of the articulated mission of the specific minister and the appropriateness of the actions/forum/message to the appropriate audience. Why go to a temple where the only thing you’ll meet there is protest and a moral dilemma as to why you are even there to begin with? Instead you go to where the people frequent: stock options! Go to where the people are most likely to be receptive of you, if you choose wrong it could hinder growth.

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