Recently I’ve been writing about the book of Acts and Christianity’s tendency to treat it like a history book and not a roadmap. A brother stopped by and asked a great question: How has the book of Acts informed how you live your life? It’s a really important question because we can spend so much time talking about the book but not really living out what it’s instructing us. On Friday, I wrote about how Acts convinced me that God’s power is for today and how Acts has helped me understand apostolic passion. Today I want to take a look at a couple more ways Acts has helped me and our house churches.
Acts Informs My Evangelism- It’s hard to read the book of Acts without understanding the primary goal of the church was to carry the Gospel to every man, woman, and child they could. Jesus starts the book by commanding the apostles to take the gospel to Jerusalem, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the Earth after they’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes, the apostles take the Gospel first to Jerusalem (Acts 1-7), then to Samaria (Acts 8), and then begin the process of taking the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. Once the Holy Spirit indwelt the church, moving the Gospel from one place to the next became the priority of Peter, James, Stephen, Phillip, Barnabas, Paul, Silas, Timothy, and many others. They were intentional. They were committed. They were unapologetic about the message of Jesus and His claims, even to the point of being threatened with death and killed.
While I am not the world’s leading expert on evangelism, I can tell you that Acts has informed the way I approach evangelism and the way in which I train others to approach it. We are following a resurrected Jesus that has been given all authority over Heaven and Earth and has commanded us to go and make disciples. The degree to which the apostles were willing to lay down their life for the Gospel speaks to the critical nature of it reaching people. We’re not apologizing for bringing our message or trying to hide the fact we want people to know about Jesus. We follow the examples of the apostles who were lovingly forward about the Gospel because they believed it changed men and women now and saved them for eternity.
Acts Informs My Church Planting- Ever since a faithful friend of mine in college challenged me to build a church planting strategy out of the book of Acts I’ve been mining my strategy (at least in part) from this book. Almost every single page is full of churches getting started and then being supported by the apostles. Peter preaches the Gospel in Acts 2 and a thriving church is born. Phillip shares the Gospel with Samaritans and a new church is born. Every city Paul walks into almost inevitably has a church started because lost people have come to Christ. While there are definitely other parts of Scripture that tell us what the church should look like (Ephesians, 1 Timothy and Titus spring to mind) Acts shows us how the apostles planted and watered the churches in real life, not just in theory.
Because of the book of Acts, our practice here in our house churches has been to see church planting happening in the context of men and women turning to Christ. This is the reason church planting is needed–churches are birthed where people are born again. Any other type of church planting is just moving existing Christians from one meeting to a new one. We don’t plant churches for new believers to come to. We lead people to Jesus and start churches when they do. When new churches are started, we follow the methods of discipleship and church formation we find in the book: We teach them to devote themselves to the Gospel, to fellowship together, to eat together, and to pray. We don’t always set up elders immediately for every church, but we do believe shared eldership is necessary. We try to maintain a healthy balance between serving the body and proclaiming the Gospel. Though we’re not great at it yet, we have a high value for continuing to move and plant new churches, believing that the harvest is plentiful and we need more laborers. If the moving the Gospel is the priority of the church, how we start churches should be impacted by that priority.
These are just a few of the ways Acts has impacted how we live out our lives on mission. I could write for days about how Acts has informed what we do. But what about you? How has Acts impacted how you do what you do?
Recently I’ve been writing about the book of Acts and Christianity’s tendency to treat it like a history book and not a roadmap. A brother stopped by and asked a great question: How has the book of Acts informed how you live your life? It’s a really important question because we can spend so much time talking about the book but not really living out what it’s instructing us. So in no particular order, here are some ways the book of Acts has informed my life and practice.
Miracles Didn’t End with Jesus or the Apostles- This is an easy one to understand. Miracles and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are found on nearly every page of this book. In fact, the more I read it, the more stunned I am that the supernatural ministry of Jesus was really continued in the Early Church instead of ending with Jesus. Now most people are okay with believing that the apostles did miracles, but we see all throughout Acts that other people did them as well. Stephen, Phillip, Ananias, and Agabus are all non-apostolic figures who where powerfully moved upon by the Holy Spirit. Some of the people who the Holy Spirit moved through were so ordinary, we don’t even know their names. Peter’s promise at the beginning of the book of Acts is as true today as it was then: “This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.”
For me, seeing the continued activity of the Holy Spirit working in the life of the church and for the expansion of the Gospel constantly pushes me to believe God wants to do more miraculous things through me. God will still heal, deliver, and speak into situations in order to encourage the church and point the lost towards Christ. I’ve seen these things happen with my eyes, but Acts always forces me to believe for them to be a reality in my own life.
Apostolic Passion- I don’t know about you, but when I read through the book of Acts, I feel my heart rekindled in the area of apostolic passion. What is apostolic passion, you ask? It’s being gripped by God for the things He called you to, specifically in the areas of reaching the lost, making disciples, and planting churches. Obviously the greatest example of this in the book of Acts is the apostle Paul. I always marvel at this man because he would go into a city, preach the Gospel, lead many people to Christ, and then, after doing so would get stoned by the other half of the city. Most people wouldn’t survive this, but Paul not only survived: He went back in to the town that stoned him. While he left the next day, he would return and his missionary activity would speed up, not slow down. There was a passion in Paul to be faithful to what Christ had called him to even in the face of difficulty. We, especially as Americans, have a lot to learn from that.
In my life, I remember early on being taught about Paul from the book of Acts. The teaching wasn’t from his apostolic travels, but from his defense before Felix and Festus where Paul would tell the story of his conversion. When he was completely done, Paul would say “I obeyed that vision from heaven,” (Acts 26:19). I remember older believers encouraging me to model my life after Paul and give myself completely to being able to say at the end of my life “I obeyed the vision Christ gave me for my life.” More specifically, as I began to understand Christ’s call to reach the lost, make disciples, and plant churches, Paul’s persistence has taught me much about enduring for the sake of the Gospel. Reading Acts again and again has in a sense been like having a brother from another age cheering me on to be faithful in the same way he was.
That’s enough for today. Tomorrow I’ll write a bit more. Until then, what has the book of Acts taught you about following Christ?
…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.
Okay….okay…I get it. It’s not as catchy nor anywhere near as intense as Shark Week. I mean, who in their right mind would try and top Shark Week? I did want to announce, though, that in October (one month from today) we will begin Starfish Month here at Pursuing Glory.
What’s Starfish Month, you ask?
Well, nearly nine years ago this October, I was part of a conference that was hosted by some dear friends in Kansas City. These friends had invited a long-time inspiration of mine, Wolfgang Simson, to come and share about what he felt the Lord was doing in the Earth. Wolf, as some of you know, wrote Houses That Change the World and at that time was putting the finishing touches on a new book that he eventually published himself called the Starfish Manifesto.
Houses That Change the World helped birth the idea of house churches in the hearts and minds of many early adopters within the house church movement. The Starfish Manifesto was kind of a next step. Where Houses was a micro level view of how churches should function, the Starfish Manifesto was the macro view of how a movement of house churches could reach the world for Jesus. It was next level thinking beyond anything I had come across at that point.
Also during this conference, I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes here and there chatting with Wolfgang. I remember him saying very firmly at one point that if we wanted to understand the true nature of what the Lord was doing in the church in that hour, we had to go and read a secular book called “The Starfish and the Spider” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. When the conference was finished I hurriedly ran to my nearest bookstore and picked up a copy with a gift card I received. The book, which was all about the power of leaderless organizations, blew my mind and changed the way I’ve thought about the church ever since. Don’t let the fact that this is a secular book throw you. There is so much here gleaned from history and nature that you will quickly see the Lord’s inspiration in this book, whether the author’s meant it that way or not.
Needless to say, that month of October all the way back in 2008 was a formative year. Much of what came from that time formed the basis for what was to come as we worked to plant and raise up house churches here in Iowa. Every October, as the weather gets colder here, I look back sentimentally on that season and wish I could share it with you all. So, this October, I plan to do just that.
Starting Monday, October 2nd, I’m going to host a sort of book club here on the blog. Mondays and Thursdays in October I’ll share a brief synopsis of a chapter here on the blog with my thoughts on the content. Tuesdays and Fridays during October, I’ll take some of the thoughts and apply them to how they relate to the church. Throughout the week in October, I’ll also be sharing short excerpts from the condensed version of Wolfgang’s Starfish Manifesto, the Starfish Vision, on my Twitter feed. All of this adds up to us talking about how Jesus designed his church to function like a starfish.
Why am I telling you all now? To get you prepared, of course. First, I would love it if one or two of you joined me in re-reading “The Starfish and the Spider.” If that sounds interesting to you, now is the time to pick yourself up a copy of the book. You may also want to jump straight to Wolf’s Starfish Vision booklet and dive into what you find there. Regardless, I hope you join me in Reformation month reading and thinking about how there is still more reformation left ahead for the church and strategizing about how we can be part of it.
It’s not Shark Week…but it might just cause you to change the world.
The church in the West is at a crossroads. Beset on every side by dangers from the outside (political and social pressure) and dangers on the inside (immorality, legalism, heresy, etc.), it’s become increasingly clear that we cannot remain where we are and be faithful to Jesus, let alone be effective….Instead of going left, right, or beyond, we have the option of going back. Going back, you ask? Go back to what? The answer is to go back to the original design Jesus has for His church. The design is not complicated, it is not hidden, but it is often neglected. When we return to Christ and His original design for His church, powerful things begin to happen… This design for God’s church is what I call “apostolic Christianity.”
And with that, I began the first of a series of posts describing what I believe is apostolic Christianity. These posts started being written in 2014 and have only finally all been written and posted. You can find the complete collection of apostolic Christianity articles below:
One of the key misunderstandings I think most people will have with the term “apostolic Christianity” is that their mind will immediately jump to those people who consider themselves apostles. Now, I not only believe this gift operates in the body of Christ, I have a high value for people who are legitimate apostles. They are a necessary part of seeing apostolic Christianity lived out on the planet. But when I describe apostolic Christianity, instead of describing one segment of the body of Christ’s gifting, I’m actually describing something I believe God will allow the whole church to walk in.
At this point, if you’re following along closely, you’re probably ready to accuse me of forcing a specific gifting on the wider body of Christ. But my goal is not to make everyone in the church an apostle, but for us to embody the same spirit of surrender to Christ’s leading that the early church experienced. The bishops of the church in the third century expressed it this way: “We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”
You see, the whole church (that’s what that whole catholic thing means, universal) was meant to live together in a way that was handed down from the apostles themselves. Why the apostles? They were the ones Jesus himself charged with taking the Gospel all over the Earth. They were believed to have the most accurate testimony of His life and the most capable of understanding His Kingdom. And these guys gave their lives for the message of the Kingdom in the same way that Jesus had. They were good examples to follow.
So what does it mean for the whole church (not just those gifted as apostles) to embrace the lifestyle of apostolic Christianity? I’m so glad you asked! Let me give you a couple of high-level benchmarks of apostolic Christianity, fleshed out in the life of the church:
- Jesus is Lord: This could easily be described as the Church’s earliest doctrinal statement, but it is so much more than a mere doctrine. For those who are living out apostolic Christianity, this is a way of life. This starts at a very personalized, individual level. We all have to come to value Jesus as the pearl of great price, worth losing our lives over. This reality changes everything about us and we begin to live a new life, the life of Jesus. The realities of the Sermon on the Mount become the code of ethic for the individual. As we come to this recognition individually, it changes how we relate to one another. Jesus becomes what brings us together and we as a family respond to His leadership. (Romans 10:9)
- The Power of the Lord is Manifested: The constant dependence on Jesus showing up and healing, leading through dreams and visions, and casting out of demons was the norm for the early church, beyond the completion of the New Testament. It’s also a common sign whenever the true apostolic church begins to emerge through various renewal movements. More and more churches are shifting and becoming more open to the power of the Holy Spirit, but more so in theory than in actual practice. They believe Jesus does miraculous things today through people, but they don’t seek to move in the spiritual gifts. Paul strongly encouraged believers to seek these gifts out, especially prophesy, because he knew it was essential to living out the lordship of Jesus. The church that is living out apostolic Christianity not only seeks the miraculous power of Jesus, but sees it happen in its midst. (1 Corinthians 14)
- The Harvest is Plentiful: Jesus clearly intended us to believe there was an abundant harvest waiting for the church. He taught that the harvest was so abundant that it’s only limiting factor was the number of workers. Paul actually believed Jesus in this regard and was constantly moving from one place to the next, training up workers who would train other workers. Wherever we see apostolic Christianity emerging, we see the church focused on reaching this plentiful harvest. It causes the church to move out of buildings (and even homes!) into the streets. The Gospel begins to touch people who have never heard it or those who have been apathetic to it in the past. When the church embraces this apostolic lifestyle, the whole church engages with Christ’s mission to reach a vast harvest field and how they spend their time and energy reflect these commitments. (Matthew 9:37-38)
- The Oppression is Real: Jesus was clear, if they hate me, they are going to hate you. Wherever the church is truly operating as an apostolic reality following the ways of Jesus, it will be persecuted. The level of persecution will vary from culture to culture, from threat of physical death like we see in China and Middle Eastern nations to mild ridicule like we’ve seen in more open Western countries. Society doesn’t like change, no matter how much they use it as a slogan. Living out “Jesus as lord” threatens the grip of governors and makes us people who “turn the whole world upside down.” This will cause everyone from governments to social groups to feel threatened and persecute us in some way. But this will cause ample opportunity for the Gospel to go forth. In places like the first century church and China, it has amplified the church’s message, not drowned it out. This will only increase as the return of the Lord draws nearer. (Acts 17:2-8, 1 Peter 4:12-14)
- The Church is simple: Because the harvest is great, because the workers are few, because oppression is real, and because Jesus is Lord, the church typically becomes simpler and less programed. Regardless of what you believe about church structure, you are hard-pressed to find highly organized structures in the book of Acts. Simpler churches allowed the early church to start churches wherever the harvest was being gathered. I’ll say more on this in my next post “Why House Churches are Apostolic.” But for now, let me just mention that when Paul spoke of the church, he spoke of a church that was relational, connected, met primarily in homes, enabled every believer present to function in their gifts, and was able to effectively care for one another. In my view, this required simpler, more reproducible forms of organizing themselves. (Ephesians 4:11-16, Romans 16:1-16, 1 Corinthians 14)
- The Return of the Lord is Clear: Followers of Jesus function best when they believe that Jesus is coming back soon. Now, we’ve all met the guy that lives in a bunker and is storing food and guns away to resist the Anti-Christ. But this is not the kind of end-time view I’m advocating. The church that Jesus started believed He was coming back quickly. It didn’t cause them to hoard stuff, it caused them to give themselves to spreading the gospel to the darkest places on the planet. When we believe that Jesus is returning and that return will have real and irreversible consequences for the planet, we live differently. We actually begin to live in the way Jesus intended: with urgency. (Acts 1:6-11, Revelation 22:12)
Friends, if these things are true, they have tremendous implications for what we’re doing now. Business as usual has to change if we want to embrace the kind of life described here. If you are already doing this, awesome! Pray for us and pray that we all can go deeper in the grace you’re touching. If this isn’t you, then let’s together contend for God to release this type of Christianity in the Earth. I believe He will and it will change everything.
Christianity in the Earth is at a crossroads. Some want us to be more conservative. Others want us to surf the winds of change that are sweeping the Earth. But I believe that Jesus is calling us to embrace apostolic Christianity, which is to say, embrace a kind of Christianity that would be recognizable by the apostles that Jesus left to serve the church.
In my last post, I tried to give some definition to what I mean when I speak of this apostolic Christianity. I had a number of people ask me to flesh out what this looks like. One thing I realized though, was that it’s a very Western thing to want a definition, but it’s an apostolic thing to point to examples. Jesus and Paul were constantly telling stories and pointing to people who embodied what they were teaching. There is profit in looking at examples.
Here’s why: Elisha was a prophet and the successor to the great prophet Elijah. Elisha asked for a double-portion of the anointing that rested on Elijah, and when Elisha died, he had performed 13 miracles. But he died not performing twice the miracles of Elijah. However, 2 Kings 13 tells us this story: “So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.” (2 Kings 13:20, 21 ESV) Now Elisha had his 14th miracle, but more importantly, a dead man came back to life.
What does the story of Elisha tell us? Sometimes when we touch the “bones” of something that is dead and gone, there is something of life that can be communicated to us. God has raised up different movements within Christianity over the past 2000 years that have embodied different aspects of true apostolic Christianity. Even though those movements are dead and gone every time we go back and “touch the bones” of one of these movements, we get a picture of the apostolic church. We see apostolic Christianity lived out in them and it causes us to want to see it again in our day.
So, when I read about the apostolic fathers and the churches of their day and how they lived as a marginalized people who welcomed the poor, healed the sick, cared for abandoned babies and moved in the power of the Spirit, I touch the bones of the apostolic church and I gain faith for God to do that again in our generation.
You can go and read the story of Patrick of Ireland and his almost instinctive ability to reach a totally pagan people and train them up as church planters that would carry the Gospel back into Europe. When I do, I touch the bones of the apostolic church and gain faith for totally pagan men and women to become missionaries and plant thousands of churches.
Or when I read about the First and Second Great Awakenings and the proclamation of the Gospel that was accompanied with signs and wonders, I touch the bones of the apostolic Church. The stories of men and women like George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, and William and Catherine Booth keep reminding me that God can take broken men and women use them to change the course of nations. As I hear these stories, I gain faith for the Gospel to pierce hearts and change men (and nations) in the same way it did with them.
Or when I read about the early Pentecostal movement and how the Holy Spirit moved among a people who abandoned themselves to seeking God and carrying the Gospel to the end of the Earth, I touch the bones of the apostolic church. When I do, I open my heart for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I ask Jesus to give me more than tongues or a “word from God” and become jealous for God to unleash a new move of the Holy Spirit in our day.
I touch the bones of the apostolic church when I hear stories about the underground house church movement of China. Here are believers who are giving themselves radically for Jesus and multiplying simple communities of Jesus followers. This stirs my heart for a whole church captured by God’s apostolic purposes and I begin to ask God, “Why can’t this happen here?”
It’s not like the apostolic church has completely disappeared throughout history. Whenever and wherever a group of men and women submit themselves to Jesus and fully living out what they find in the Bible, apostolic Christianity begins to emerge. And we gain insight into what it looks like when we look back at history and discover that God has been breathing fresh life into his church throughout the centuries. Apostolic Christianity looks like the best elements of all of these testimonies that I’ve highlighted, fleshed out in real life.
Now certain aspects of apostolic Christianity emerge in different movements throughout history. The church that was marginalized and moving in the power of the Spirit during the days of the apostolic fathers looks different than the Gospel preaching that turned a generation during Wesley and Whitefield’s day. The early Pentecostal movement undoubtedly looked different than the underground church movement of China. Each movement had one or more manifestations of the apostolic church, but not the whole picture.
But before the end of the age, I’m believing Jesus for a full manifestation of apostolic Christianity in the Earth. One that combines the marginalized people of God moving in the power of the Spirit, proclaiming the Gospel and mobilizing witnesses that plant numerous churches that are simple and reproducible. I call it apostolic Christianity and I’m excited for the day when it emerges on the planet.