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?