Applying Acts (Part 2)

One of the most important issues we need to sort out at the beginning of a study on Acts is how we ought to apply the book to the present church.  Some Christians will argue that the book of Acts ought to be normative for Christian life and practice.  For example, since the early church lived simply and held all things in common, we ought to live simply and care for the needs of others just like they did in Acts 2 and 3.  Claiborne popularized this idea (and he lives it out as well), although the sense that the poverty of Jesus and the earliest forms of Christianity ought to be applied today has been a common thread throughout church history.  The Twelve Marks of a New Monasticism is an example of people who are trying to live out a lifestyle modeled on the church as it appears in the book of Acts.  I have a great deal of respect for this kind of ministry and think that these sorts of projects are healthy for the Church in general.

On the other hand, the majority of the church (historic and modern) has dispensed with the book of Acts as a model for doing ministry.  It is far easier to do what works in our community than carefully examining Scripture and attempting to synthesize Paul’s methods and draw some analogy to present situations. I suspect that Shane Claiborne is less interested in Pauline mission than using Jesus for a model.  He can correct me on this, but The Irresistible Revolution is an excellent attempt to live out the life and thinking of Jesus, not apply Paul’s missionary strategy.  In fact, there is little in the book that can be described as “Pauline” and pretty much ignores the book of Acts after the first few chapters as a missional model.

My guess is that Paul would not have created a commune-like community in Corinth or Ephesus.  In fact, I take great comfort in the fact that Paul founded a school (a Bible College, I assume) in Ephesus and functioned as a scholar-teacher in the Greco-Roman world.

But I also think that he was not at odds with Jesus on how to live out the Christian life.  Jesus did not do “mission” in the sense defined by Schnabel, even though he modeled a lifestyle that can be described as “missional.”  As Schnabel says “whenever we move from Scripture to our own time, seeking to let Scripture shape the life of the church, we face the dichotomy of a historical past and a contemporary future” (Paul the Missionary, 37-8).   The question is less about “can we re-create the church of Acts 2” and more about “should we re-create that church”?  But is it legitimate to desire to recreate the church in Ephesus or Corinth?

9 thoughts on “Applying Acts (Part 2)

  1. Someone has said, ‘acts is a bridge from the gospels to the epistles and you don’t build houses on bridges.’ The word transition might come into play here. Certainly, you would need the epistles written during acts to contribute to anything that might be gleaned from acts to build/recreate a
    modern missional program and the epistles written after acts would also flavor and influence a program. Acts alone is not enough.

  2. I believe that we should try to recreate the church in Acts. I believe that some of the reasons that churches may not have wanted to recreate the Acts church because they knew that they might not have been able to and didn’t want to fail trying. Our churches now and days are far from simple. We have jumbotrons and big screen TVs just so the singers can look to see the words of the songs they are singing… I think it would be good for us to get back to the Acts type of church and get more into God.

  3. I agree with Kyle…sort of. I think the American church is a disaster (shameful even). People are fallen and no church can be perfect, but having attended dozens of churches, I can’t believe that God is happy with the way church goes down in modern America. I think it would be nearly impossible to re-create the church of Acts 2, but not impossible to re-create the heart of the original church. I see a massive gap separating what I read in the Bible and what I have experienced throughout my life in the church. We may not be able to re-create ancient cultural behaviors, but we should at least be able to apply the scriptures to the church in a way that displays a clear relationship between God’s word and his community of followers.

  4. I agree with kyle and Cappon in the sense that many of the larger churches are so focused on getting people in the doors and getting the tithes to come in to keep the doors open, that they are forgetting about the the church of Acts 2. Every church has their foundation, and some churches are starting to make strides to challenge their attenders at deeper levels, but they are failing to follow up and hold them accountable. as Cappon said before and i can’t help but wonder sometimes if God is happy with the way church is done in modern America. Are we to busy trying to bring in the money so we can have the latest and greatest technology? Maybe we should focus more on the phrase “less is more”…

  5. I like what’s being said here about changing up the model of the American church. There definitely is an issue with how the church functions and is often put together. I agree that the Acts church is a great model that the church should look into, but I also see it as a little bit of a “fad.” Because of the work of those like Shane Claiborne, this type of ministry has become the newest, most popular, “most effective” way to do church. While I agree that the Acts church is incredibly important in our history, I don’t know if we should emulate it completely. I like what has been said that the mission of Jesus, or as Joe said, “to re-create the heart of the original church.” That should become the focus of American churches. Instead of trying to figure out which method is best, focus on the heart of God, and the heart of the church. Different models work better for different people, in different settings and locations. Just because a specific model worked at one time, in one area, doesn’t mean it will, or has to anywhere else. It can be learned from, applied principles, and maybe used again, but it isn’t what defines the ministry of the church. It’s the heart that does.

    • Personally I feel that the question of should we re-create the church or Acts is just what us as christians need. Though the way that Shane Claiborne does is more attractive to non-believers, we need to change the heart of non-believers, not attract them just for the good music or social aspect. I do that we need to go back to the traditional Acts church that Luke talks about. Over time, history and facts get twisted and changed. Just like rumors around a school, statments only get half heard or mis-interpreted. This is how I feel could have happened to the Acts church. It was twisted and changed over the years to be more appealing to the modern day person. To learn about the truth, a church needs great music or bright lights, and a great social group to attract someone.

      We need to go back to the real message. It might not attract some many people, but that is like putting God in a box and saying that He can’t move and change people. I would really like to see how many non-believers accepted Christ when the chruch was created compared to today. There is much more sin in the world today than there was back then. “But you will recieve power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem….” Acts 1:8. We need to go back to our traditional ways and let God work.

  6. It makes me sad to hear your comments about Churches. I hope you are not speaking about your current church. If so I have found a church that has a passion for Christ and a mission it won’t compromise. You are all welcome to come. I have no doubts that there are churches out there where God’s spirit has departed.

    I believe it has came from our selfishness. We have totally forgotten how to love our neighbor as ourself and most do not know how to love God more than themselves. On top of that the church allowed the government to take over its role as the helper of widowers and the poor. Jesus and Paul would both be ashamed of some modern churches and how they treat people who don’t “look the part”. There mission had nothing to do with what you have or what you look like, but everything to do with your heart.

  7. There is defintely some good stuff being said here. The Church in Acts provides a great example of what a church should look like. I would question whether or not we should use this model completely as the basis for our church today. I think the purpose, as Joe states, is to re-create the love of God. SO often churches in our culture loose sight of what our first love really is and as a result, place their focus on other things such as programs etc.. As a church, we need to take after the example of the Apostle Paul of serventhood.

  8. I agree with those who are saying that there needs to be change within the church, but I also agree with VanAssen when he says that there are good churches out there: churches that have passion for missions, promote reading Scripture, preach the Scripture, and build one another up in love. I just think that the church, in general, in the US has slacked in the past few years. I feel like the church, again in general, could use a revival.
    This all goes to say that I do not think the Church today needs to follow the Acts 2 model. For one thing, Acts 2 happened in the dispensation of Law still which would be like saying we should also make sacrifices. For another thing, I think that we should be “in the world but not of it.” Yes, it is good to be close with the members of your church and meet a few times a week, but I think it is important to not be hermits. We need to spread the Gospel not hide it away in our own private communities. That being said, there is a line between being in the world and being of it. I am not supporting going to bars to evangelize or something. There is a difference between being a recluse and living in a way that does not glorify God.

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