I Believe Acts is More Than A History Book…

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…I believe its an instruction manual.

There’s a big swath of Christianity that would disagree with me. Acts is history, they say. It’s meant to describe the earliest days of the church. It’s meant to link Jesus to the work that was carried on first by Peter, then by Paul, they’d argue. In some circles the book of Acts is just an inspired record, having more in common with the book of 1 Chronicles or Judges than something containing instructions to be learned from.

I have a few problems with that line of reasoning…

First, Luke clearly sees the book of Acts as a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. Go ahead and read Acts 1:1-2. Week in and week out the same people who teach that Acts is just inspired history will teach the book of Luke without issue. Granted, Jesus was perfect, the apostles weren’t. I get it. While not perfect, Luke clearly paints the apostles as changed men when the Holy Spirit has come upon them. They are the continuation of the work that Jesus started. The Bible is also fairly good at pointing out in historical narratives good examples to follow or bad examples to avoid. Acts clearly paints the apostles as an example to follow.

Secondly, I believe Paul when he says that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.” No one arguing that Acts is divinely recorded history would argue that it isn’t Scripture. Many will argue that Acts is Scripture in one breath and argue that we shouldn’t draw conclusions from it in the next. If Acts is Scripture (it is), then Acts is both inspired and useful for teaching and correction.

Lastly, Paul argued in several places throughout the New Testament that we are to follow him as he followed Christ (see 1 Corinthians 11:1, for example). For the first century believers, Paul lived a life for believers to see and pattern themselves after. For us, post-Paul’s death, Acts is one of the only places we can actually see his life lived out as an example to follow. We need to make better use of it.

Why is this such a big deal?

The book of Acts is crazy. It tells a story of a people who had their lives turned upside down by the resurrection of Jesus and then were radically filled with the Holy Spirit. These people started as a small group of people hiding and went on to become a missionary force that would convert the Roman Empire. Acts should convict us about what is possible when God is central and convict us about the places in our hearts where He’s not.

Not only that, but there are truths about the nature of the church that are designed to show us how the church should operate. Acts is a record of a missionary church planting movement that multiplied at incredible speed with minimal complexity. While we want to balance the truths found there with the truths found elsewhere in Scripture, we’d be foolish to ignore the tremendous story of the expansion of the church just because it was presented to us as a historical record and not as a systematic teaching.

We have to learn from the book of Acts. We have to sit at the feet of the apostles as they are presented to us and learn how to follow the risen Christ by the Spirit like they did. We cannot keep believing Acts isn’t for us. It’s for us and our children and people in the far future (Acts 2:39). If we believe that we can learn from Acts, we will begin to live like the apostles and early church did then, following Jesus by the Spirit.

If we can believe it is an instruction manual and not history, we can begin to enter into the lifestyle of apostolic Christianity and not just relegate it to the past.

Photo Credit: William Henry Margetson by Waiting for the Word

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About traviskolder

Travis Kolder is a follower of Jesus, a husband, a father of five, an organic church planter, and a writer. He lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he serves as part of the Cedar Rapids House Church Network.

6 responses to “I Believe Acts is More Than A History Book…”

  1. gunnarlarmstrong says :

    I have known a lot of people who will tell you Acts is not “normative” (authoritative for teaching) because it is just history. But then, if there is a point in Acts that supports something they hold to, they point to it as if, somehow it just became “normative”, at least on the point that they agreed with. You say it is an instruction manual but you also note that we need to balance the truths there with the rest of Scripture. I look at it this way, which may just be a different way to say what you are saying. It is not just history – it is the divine account of how God worked through men to establish his church, just as Judges and Chronicles are the divine account of how God established his people in the O.T. I read the Gospels and the Epistles to help me understand what God’s heart is for the church, and then Acts shows me how God walks that teaching out in flesh and blood. I read in the Gospels how Jesus walked out discipleship and that we are called to make disciples. And I see an example of God doing that in the early church in Jerusalem right after Pentecost. And I view that example as clearly something that is to govern us because the actions of the early church are demonstrating what Jesus had in mind. But, I also see James, in my opinion, building a big church, and glorying in its size and acting as if he had some sort of last word, and since that, in my opinion, doesn’t line up with the teachings of Christ and the Epistles, I take that as instruction from the Lord in regards to how a church is not to be run. So, I don’t think we are to follow Acts as instructions how to run a church, but rather as real life examples of what to do and what not to do. And we need the rest of Scripture to tell us which are which.

  2. Marshall says :

    good point. Travis, how has the book of Acts of the Apostles taught and impacted you? Do you now live by the early examples found in Acts? Do you [also] know of other brothers who have?

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Why We Prefer the Book of Acts as History | Pursuing Glory - September 11, 2017
  2. Pursuing Glory - September 15, 2017

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