I Believe Acts is More Than A History Book…
…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.