Introduction; Yesterday I took my kids to the mall after church, I usually get lost in the book store. Even though I bought an entire shelf of books a few months back, I still can’t help from buying more books! So I picked up a few more and found a comfortable bench and started reading the History of Christianity. At the house I am almost thru with another ‘history of Christianity’ that covers the story of the church from Pentecost to the present day. I own a few complete volumes and have checked out many from the libraries over the years. I read from both the Protestant and Catholic [Orthodox] perspectives. I also read from the ‘out of the institutional church’ perspective. These are the histories of various groups of believers who never became Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant. I consider all these groups Christian and appreciate the tremendous wealth of knowledge that these communities provide.
Now, as we go thru Acts, I want to stay as close as possible to both the doctrine and practices of the early church as seen in scripture. We are not the first [or last!] study that has attempted to do this. That is attempted to ‘get back to the original design’ as much as possible. Historically you have whole categories of believers who fit into this mindset. They are referred to as ‘Restorationist’ as opposed to Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox. The Church of Christ, The Disciples of Christ, the Anabaptists and others fall into this class. I believe you find true believers in all of these groups.
As you read the history of Christianity as told by the other perspectives, you will find it interesting as to the way the institutional church describes these ‘out of church’ groups. Some are called heretics [Waldensians] others are simply seen as fringe groups. The strong institutional church has branded those who would reject her authority as schismatics and heretics on the grounds of their refusal to submit to the hierarchy of the institutional church.
As we go thru Acts, I want us to read carefully and see the story as told by Luke. We will not find ‘another more true group’ in the sense that I want to start some new denomination. I also don’t want to simply find proof texts to justify doctrine. Many well meaning believers can find the verses they like the most and use them to combat the other points of view. We will see verses emphasizing the importance of water baptism, or various truths on the outworkings of the Spirit. We will see prophets functioning and read texts that clearly teach Gods sovereignty [as many as were ordained unto eternal life believed]. Instead of getting lost on these side trails, I want us to read with an open mind and allow our beliefs to be shaped by ‘the story’.
I will spend time defending my own view of Local church. Not because I believe ‘my view’ is the only thing worth arguing about, but because I believe we see the intent of God for his people to be a living community of believers in this book. Right off the bat we will see giving taught in a radical way. The early church at Jerusalem will ‘continue in the Apostles doctrine and breaking of bread and prayers’. They then sell their goods and distribute to all who had need. Where in the world did they get this idea from? The Apostles doctrine obviously taught the plain teachings from Jesus on sharing what you have with others. So instead of seeing an early tithe concept, you see an early ‘give to those in need idea’ straight from the teachings of Jesus. We will see this early Jerusalem group meet daily, as opposed to seeing ‘Sunday worship’ as some sort of New Testament Sabbath. Of course this group will meet at the Temple [actually an out door courtyard called Solomon’s Porch] and from ‘house to house’. But the simple realty of Christ’s Spirit being poured out on them as a community of people will be the basic understanding of what ‘church’ is.
You will find citizens of many surrounding areas going back to the their home towns after Pentecost. These believers shared the gospel with those in their regions and this is how the early church would spread. Some commentaries will show you how when Paul will eventually show up in Rome there already was an established church there. They obviously heard the gospel from these early Roman Jews who were at Jerusalem during Pentecost. So we will see ‘church planting’ from the paradigm of simple believers going to areas with the message of Christ. Those who would believe in these locations would be described as ‘the church at Corinth’ or ‘the church at Ephesus’ and so on. So we see ‘local church’ as communities of believers living in different localities.
We will see the development of leadership along the lines of ‘appoint elders in every city’. Not a top heavy idea of ‘Bishop’ in the later sense of Catholic belief, but a simple ordaining [recognizing!] of those in the various cities who were stable enough in the basic truths of the gospel, that in Paul’s absence these elders were to be trusted as spiritual guides. Now, many of our brothers can trace the historic office of Bishop as a fairly early development in church history. Polycarp and others were considered direct disciples of the Apostles who would be seen as Bishops and even write of the importance of Bishops for the church ‘Where there is no Bishop there is no church’.
This will cause many well meaning believers to eventually become Catholic/Orthodox as they read the church fathers and see the very early development of Catholic Christianity. In many of the church fathers writings you will also see an early belief in the Eucharist as being the actual Body and Blood of Jesus.
To the consternation of many Protestants you even find Luther condemning fellow Protestants for not taking literally the words of Jesus ‘this IS my Body’. Now, I will not defend transubstantiation, but try to follow the trend lines in Acts as to the lack of this doctrine being a part of the early church. We will find Paul’s letter to the Corinthians addressing the Lords Supper, but for the most part we do not see a strong belief in the transmitting of divine grace to the soul thru the eating of Christ’s literal Body and Blood as they ‘broke bread’. We do see the sharing of the common meal and the ‘Eucharist’ as one meal called the ‘love feast’. Only later on in church history is there a division made between the full fellowship meal and the Eucharist.
So to be frank about it, I will challenge both our Catholic and Orthodox brothers on some very fundamental beliefs. Well I hope this brief introduction sets the proper tone for the rest of this study, God bless you guys and I hope you get something out of it. John.
(738) ACTS 1- Luke, the writer of this book, feels the need to document the ongoing work of Jesus and his revolution. He already wrote a gospel and believes this to be the beginning of the story. In essence, the reality of Jesus and his resurrection are just the start, we have much more to do and become on this journey. Most writers jump to chapter 2. We have churches and music groups called ‘Acts chapter 2’. Why does Luke seem to wait till chapter 2 before getting to ‘the good stuff’? Chapter one records the 40 days of Jesus showing himself alive after his death. Luke feels this singular truth to be important enough to simply stand alone [I do realize the early letters did not have chapter and verse divisions like today]. The real physical fact of Jesus bodily resurrection is without a doubt the foundational truth of the gospel. The outpouring of the Spirit and the whole future of the church depends on the reality of the resurrected Christ. Paul will write the Corinthians and tell them if the resurrection were not true then they are the most miserable of all people. Luke tells us Jesus gave instructions for the Apostles to wait at Jerusalem for the Spirit. They will be witnesses of him to all the surrounding nations after the Spirit empowers them. We also see Peter emerge as the key spokesman for the group. He quotes freely from the Psalms and reads their own history into the book. He sees the prophetic verse from David on ‘let another take his office’ as referring to Judas betrayal and death. They cast lots and choose Matthias as the one to replace Judas. Peter shows the importance of Judas replacement to come from one that was with them thru out the earthly time of Jesus. Someone who saw and witnessed Jesus after the resurrection. Scholars have confused this with the ‘ascension gift Apostles’. Some scholars have taken the truth of the early Apostles having the criteria of being actual witnesses of Jesus, and have said ‘therefore, you have no Apostles today’. Paul will teach in Ephesians that after Jesus ascension on high he gave gifts unto men ‘some Apostles, others Prophets, etc.’ The New Testament clearly speaks of Apostles as an ongoing gift in the church. Barnabas will later be called an Apostles [Acts 14:14] as well as many other references in the original Greek using the same Greek word for Apostle. But here we find Peter seeing the need to replace Judas. Other scholars think Peter might have jumped the gun. They see Paul’s apostleship as the possible person the Lord picked out as the replacement. You do find Paul referring time and again to his Apostolic authority as one ‘born out of due time’ who saw Jesus on the Damascus road. If Paul was simply an ascension gift Apostle, why would he refer time and again to his authority based on being a witness who also saw Jesus? It’s possible that Paul was in this group of ‘Apostles of the Lamb’ who had extra authority based upon their testimony of being eyewitnesses. So in chapter one we see that Jesus appeared for 40 days giving instructions to the early leadership and told them to wait at Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We see the incarnational purpose of God, Jesus was and continues to be the express image of God to man. He was not some ‘phantom’ like the Docetists will claim, but a very real physical resurrected Lord. Luke begins the early history of the church with this reality being important enough to stand on its own.
- ACTS 2- The Apostles are gathered together in the upper room. As they continue in unity and prayer the Spirit of God comes upon them like a rushing wind. There appear ‘cloven tongues’ like fire above each of them. Why this image? Why not ‘ears’ or some other sanctified body part? God is going to give supernatural power to the words that they will speak. In a few chapters we will read how an angel will supernaturally deliver Peter from prison and say ‘go, speak the words of this life’. These tongues are a precursor to the tremendous fire that will be loosed from their lips. James says the tongue is a little member but boasteth great things, it has the ability to start fires. Jesus said he came to earth to ‘start a fire’ and how he wished it were already burning. Here he gets his wish! Now the Apostles and early believers experience the gift of tongues. They begin speaking and prophesying in the unknown languages of all those who are gathered together to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. God ordained this event to be strategically done at this time. All the surrounding regions heard the believers speak the ‘wondrous works of God’ in their native tongue. Peter stands up and delivers a scathing message! He basically tells Israel ‘this is that which the prophet Joel spoke about’ he goes on and says this outpouring is part of Gods predetermined plan to pour out his Spirit on all flesh in the last days. He speaks of divine manifestations [dreams, visions] and carries the prophecy right to the end of the age. He then speaks the gospel of Christ and tells Israel ‘this is the Jesus you killed’. Wow, these guys are bold. Peter leads them to faith in Christ, their public baptism is the immediate sign of their willingness to be identified with Jesus and 3 thousand Jews become believers this day. Now, what is the church? This corporate group of first time followers do 4 basic things. They ‘continue in the Apostles doctrine and breaking of bread and prayers and share their goods with all in need’[true fellowship]. This early community was a brotherhood who actually gave priority to the teachings of Jesus passed on to them from the Apostles. Don’t miss this! Many will develop all sorts of practices and beliefs that ‘make up church’. Some will justify extra biblical beliefs under the guise of ‘the Apostles doctrine’ as in if it were something totally contrary or not known thru the gospels or the writing of scripture. Paul will tell Timothy to stay true to the traditions he passed on to him. But I want to focus on the fact that the Apostles doctrine was not something different then the basic instructions Jesus left us in the gospels. Paul will add to this basic body of Christian doctrine thru his letters to the churches, as well as the whole New Testament. But we do not see a bunch of strange or unknown doctrines that come from this time period. The basics are mentioned above. I do want to stress the fact that this early expression of church life had no ‘Pastor’ in the sense of their gatherings being a time where a singular authority figure had oversight of the entire community. They had strong leaders to be sure, but would avoid the Protestant idea of Pastor. They had no church building or belief in a strong liturgy. The ‘breaking of bread’ was a common meal where they all shared together in a real life setting. And of course their giving was radical, it was not ‘a tithe’ and it was done to meet the real needs of the community around them. All these elements are basic to what the New Testament church is. A functioning society of people in whom Christ Spirit dwells and who see themselves as a real spiritual community of people. As we progress thru out the history of the church as seen in Acts we will never lose this basic mindset. It will be carried into the epistles of the New Testament and remain the best idea of ‘local church’ as found in the first century. There is a trend going on right now in Evangelicalism that says ‘lets return to the ancient practices of the church and see what we can find’. As an avid reader of church history I am not totally against this movement, but I do see a danger in thinking ‘the ancient practices’ are the 2nd or 3rd century development of liturgy and Eucharist and other early ideas, and by passing the ‘real ancient’ story in the book of Acts. To put it simply, some of the Protestant and Evangelical ‘practices and beliefs’ that have developed since the reformation are ‘ancient’. I believe we all have a long way to go, but the ‘low view’ of the Lords Table [low as opposed to ‘high church view’. Though I personally believe in the Lords table as a memorial, not as the actual Body and Blood of Jesus. Yet I personally don’t like referring to such an important practice as low!] seems to be the true ancient practice as seen in Acts. The absence of the Priest officiating over the altar is no where to be seen in the actual ‘church’ setting. This ancient church is really a simple brotherhood of believers having all things common and having the resurrection of the Son of God as the central organizing principle of their lives.
- ACTS 3- Peter and John go up to the temple and heal the lame man. This stirs up a commotion and gives opportunity for Peter to preach Christ. I want you to see something here. The miracles of healing thru out this book testify of something specific. They do not simply prove the existence of God. These first century people were not ‘post moderns’ they had no pre enlightenment era that affected their minds. For the most part they were highly religious! Paul will tell them this later in Acts ‘you are too superstitious’ [religious]. The miracles are testifying to the fact that Jesus is alive, he really rose from the grave! Peter’s sermons are centered around the reality of Christ being the fulfillment of all that the prophets have spoken about! The church must not be ashamed of the gospel. Recently the ‘church world’ was up in arms over the Popes recent reinstating of the Tridentine Mass [the Latin Mass]. After Vatican 2 the Mass was done solely in the language of the hearers. Many old time Catholics were wanting the Latin too. So Pope Benedict said fine, you have the option to practice it either way. Now, this ancient Mass had a prayer that simply prayed for the Jewish people to come to know Jesus. Well, this upset the Jewish groups and they demanded a change in the prayer. At first the Pope re wrote it but it still asked for prayer for the Jews to come to Jesus. This still offended them. So finally the church produced some prayer less offensive. We should not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ and his resurrection! Peter was preaching the reality of the resurrection and was in their face about it! Jesus has proven himself to be alive, we are not just witnesses of the existence of God, we are witnesses that Jesus is the way to him. The only way! Now Peter ends this chapter in a unique way. He invokes the ‘blessing of Abraham’ and says it means ‘the blessing of Jesus in turning you away from sin’. We just finished a study in Genesis. I emphasized how the New testament apostles viewed the Abrahamic blessing thru the lens of redemption. They did not teach it in a materialistic way. Peter also quotes Moses [as well as David] and says ‘Moses said the Lord would raise up a prophet like myself, whoever doesn’t hear him will be destroyed’. Peter sees the fulfillment of ‘the Moses type prophet’ in Christ. Peter has a great gift of taking the old testament prophets and proving Christ from them. There is a young hearer in this early church. He will eventually become one of the first Deacons. His name is Stephen, boy he must be drinking everything in. He is seeing and hearing the testimony of Jesus straight from those who walked with him. He hears Peter’s teachings on Christ. He becomes familiar with the way Peter associates the ‘Moses prophet’ with Jesus. This young man will testify in Acts 7 of the reality of Jesus being the fulfillment of the Moses prophecy. He will give the longest recorded sermon in scripture. He will brilliantly trace the roots of Israel and show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophets. He will be accused of going against the law and the temple. He has the first grasp of ‘Pauline theology’ [actually Paul got it from him!] and does such a convincing job of proving Jesus to be Messiah that they stone him to death. He becomes the first martyr in the book of Acts. At his death he says ‘forgive them; don’t hold this sin against them’. A witness named Saul is sitting by. God answers Stephens’s prayer and Saul will become one of the greatest fire starters known to man.
- ACTS 4- The religious leadership at Jerusalem bring the Apostles in for questioning. The reality of the lame man being healed and the fact that Peter was doing it in the name of Jesus was an offence to them. Part of the group were called Sadducees. We often think of them as simple Pharisees who disbelieved in the resurrection of the body. While this is true, we must not overlook the demonic strategy behind the rise of a religious group, just prior to the resurrection of Jesus, who would imbed doubt in the minds of people concerning resurrection. Peter and John are questioned concerning the healing of the lame man. The leaders really had no problem with the healing, they did not want them doing this stuff in Jesus name! Why? Once again we see the fact of mighty works being done in Jesus name as proof of his resurrection. If the resurrection is true then Jesus must be the Messiah. If Jesus is the Messiah then this first century group of religious leaders killed the only Messiah that they will ever have! Peter actually tells them this in the chapter ‘you rejected the chief cornerstone’. Jesus was not simply one religious figure in a religion of many religious figures. Let’s see, we have Mary the mother of Jesus, a great woman to be sure. What about old John the Baptist, man was he a firebrand! And don’t forget Moses and the prophets. But Jesus stands out because he is the cornerstone. He alone is the mediator. Peter says ‘neither is there salvation in any other, there is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved’. These religious leaders killed the main person! Once again we see the church practice ‘communal giving’. They sell their lands and houses and bring the money and lay it at the apostle’s feet. The money is used 100 percent for distribution to the communities needs. Why is this so important to see? As you read all my writings you will see me teach over and again this basic Christian principle, that giving in the New Testament churches was primarily focused on meeting the needs of people. There was no sense of tithing to the storehouse as being a practice of ‘giving to the church meeting on Sunday or you are under a curse’. Now, it’s fine to give 10 percent on Sunday, it’s just we shouldn’t by pass the actual documented practice of giving as seen in the New Testament. Now, we do have the advantage of hind sight. Paul will continue to write the epistles of the New Testament and never once stray from this principle. In every single case, bar none, is New Testament giving taught as a voluntary free will offering. It is radical, taught in proportionality [as God has blessed you lay by you in store- Paul] but never once is it taught as a compulsory tithe that if not obeyed will bring the curse of the law upon the believer. Now, in the very next chapter we will see 2 people die because of lying in the area of giving. But it’s not because they didn’t tithe. Nor is it because they didn’t give all the price of the land. It was because they were lying to the Holy Spirit, they were introducing a deadly poison into the fledgling church. Jesus warned them in the gospels to avoid this cancer. He told them ‘beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy’. He wasn’t saying ‘beware of their doctrine’ in the sense of don’t listen to what they teach. He was saying ‘beware of actual hypocrisy’! The leaven of trying to present an image of yourself contrary to truth. Faking it so you look good. Now the leadership will warn the Apostles not to speak or teach in Jesus name. Peter says ‘we ought to obey God more than you’. Was he being rebellious against God ordained authority? Jesus did teach in the gospels ‘they sit in Moses seat, do what they say, not what they do’. Paul will respond later ‘I didn’t know I was speaking against the high Priest, I know he should be treated with respect’ as he defends himself before this same group. Some believe Luther and the reformers and even people like me are rebelling against authority when we question the system. To be sure Peter was ‘rebelling’ against an authority system that actually served God to a degree. This religious system [Judaism] did preserve the writings of the prophets. Peter was quoting the Psalms and prophets and utilizing the actual writings the scribes passed on to him. But there comes a point in time where ‘we ought to move on with God, rather than man’ a radical break from past well meaning systems, and a moving forward with God and the working of his Spirit. We end the chapter with the Apostles and believers rejoicing over the fact that Jesus movement is winning and Gods word is being fulfilled ‘of a truth the kings of the earth and its rulers are coming against God and his holy Son Jesus’. They knew they were in some rough waters but heck, Jesus has been raised from the dead! What can they really do to us? We will soon see. We also see another description of early church life. The term ‘church’ is referencing a corporate group of people who are meeting daily, both at the temple and from house to house. They are sharing their material things with one another. The Apostles are testifying of the resurrection of Jesus and his Messiahship every where they go. A believer named Barnabus sells some land and brings the money for distribution. Another couple will make the mistake of trying to ‘be like the Joneses’ they will pretend to do the same, Peter will judge them severely!
- ACTS 5 – As the word spreads rapidly, all the surrounding towns bring the sick and vexed to lie in the streets. Even the possibility of Peters shadow passing over them for healing is hoped for. Notice the charismatic reality of this early church. I do realize the many reasoning’s that intelligent people use to explain the miracles as limited to the Apostolic period, but for the most part we see a supernatural church in Acts as well as thru out the epistles and well into the first few centuries of Christianity. The 20th century story of Pentecostalism and the awakenings just prior, seem to show the reality of a supernatural church existing alongside a theological one! There is much proof to the orthodoxy and giftings of the church all thru out scripture and church history. Peters shadow healed people, how can we explain this away? [p.s. Phillip, who is not an Apostle, will also perform miracles. Just thru this in for those who teach the Apostles were the only miracle workers!] Now, the immediate response of the high priest and religious leaders was ‘if we don’t do something about this, their movement will gain momentum’. They imprison Peter and the Apostles. An angel appears and frees them and tells them ‘go back to the temple and speak the words of this life’. When the authorities realize what has happened they once again warn them about using Jesus name in their ministry. They even say ‘do you intend to bring this mans blood upon us’. Basically Peter says ‘yes’. Peter has been ‘putting it in their face’ ever since Pentecost. He has blamed BOTH the nation of Israel and her leadership for the death of Christ. He does not worry about offending them! During this time some priests become believers. The majority of them do not. Why? What has happened is common among movements. When an initial movement starts up, there is always the question of ‘is it from God or not’? A few years back the church went thru a renewal movement. Some referred to it as ‘the Toronto blessing’ ‘the laughing revival’ and other names. You had those who were 100 % against it and those 100 % for it. Who was right? Well, to a degree both of them! The point is there were some things that were needing rebuke, but to throw it all out was wrong. The defenders appealed to Jonathan Edwards’s writings and how during the first great awakening he experienced many of the same manifestations as the Toronto Edwards left quite a bit of room for God being present in the religious emotions of the people. The critics were offended that the revival guys were appealing to Edwards and they would appeal to other stuff Edwards wrote in concern over the religious affections. You also had the same manifestations a century later under the second great awakening. The revivals in Kentucky had laughter and ‘strange barking’ and other weird stuff. The point is you always have a response to a religious movement. Once the battle lines are drawn, it is very hard to switch sides. In this chapter we see Gamaliel, a very respected Pharisee, stand up for the Apostles and say ‘lets give them some room, others before them rose up and gained a following, they all passed on. If this work is of God you can’t stop it, if it’s of men it will fail’. There was some breaking thru to the religious mind that was taking place in the elite religious thinkers of the day. After all, Peter has been quoting Psalms and Joel in ways that were confounding the religious thinkers. Don’t forget, Peter is an uneducated fisherman. Jesus deposited some stuff in his men that was way beyond the basic understanding of the day. Some ‘thinkers’ and intellectuals were humble enough to listen, most were not!
- ACTS 6- There arises the first controversy in the Jerusalem The fact that they were doing this daily massive food distribution led to an area of prejudice. The ‘Grecians’ [Greek speaking Jews] were being neglected. They were seen as a little lower on the scale of racial purity. They were speaking a language less pure than the Hebrew tongue. So the Apostles heard of the problem and said ‘pick out 7 men of good report, who have favor and wisdom and put them in charge of ‘this business’. In essence these were the first Deacons. The business was simply speaking of the duty of serving the food. Up until now the Apostles were involved with the distribution. But they said ‘we will devote ourselves to prayer and the Word’. This chapter is important, many well meaning church communions trace their practices of church government to this time. Are Deacons positions who ‘do the business of the 501 c 3’? Not really. Well, not at all! Are there ‘Pastors’ here in the modern idea of the office of a person who is over the flock and is the weekly speaker whom the people see every ‘Sunday’. No. Are these practices all wicked and from the devil? Of course not! But it does help to see what is actually going on. This early community saw the need for the leaders to devote time to the word and prayer. Fulltime ministry? Really more of a community adjustment allowing those with greater insight to propagate the gospel. Paul will later show us this doesn’t mean each separate community had ‘full time ministers’ who were forbidden to work secular jobs. He will continue to make tents thru out his life. But he will also teach that it is all right to meet the material needs of those who are ministering spiritual food. We also see the Apostles lay their hands on these first deacons. Is this some type of official ordination [recognition, licensing] from a seminary? Of course not. Is it wicked to attend seminary and have an ordination? Of course not. The principle of the ‘school of the prophets’ in Elijah’s day shows the possibility of God working thru these universities. It’s just we need to be careful we are not reading ideas into the story that are not faithful to the text. My reading of this chapter shows an organic community of people who were ‘the church’. They did have leadership and sought God for direction and weren’t imprisoned by any specific form of ‘church’. The main ingredient was a group of people sharing the life of Christ and living this life out as a community. All church communions have a tendency to read there own story into ‘Gods story’. That is we find isolated verses of scripture and say ‘see, this is why our church government does it this way’. It’s OK to a degree, but then when you see ‘our church government’ as the only true church government, that’s where problems arise. I think we should avoid looking for prescriptive patterns of ‘church government’ from the book of Acts. We should read the story as a community of people who are experiencing God and learning to walk out this experience as the Body of Christ. The great mystery is that God is ‘no longer dwelling in Temples made with hands’ but in a vibrant Body of people! [p.s. Stephen will quote this prophetic scripture in the next chapter as he does one of the most masterful jobs of an Old Testament survey to be found in the New Testament].
- ACTS 7- At the end of chapter 6 we saw the accusation against Stephen ‘he teaches the temple will be torn down and that Jesus will change the laws and customs of Moses’. There are a few key chapters In Acts, this is one of them! Up until this point we have seen Peters message of the Messiah thru the lens of repentance and baptism. You will notice Peter is very strong on ‘you guys need to repent and show it’. Strong word indeed! Peter also introduced the scripture ‘the Lord your God will raise up a prophet like unto me [Moses speaking of Christ] whoever doesn’t listen to him will be destroyed’. But Stephen is the first one to teach publicly the passing away of the law and the temple and the new ‘house of God’ to be the people. It’s the beginnings of Pauline theology. Now I have read how this chapter was questioned and doubted as to why Stephen was teaching this. Some theologians thought the chapter was questionable as canon because of it’s seeming to be so out of context. These are the times where I do agree with the ‘seminary as being a cemetery’! This chapter is absolutely brilliant! I don’t want you to miss the main point. Stephen traces the history of Israel and uses the verse from Moses ‘the Lord will raise up a PROPHET LIKE ME’. Stephen explains that when Moses first showed up on the scene to deliver his people, that the people said ‘man, who do you think you are! Who made you the boss’? Then Stephen says ‘yet this Moses, who the people refused. He was actually the ruler and deliverer that they refused’. Stephen is showing them that the prophets actually prophesied of the first century reality of Israel rejecting Jesus because Moses said they would! Don’t miss this point. This is the main point of Stephens message. He is telling the religious leaders ‘you simply fulfilled prophecy by rejecting the Messiah’. He even compares the miracles and great works that were done by Moses to the great miracles Jesus did. Stephen ends the chapter by also tracing Jewish history to David’s son Solomon and how the future temple that he would build was simply a shadow of the New Testament house of God. He quotes David in Psalms ‘God will not dwell in temples made with hands’. Now, this has nothing to do with ‘church buildings’. This has everything to do with Stephen’s insight into the theological truths contained in Jesus teachings about the destruction of the temple. In today’s ‘church world’ we have a very unbalanced view of temple rebuilding and the significance of the passages in Matthew that prophesy of its destruction. In Stephen’s mind the future destruction [that is future from his time. A.D. 70!] showed the passing away of the old law and its entire system of worship. The first century Apostles and teachers saw the eschatological portions of scripture from a redemptive lens. Peter earlier said ‘repent and be baptized… so your sins will be blotted out at the return of the Lord’ ‘whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things’. He couched individual salvation in with Gods ‘full world’ purpose of redemption [Romans]. They saw it from a wider angle than just ‘me and Jesus’. Now Stephen is doing the same. The whole Apostolic tradition concerning the destruction of the temple showed the purpose of God in ending the old concept of law and ‘limited kingship’ [from Jerusalem’s throne] and how God raised up his Son and placed him at his right hand and made him Lord and Christ. The passing away of the temple and Stephens preaching on ‘the customs being changed’ was right on! When I taught Hebrews I tried to bring this out. I realize that some teachers say Paul didn’t write Hebrews. I attribute it to him simply because no one else had the revelation he had in these areas. But I wouldn’t argue with saying Stephen might have penned it [depending on the dates!] Now we end the chapter with Stephens’s famous martyrdom and him saying ‘lay not this sin to their charge’. Saul [Paul] is a witness to this killing, he will become the greatest advocate for grace versus law that the church will ever know. NOTE- I forgot to mention that Stephen even compares the mass killing of babies at the time of Moses with the mass killing done under Herod during Jesus time. He shows how Moses and Jesus were alike in many ways.
- ACTS 8- After the death of Stephen the church scatters thru out the region. We see Phillip being used and directed by God. An angel will speak to him, he will be supernaturally translated from one place to another. We see the simple reality of all believers having Gods legitimacy to function. This is important to see! Later on we see the first gentile church at Antioch being told ‘separate me Paul and Barnabus unto the work which I have called them to’[Acts 13]. Some will develop unbiblical restrictions from this verse. The strong ‘local church’ view [the view that sees local church thru the 501c3 Sunday building mindset!] will later teach ‘see, you can’t function on your own. If you are not under a ‘local church covering’ you are an independent rebel out of Gods authority’. Here we see the simple reality of God sending and communicating to Phillip on the basis of him being a child of God. In Acts 13 the Spirit communicated his purpose to an entire group, in this chapter he communicates to an individual. The legitimacy comes from the reality of God being the one who is giving the directions! Now, we see Phillip at Samaria preaching the Kingdom and doing miracles. The sorcerer Simon gets converted. The church at Jerusalem sends Peter and John to see what’s happening and they lay hands on the Samaritan believers and they ‘receive the Holy Ghost’. This is also described as the Holy Spirit falling on them. This chapter is used as a proof text for pro Pentecostal theology and anti! The Pentecostals say ‘see, believers don’t have the Holy Spirit until a separate Baptism takes place’. The anti Charismatics say ‘this is an anomaly. God did this because he didn’t want to have a competing church in Samaria that did not have the approval of the Jerusalem church’. I will agree and disagree with both of these propositions [yes, at the same time!] Paul will teach in his epistles that it is impossible to believe without having the Spirit. He will also teach a doctrine of being filled with the Spirit. The arguments over the terms used can be confusing. The fact is we see both the experiences of believers [who have the Spirit] still experiencing greater empowerments down the road. And we see believers ‘getting it all at once’ [Acts 10]. Theologically, you can’t be born again without having the Spirit. But you can call ‘the Spirit falling on you in a fresh way’ ‘getting the Spirit’. The different expressions people use do confuse the matter. The hard and fast Charismatics will not agree with me. And the old time Calvinists might disagree with me. I believe both sides have things to add to the debate. I want all of us to be open and daily expecting God to renew us with the Spirit on a daily basis. I know one thing for sure, Paul taught we can water and plant all day. But if the Spirit doesn’t do his work we will never see any real increase! Simon the sorcerer sees that thru the laying on of hands the Spirit is given. He asks ‘Hey, I will pay you money for the gift of being able to lay hands on people and have them receive the Spirit’. Peter responds ‘you wicked sinner! How dare you think you can purchase Gods gift with money! You and your filthy money will perish together! You better pray that God forgives you for this’. Simon says ‘can you pray for me’? He didn’t want to get struck down that instant! Peter will later teach in his letters ‘take oversight of Gods flock, not for filthy lucre. But of a ready mind’. James will write in his letter ‘woe to the rich, their day is coming’. John writes in 1st John ‘love not the world neither the things in the world’. Paul will pen ‘The love of money is the root of all evil. Some went coveting after it and have left the faith’. Where in the world did all these first century Apostles get this idea from? Was it the devil tricking them out of the truth of wealth? Were they under the spell of church tradition? Lets see, Jesus said ‘the rich man dies and goes to hell. The poor man to Abrahams bosom’ ‘it’s harder for a rich man to go to heaven than for a camel to go thru the eye of a needle’ ‘the rich man went away very sad because he had much riches’ [after Jesus said go sell all you have and give to the poor] ‘you can not serve God and mammon’ ‘the deceitfulness of riches choke Gods word’ ‘thou fool! This night thy soul shall be required of thee’ [to the rich man who was planning on building more storage for his stuff!] The simple fact is the early church had imbedded in their minds a non materialistic gospel. The modern church seems to read scripture thru the lens of the prosperity promises that you do find thru out scripture. The prosperity promises are true and should be understood, but we need to also see the reality of what I just showed you. The church will eventfully coin the phrase ‘Simony’. It will refer to those who use money to gain influence and official positions in the church. Simons name does becomes famous, but not in the way he wanted!
- ACTS 9- Paul gets permission from the high priest to go to Damascus and arrest the believers. On his way the Lord appears to him and Paul is told to go to Damascus and wait for instructions. He is blind for 3 days. God gives a vision to Ananias and tells him to go to Paul in Judas house, because he too had a vision of a man coming to him and laying hands on him. Ananias is afraid but does it at the Lords insistence. I want you to see the role of visions and divine guidance in this event. The purpose of the visions and supernatural events has nothing to do with the canon of scripture. Some teach that the only reason you had supernatural guidance in the early days was because the canon was not complete. But after its completion you no longer had these types of things. First, no where is this doctrine taught in scripture. Second, you did not have total agreement on ‘the canon’ [all the books that make up our bibles] until the 4th century! Now you did have a basic group of letters and writings that were accepted as authoritative, but there was not total agreement. Many early believers had the epistles of Barnabas and a few other letters that were accepted. Some did not include Revelation at all. Others questioned Hebrews and James. You also did not have a workable, readable ‘bible’ in actual book form until the 12th-13th century! That’s right, the actual form of our modern books was not invented until that late date. Plus the availability of books on a mass scale did not appear until the Guttenberg printing press of the 16th Just in time for Luther’s Reformation! The first book printed on his press was the Guttenberg bible. So the point is, the idea that somehow right after the early Apostles died off you had all believers going to ‘their bibles for direction’ as opposed to having dreams or visions or other divine guidance, really isn’t a workable solution. In this chapter God needed to get orders to his people, he gave them visions! Now Paul immediately preaches Christ as the Son of God and Messiah. He stirs up the waters and they sneak him out of town and send him to Jerusalem. The church at Jerusalem are leery of him, Barnabas vouches for him and he is received. He starts preaching there and once again they want to kill him. He eventually is sent back to his area of Tarsus. Now Peter is still on the road preaching Christ. He heals a man at Lydda and many come to the Lord. A woman named Tabitha dies at Joppa, a town close to Lydda. They call for Peter to come and he does and raises her from the dead. What are we seeing here? An early church [community of believers] preaching the gospel and doing miracles and affecting large regions without lots of money. Without hardly any organization. Without setting up ‘local churches’ in the sense that each area has separate ‘places’ they see as ‘local churches’ with salaried pastors running the ‘churches’. You are seeing a radical movement of Christ followers who are sacrificially giving there lives away for the gospel. No prayer meetings on ‘how in the world are we going to reach the region for the Lord. We need tons of cash’! They believed the simple instructions Jesus gave to them on going into all the world and preaching the gospel. Sure there will be times where support is sent to help them make it to the next location. But the whole concept of needing tons of cash and to build huge ‘church buildings/organizations’ and to set up salaried ministers is not seen in this story. I do not think the development of these things over the centuries means ‘all the churches are deceived’ type of a thing. All ‘the churches’ [groups of believers who are presently identifying themselves this way] are great people of God. They are doing the works of Jesus and functioning to a degree in the paradigm that they were given [either thru their upbringing or training]. But today we are seeing a rethinking of the ‘wineskin’ [that which contains the new wine] on a mass scale. As we read this story in Acts I want to challenge your mindset. Don’t fit the story into your present understanding of ‘local church’. But let your understanding of ‘Local Church’ be formed thru scripture. This chapter said ‘the churches had rest and were edified and were walking in the fear of the Lord’. The ‘churches’ are defined as all the communities of believers living in these various locations!
- ACTS 10- This is another key chapter in Acts. Peter is still in Joppa and while praying on the roof he has a vision. God shows him all the non kosher animals that Jews were forbidden to eat and says ‘rise Peter, kill and eat’. Peter refuses and tells the Lord he has never allowed himself to eat unclean stuff. The Lord reveals to him the principle of not making judgments of what is ‘clean or unclean’ according to the old standards of the law. It is important to fully see this. God wasn’t simply saying ‘now all things are clean’ he was saying ‘the old prism of law and moral standards are no longer to be used as the measuring rule of clean or unclean’. Now, was God throwing out all ‘measuring rules’? No! He will flatly show Peter that ‘all who believe in Jesus are justified from all things that you could never be justified from BY THE LAW’. In essence God is saying to Peter ‘Jesus is the new measuring rule!’ [Actually he was the original one the law always pointed to]. Well at the same time Peter has this vision, a man named Cornelius has an angel appear to him and tells him to send men to Joppa and get Peter. So as Peter is wondering about his vision of the unclean animals, the brothers knock on the door and relate the angels message to him. Peter goes to Cornelius house and preaches the gospel and the Gentiles become believers. Is this the first time we see Gentile converts in Acts? No. Phillip converted the Ethiopian eunuch in chapter 8. But this is seen as the Lord giving Peter the ‘keys’ of the kingdom to the Gentiles. In the gospels we read how Peter was given the keys to the kingdom. Our Catholic brothers see the office of Pope as ‘the keys’. I think a better view is to see how the Lord used Peter in Acts 2 and here to be the one to ‘introduce’ the gospel to both Jew and Gentile. Keys open things. They open doors. Jesus is the open door that Peter walked them thru by faith. Now we also see Peter preaching justification by faith for the first time in Acts. His other invitations were legitimate, but they focused on repentance and baptism. Here Peter says ‘and to him give all the prophets witness that whoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins’. Now I have taught this before on this blog. I try not to make excuses for the teaching by Peter on baptism. He even says in his epistle ‘the like figure whereunto baptism doth also now save us, not the washing away of the filth of the flesh but the answer of a pure heart towards God’ [quick quote, go find it for an exact wording!]. Now, if you do a word check on this blog, probably in the section ‘prophecies, dreams, visions part 2’ and you find the teaching on baptism from Acts 2:38, I do give an explanation on this. I believe we are seeing the natural progression of greater understanding that Peter and the brothers were attaining as they progressed on the journey. I showed you how Stephens sermon in acts 7 hit on Pauline theology for the first time in Acts. A few chapters later we see Peter quoting a scripture on ‘all who believe’ are justified. The first connection from Peter on ‘believe and be justified’. Now that Peter has opened this ‘door’ we will see Paul preach this thru out the rest of the book. We see the famous verse in acts 16 ‘believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, and your house’. The point is we are seeing not only the development of the Body of Christ in this book, but also the development of Christian theology. Many believers fight over these various verses and even trace the authenticity of their movements to these verses. Others try to brand you as a heretic over which scriptures you see as the ‘conversion text’. While I fully agree with the doctrine of Justification by faith as one of the foundational doctrines of scripture, I avoid calling the churches who trace their ‘altar call’ experience to water baptism as ‘Cambellites/heretics’. I also disagree with those who are strong water baptism advocates when they say those who do not believe in full submersion are not Christian. In this chapter these Gentiles were justified by passive belief! No evangelical altar call at all ‘the Spirit fell on all who heard the word’. Peter says ‘can we forbid water to those who received the Spirit like we did’? There was no altar call because Peter would have never given one! Even though God gave him the whole vision and all, yet they were shocked when God actually ‘saved them’. So we see the will of God in accepting all who believe in Jesus. The justifying of these Gentiles was passive, they had no ‘sinners prayer’ they were justified before they got in the water. So to all those Church of Christ [or even Catholic and Orthodox brothers] it is not totally wrong to trace your outward experience of becoming a Christian to the time of baptism [I will not get into infant baptism here!]. But it also is not wrong to trace it to the time of simple belief. Gods purpose is to save people. Acts is revealing to us the progressive journey of man with God. God does put down the requirement to ‘believe in Christ’. The entrance into communion with God is limited to all who believe in him! But don’t make it harder than this. NOTE- I didn’t get into all the particulars of repentance and baptism and exactly how many ‘steps’ you need to ‘get saved’. Seeing Acts this way misses the main thrust of the book. But let me add, why don’t we see Peter mention repentance here? Cornelius is called ‘one who feared God’. This description didn’t just mean ‘he prayed and fasted’ it actually described Gentile converts to Judaism. These were called ‘God Fearers’. They practiced Judaism already, except for the rite of circumcision. So this fact meant they ‘already repented’ to a degree. The law did teach repentance well. It had a system that engrained the moral concept of sin and repentance into man. Hebrews chapter 6 teaches this. So you can say Cornelius and his relatives were already aware of sin and the need to turn from it [also the basic elements of Johns baptism] so here Peter bypasses the repentance part and simply shows them the missing ingredient, which was faith in Christ.
- ACTS 11- Peter recounts his vision and experience he had at Cornelius house. The Jews at Jerusalem were upset that he went and ate with non Jews. He explains that the Lord showed him not to view these gentiles as unclean. They were accepted and made clean thru Christ’s blood. The leadership at Jerusalem agree [for now!] We begin to see the tension that will play out thru the rest of the New Testament. This struggle between Jewish law and grace will become the number one issue of contention in Paul’s letters. In this chapter we see Barnabas go down to Antioch and eventually get Paul from Tarsus to help him establish the fledgling church at Antioch. After Peters experience they began preaching to gentiles and Antioch becomes the counterbalance ‘church’ [community of believers] to Jerusalem. I want you to see something important here. The church at Antioch does not have ‘Temple worship’ along side ‘home meetings’. The believers ‘assembled’ as a brotherhood. They met in homes to be sure, but ‘the church’ was simply a description of a called out group of people who continued in grace and lived as a fellowship community. The reason I emphasize this is because we grasp limited ideas of church and then we try and make others fit our ideas. The church at Antioch [and Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, etc.] will continue to maintain this basic identity all thru out the New Testament and well into the second century. The earliest archeological find of a ‘church building’ is found in the 3rd There was an inscription discovered that spoke of the ‘church’ meeting here. The ‘here’ was the home of a believer! [I think the find was ‘Europa/duropa’ or something to that effect]. The point here is I want you to see the original design of the church. Up until this point we see the early church evangelizing large regions by simply being led of the Spirit. The finances are simple, this chapter will end with the believers at Antioch pooling their resources to send relief to the church in Judea. It will be the beginnings of Paul’s ministry of relief that we read about in 1st Corinthians 16. This chapter says Prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. Agabus prophesied of a famine to come, the church made arrangements to send relief to their brothers. One of the main Apostles at Jerusalem, James, will oversee a group of poor saints thru out his life. There is no early doctrine seen of rebuking the poor saints and teaching them how they were redeemed from poverty and the curse of Deuteronomy in a way that poverty was see as a sin. James will actually pen his letter and say ‘God chose the poor of this world [not just ‘poor’ in spirit] rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom’ he will also rake the rich over the coals! The whole point is as we read the bible, we need to read it in context and allow the story to shape our views, not the other way around. This Antioch community received New Testament prophets, they did not view the verse in Hebrews ‘God spoke to us in the past by prophets, but in these last days by his Son’ they didn’t see this as meaning there were no more prophets. These believers were not tithing, they did not have a church building, no ordained clergy or ‘high church’ model. They were a vibrant bunch of grace believers who will be told they don’t have to keep the law to be saved! From this point forward, no New Testament church in scripture will lose this basic idea. Some will struggle [Galatians, Corinth] but the basic truth of ‘the church’ being the people of God justified freely by grace, will remain strong. They are still living a communal type of idea, and giving is still radical, done to meet the real needs of people, and is not a tithe!
- ACTS 12- Herod kills James [not the brother of Jesus who is one of the lead Apostles at Jerusalem] and puts Peter in jail. The church has a prayer meeting for Peter and an angel goes into the cell and wakes Peter up. He leads him outside the city and frees him. Peter thinks it’s a vision and realizes it really is happening! Note how real their visions and dreams must have been, Peter at times can not determine fact from vision! He shows up at the prayer meeting and a girl named Rhoda hears a knock at the door. She asks ‘who is it’? He says ‘It’s me, Peter!’ She can’t believe it and leaves him standing at the door! She tells the prayer group ‘it’s Peter’ they tell her ‘no way, maybe his angel?’ Funny, you can believe his angel showed up, but no way could the Lord deliver him from jail. At the end of this chapter we see the return of Paul and Barnabas after they brought the relief money to the saints at Jerusalem. It calls it ‘their ministry’. This early church did not see ‘the ministry’ as the actual business and the need to raise funds for the ‘church’. Now, it’s fine to pool your money for good cause’s with other believers. When I teach we are not ‘under the tithe’ this does not mean we shouldn’t support good ministries with 10 percent or more of our money. The point is, here we see Peter going back out to the field, Paul and Barnabas returning back from ‘the field’. Spontaneous prayer meetings. No set time or way to give offerings, just a true freedom of giving themselves away for the cause of Christ. Leadership does exist, but the normal function and flow of this church is not centered around ‘the Sunday Sabbath’ [EEK!] There is a real sense of this community of believers being led by the Spirit. It would be wrong to say ‘hey, Phillip went out on his own! He is not under the local church covering’! Or ‘now that we are back from Jerusalem, lets ask Pastor so and so [the supposed Pastor of the ‘church at Antioch’] what’s next’. There were no ‘Pastors’ in the sense of the fulltime Christian minister who oversees the ordinances on Sunday. Now, these developments will arise as the centuries progress. Many good Pastors and Priests will function this way for centuries. They will see the church ‘building’ as ‘the church’. Our Catholic brothers will begin to see ‘the altar’ as the actual place ‘in the church’ that Jesus Body is ‘re offered’ [presented] as a ‘bloodless sacrifice’ for the salvation of the world. All developments that are not seen in Acts. The point is, we limit the flow of Gods Spirit thru his people when we regress from ‘the true has now come’ [the whole reality of Jesus and the church being the real image of things. The law and it’s shadows were only an incomplete picture]. When we as believers go back to ‘the shadows’ thinking that form and ‘pictures of things’ [symbols] are the way we will touch the world, then we lose the reality of us being the actual people of God showing the world Christ thru our unselfish lives. Jesus said when the people of God love each other and lay their own desires and goals down for his Kingdom, then the world will see our actions and believe. Jesus did leave us memorials ‘do this in remembrance of me’ ‘as often as you do this you SHOW the Lords death till he come’. I do realize that the church does have an element of ‘presenting thru picture [art] the Lords death and resurrection’ [passion plays and so forth] but when we lose the real fellowship mentality of this first century church, we then lose the greatest picture of all. Being the actual functioning Body of Christ on earth. John writes ‘how can you say you love God, who you don’t see. When you can’t love your brother, who you do see?’ [1st John] the New Testament clearly shows us that the love we have in word and deed is the greatest ‘sacramental’ picture we can declare to the world. Our Catholic friends have a song ‘they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love’. I agree.
- ACTS 13- The believers at Antioch were praying and fasting and the Holy Spirit said ‘separate me Paul and Barnabas unto the work which I have called them’. Then the whole group laid their hands on them and sent them out. Notice, there was not a singular authority figure who was the overseer of this church [community of believers]. It is important to see this, because when you share the oversight of a body of people with a plural team [Elders/Pastors- the title you use is insignificant] then there is less of a chance of one person becoming too elevated in the minds of the group. There is also a dynamic of the group coming to maturity as they see themselves as being able to ‘ordain-lay hands’ and send out. Now Paul and Barnabas begin their missionary journeys. At Paphos Paul casts blindness on a sorcerer and the chief deputy believes. At Antioch [Pisidia] they preach in the synagogue. Paul does a good Old Testament survey and mentions ‘Saul from the tribe of Benjamin’ as being part of Gods plan. I always wondered if Paul saw himself in this image [Saul from Benjamin]. Jesus did tell Ananias that Paul was a chosen vessel to bear his name. Notice also that Paul’s message saw the promise to David in Psalms ‘the sure mercies of David’ as being fulfilled thru Christ’s resurrection. The theme of the message was not ‘Jesus rule is delayed’ [dispensational teaching] but that thru Jesus the promises to the fathers have come to fruition. While it is true that the Jewish hearers will reject their Messiah as a people, yet this did not mean that the Kingdom was delayed or that the ‘church age’ was a parenthetical time until the ‘Kingdom age’ reconvenes. The whole tenor of Paul’s message is the reality that Jesus resurrection and being seated at Gods right hand is the promise being fulfilled that God made to the fathers. It is important to see his theme all thru out the Apostolic writings. The following week after Paul delivers his message, many gentiles come back to hear the word again. The leaders get jealous and Paul rebukes them. He tells them it was necessary for the Jews to have heard the word first, but then in fulfillment of the prophets, Jesus will be a light to the gentiles also. Paul and Barnabas sail off to Iconium next. An important theme in all the sermons in Acts is how the main message is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Prophets. Paul tells them that they heard the readings from the prophets [Old Testament] every Sabbath day, but they also fulfilled the prophetic word by not being able to understand what the prophets were saying. So they crucified Jesus because of their blindness to the meaning of scripture. We need to see Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophets. The ultimate end of our purpose. To become like him in every way. In today’s church world it is so easy to see the word and ‘church attendance’ as a means to self fulfillment. But we need to re focus on becoming more like him. I am sure it was a shock to Paul when he realized all the time and study he did as a Pharisee was missing the main intent of scripture. It was humiliating to find out that the simple men who became these followers of Christ were closer to the truth than the theological doctors of the day. Jesus said we must become like little children again in order to see Gods kingdom.
- ACTS 14- Paul and Barnabas continue going thru different cities [Iconium, Lystra] Paul heals a man who was lame from birth and the whole city says ‘these men are gods who have come down in human form’. Paul barely stops them from offering sacrifices to them! In each city they travel to, they have a routine. They go into the synagogue and speak to the gathered. Both Jews and ‘God fearers’ [gentile followers] the pattern of some believing and others resisting becomes routine. Paul also has to deal with the Jews who were following him from past cities. They were sort of 1st century ‘apologists’ who made it their purpose to simply stop Paul. I want you to see that the ‘churches’ were the various groups of people who believed. They did gather together [Ecclesia] but they did not see ‘church’ as a place they went to for religious instruction. They did not start ‘gentile synagogues’ in competition with Judaism. Now Paul goes back thru the cities and at that point ‘ordains Elders in every church’. This is important to see. The ordaining of Elders was the simple process of seeing who had the maturity of understanding in the gospel and could be looked up to as a spiritual guide. Any questions or new converts in the towns would know ‘so and so’ is a responsible believer who Paul put his stamp of approval on. Why even do this? Remember, the enemies of Paul [Jewish law keepers] are going behind Paul’s back and trying to undo all the work that Paul was doing. Elders were gifted men who had the ability to push back against those whose ‘mouths must be stopped’ [Paul’s future language against false teachers]. These Elders were not full time Pastors in the modern sense. They were not singular authorities who ‘cover the flock’. They were not hired clergy! The reason why it is important to see this is because we want to stay as close as possible to the historic picture of the church as we read thru Act’s. These ‘local churches’ were caring communities of Christ followers who did have spiritual oversight that were to be respected and held in high esteem. Paul and Peter will teach the concept of giving honor to those who have spiritual accountability for you. But we can’t apply this to unbiblical forms of ecclesiology/hierarchy that will develop over the centuries. In Luther’s day many well meaning men felt Luther [the 16th century reformer] was rebelling against God ordained authority by going against the Pope. We need to understand that John the Apostle rebuked the rise of singular authorities who would seek to have the preeminence amongst Gods flock [Diotrephes- 3rd Jn]. Paul will warn the Ephesian church [later in Acts] that after his departure men would rise up seeking to make disciples after themselves. The point is any future use of the teaching of Elders/Pastors and the true responsibility to honor and submit to godly authority has to be seen in context with the complete story. While Luther’s [and Paul’s] critics could make the case that they were rebelling against God ordained authority, yet at the same time true revolution always carries an element of casting off old systems and restraint. Paul will confront Peter openly over his hypocrisy between treating Jewish believers different than Gentile believers. Peter was an Apostle before Paul and the argument could have been made ‘who does Paul think he is, going over the head of Peter’. So we need to see the biblical truth of God ordained leadership. The fact that many good Pastors and men of God have faithfully served Christ’s church. But we do not want to develop mindsets contrary to the freedom that we have in Christ while teaching the truth of godly leadership. Paul ordained ‘Elders’ on his way back thru Lystra and Iconium. He sails back to Antioch and recounts all the wonderful success that they had with the gentile believers. Antioch has this free flowing spirit amongst the church. They are gentiles and are not keeping the Jewish law. Paul and Barnabas were getting a reputation amongst the Jewish leadership in the cities and towns. Word gets back to Jerusalem and we will see whether Paul’s gospel will prevail before the ‘church authorities’? I believe we could describe Luther’s response before the Catholic church as fitting Paul’s spirit ‘unless I am persuaded by scripture I can not go against my conscience. Here I stand, I can do nothing else’.
- ACTS 15- Some brothers from Judea came down to Antioch and taught the believers that they had to be circumcised and keep the law in order to be saved. These are the Pharisees out of Jerusalem who became believers. They tried to put the gentile believers under the yoke of the law. Paul and Barnabas disagree strongly with this teaching. They decide to bring the question before the Apostles and Elders at Jerusalem. This is the first ‘church council’ in history. The ‘Jerusalem council’. At the meeting the dispute arises. Peter speaks up and recounts his experience at Cornelius house. How God showed Peter that he would justify people by faith, without having to become converts to Judaism. James chimes in and quotes a famous verse [famous now!] from the prophet Amos ‘in those days I will rebuild David’s tabernacle and all the gentiles upon whom my name is called will see me’. I want to stop here for a minute. On this blog I wrote a chapter on David’s tabernacle. It is in the booklet ‘The great building of God’ you might want to read it if you are not familiar with David’s tabernacle. I want to note that scholars disagree on what James means here. Some see ‘David’s tabernacle’ as the house or dynasty of David. Like Paul saying ‘house of God’ when speaking of ‘the family of God’. Others say this verse teaches the rebuilding of the Temple. The main reason James is quoting this verse is really not for the ‘rebuilding of David’s tabernacle’ section. It is for ‘all the gentiles who call upon my name’ part! James is agreeing with Peter and taking the side of grace when he says ‘look, even Amos said gentiles would call on Gods name’. Paul does this in Romans, he quotes the Old Testament prophets in context of the gentiles being accepted. So I wanted to just put some context to why James is bringing up this verse. But I also give credence to seeing ‘David’s tabernacle’ as speaking of the New Testament house of God [the Body of Christ] and Gods intent to ‘tabernacle in his people’. Acts does teach that Jesus has ascended and is seated on a throne that includes Israel as well as the whole universe! So in this context Christ can be seen as ‘building the tabernacle of David’ [spiritual temple of believers] that includes all ethnic groups. Yes, gentiles too can call upon his name! The Apostles and Elders and brothers all reach agreement and write a short letter and send Judas and Silas along with Paul’s group back to Antioch to read the final decree. They told the gentile believers they were not under the law and did not have to convert to Judaism to be saved. They did give four simple restrictions. Don’t eat meat with the blood in it, don’t eat food offered to idols or strangled animals. Don’t commit fornication. Basic requirements that later on will lose their emphasis as the church grows in grace [accept for fornication! God does require believers to walk in holiness]. Now this chapter is vital for every believer. The 16th century reformation restored the truth of people being saved freely by grace. Many Christians were lost in the legalistic requirements of religion. Many believers thought they could buy their way out of purgatory with money! Others thought they would be saved by keeping church law. This early church council gave freedom to the church in seeing herself accepted by grace. The church grew in her understanding of Gods grace. As God’s revelation of himself progressed thru out the early church, they saw him as being ‘inclusive’ not exclusive! The more they learned about God, the more they understood him justifying people freely. It is easy to lose the reality of God justifying man freely thru grace. No excuses for living in sin, but true acceptance and forgiveness because of Christ. This is truly the heart of the gospel. The first church council laid the foundation of Gods free grace. The gentiles at Antioch and the other towns were ecstatic over this decision. Truly the gentile churches are experiencing more freedom than the church at Jerusalem, after all they had the ‘Pharisees who believed’ at Jerusalem, and they weren’t willing to give up on their belief of the importance of the law and circumcision. They will haunt Paul thru out his life. After the letter is read, Paul and Barnabas continue to teach at Antioch and the 2 brothers who were out of Jerusalem are free to leave. Judas goes back, but Silas likes the freedom at Antioch and decides to stay. Paul says ‘lets go visit all the brothers in the cities where we preached’ Barnabas says ‘great, lets take John Mark!’ Paul doesn’t want him because he abandoned them on an earlier missionary journey. Paul takes Silas and John goes with Barnabas. The ‘visiting of all the brothers’ is also described as ‘visiting the churches’. Once again, the brothers [and sisters] in the cites are defined as ‘the churches’. They were called out groups of believers who were recognized not because they ‘attended church on Sunday’ but because they were followers of ‘the way’.
- ACTS 16- Paul and Silas hit the road. They are being led by the Spirit and are evangelizing large regions without a lot of money, organization or ‘corporate help’. Now, these things are permitted, but we need to make sure we are seeing this story right! Jesus imbedded a mindset into the Apostles, he told them ‘don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment! No special appeals for funds [ouch!], keep it simple’ [Message bible- Jesus instructions when he sent them out by two’s]. So here we actually see the Apostles living the vision. Paul by the way has a vision! He sees a vision of a man in Macedonia saying ‘come and help us’. Luke writes ‘we took this as a sure sign of God sending us’. Wow, what childlike simplicity. The great theologian Paul, the man who could argue orthodoxy all day [and win]. He has a vision and says ‘we took it as Gods will’. Don’t develop doctrines that cut you off from God’s supernatural guidance. Sure, people have gotten into trouble with visions. Cults have ‘prophets and apostles’. But the church also had these things and it helped on the journey. Now at Philippi they convert a woman down by the river. They cast out a demon from a fortune teller. The ‘masters’ see they lost their ‘money maker’ and stir up trouble in the city. Paul and Silas get thrown in jail. They praise God and sing, an earthquake happens. The doors swing open. The jailer thinks they all escaped and is going to kill himself. Paul and Silas preach the gospel and he asks ‘what must I do to be saved’ they say ‘believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, your family too!’ The whole house gets baptized and the city leaders send word ‘tell them to leave’. Now, Paul is a lot like me. He doesn’t let stuff slide. He says ‘they beat us unlawfully, we are Roman citizens! Now they want us to leave secretly. Let them come and tell us publicly’ the leaders hear they are Romans and are worried. Paul made them squirm! Let’s do a little overview. We are halfway thru the book of Acts and we see the ‘churches’ as these free flowing believers carrying out the gospel. Baptisms and healings and visions. We also see doctrinal growth. We challenge the mindset of many evangelicals, baptismal regeneration is not taught [at least I don’t see it] but baptism in water is the immediate outward identification of the believer. In essence it was the New Testament ‘altar call’. Our Catholic friends will eventually develop an idea of baptism as washing away original sin. But sometimes we miss the other idea of putting off adult baptism because of fear of future sins. Saint Augustine, the emperor Constantine and others delayed their baptism thinking they would use it to ‘clean them up’ after any future faults. The doctrine of baptism in Acts is seen as an immediate rite that does affect the believer [as do all outward acts of obedience! Even the Lords Supper strengthens the faith of the believer]. But justification and believing are prior to baptism. But not two weeks or two years prior! But a few minutes. I also forgot to mention that Paul has Timothy circumcised in this chapter. The great Apostle Paul, who will eventually pen the words ‘circumcision means nothing, but a circumcised heart is what matters’ here he gave in. Paul and Silas are fresh off the recent Jerusalem They have been accused of teaching Jews ‘abandon the law and circumcision’. The decree from Jerusalem said the gentiles don’t need to worry about these things. But they were still teaching Jewish converts to maintain Jewish law and custom. Timothy was not circumcised, and everyone knew it! His mother was Jewish but his father was Greek. So Paul realized that the judiazers would eventually say ‘see, Paul is even teaching Jews to break Moses law’ so Paul gives in and compromises here. Do the restrictions at the Jerusalem council still hold sway over Jewish believers today? No. Paul will eventually abandon all Jewish law and custom from his doctrine of justification by faith. But at this stage they are still learning and growing. The mindset of ‘God’ in this book is one of ‘less restrictions’ and more acceptance as time rolls on. We see enough stuff on baptism to not call the churches who emphasize baptism ‘Cambellites/heretics’ [the term Cambellite comes from the founder of the Church of Christ/ Disciples of Christ groups. Their founder was Alexander Campbell. He falls into the restorationist camp. He saw the emphasis on adult baptism in scripture and many of his followers see the act of water baptism as the moment of conversion]. But we also see the basic ‘ingredient’ for acceptance as faith. So God is not excluding those who focus on baptism [Peters initial converts] but showing us greater acceptance among ‘those who believe’ [Acts 10]. This is what I tried to say in our introduction to this study. As we read we shouldn’t be looking for formulas or hard and fast verses to simply justify our churches beliefs against the church down the block. But we need to see the heart and mind of God. We also shouldn’t trace our peculiar belief to this historic church and say ‘see, our group is the most accurate one’. Why? Don’t I believe my idea of simple church is closer to the historic church? Yes. But the ‘church’ will develop in good and bad ways as the centuries roll on. The fact that many Catholics and Orthodox and future Protestants will grow and fight and reform, means the church herself has within her the inherent ability to ‘get back to the Cross’ or the reality of all of these groups believing in Jesus causes there to be a fundamental unity that exists because we all possess Christ’s Spirit. So even though I personally see the organic church in Acts, this doesn’t mean that I see the other expressions of church as totally illegitimate or lost! So let’s end this chapter rejoicing with the jailer who heard the gospel and ‘believed with all his house’.
- ACTS 17- Paul heads to Thessalonica and preaches 3 Sabbath days in the synagogue. Once again the unbelieving Jews follow him and stir up trouble. Paul heads to Berea and speaks the word. The Bereans are said to be more noble because they heard Paul out and then searched the scriptures to see if he were telling the truth. The message he preached is that Jesus is the Messiah that the Old Testament prophets spoke of. In 1st John, John says ‘whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God’ Paul was showing them that Jesus was the Christ. Again trouble arises and Paul sails off to Athens and sends for Timothy and Silas later on. Now, Paul spent 3 weeks at Thessalonica. No huge budget, no message on ‘how can we reach Thessalonica without lots of money’ [I have heard it taught that you cant even begin to think about planting a church unless you have $250,000 dollars!] Paul believed in the power of the gospel. It took 3 weeks of simply sharing the gospel to plant this church! He will write them a few letters and give them some instruction, but the simple truth is every believer has the ability to ‘plant churches’ [speaking the gospel to people groups and those people believing and becoming ‘the church’]. At Athens Paul is troubled by all the ‘superstition’ [religion]. He runs into the philosophers. It said the people there spent all their time in either telling or hearing some new thing. An ancient form of ‘the view’ [the television show where the ladies talk about nothing all day long!] So Paul disputes with them and uses their own altar to ‘the unknown God’ and declares Christ unto them. Recently a Catholic priest made headlines because he advocated for Christians to use the name Allah instead of God. He felt the name was referring to the same God. Does Paul’s use of the ‘unknown God altar’ fall into this category? No. When any religion names their god and defines him, then this god is a false god [unless your speaking of the true God]. So in this case Paul was simply saying ‘this altar to the God you don’t know, I will show you how to come to know him’. Now, why were these philosophers in Athens? A few centuries before Christ you had the rule of Alexander the great. The Old Testament prophet Daniel speaks in detail of his rule. Alexander ruled one of the greatest empires known to man. He established the greatest library of the ancient world. He made Greek the common language. This is why the New Testament was written in Greek. Though Rome was the ruling empire of Jesus day, the culture was still Greek to a degree. This is called ‘Hellenization’. The Greeks even translated the Old Testament into Greek before the days of Christ. This translation is called the Septuagint, which means 70. This comes from the supposed number of scholars who worked on the translation. This period just prior to Christ was the time of the great philosophers. Plato, Aristotle and others. These Philosophers laid down a foundation of sorts for morality and the cultures that would develop down the road. The church fathers disagreed somewhat to the degree of mixing Christian faith with the thought of the pre Christian philosophers. Origen thought these men were Christian to the degree that God used them to instill types of thought and belief in the immortality of the soul and other concepts as a precursor to Christ. Others thought they were competing worldviews for the religion of Christianity and should be rejected. Paul himself will write the Colossians and warn them of the philosophies of men. Many thinkers were affected by the ‘new age’ concepts that came from these groups. Augustine, the great 4th-5th century Bishop from North Africa was into Manichaeism prior to his conversion to Christianity. He eventually would sit under the sound teaching of Ambrose and leave his former ideas. These groups had strange beliefs and concepts that would sound like the scientology adherents of our day. Others were not as drastic but would still be seen as on the verge of Christian truth. Marcion was sort of in this class. The point is Paul will take advantage of the philosopher’s willingness to delve into all types of ideas, and use this as an open door to preach Christ. Some breakaway groups from the more Orthodox churches will claim that the Catholic churches belief in the immortality of the soul is not scriptural. These groups teach that the ancient church picked these beliefs up from the philosophers of the day [some of the seventh day brothers say this]. You also find some Protestant brothers challenge the authenticity of various bible translations based on the Septuagint translation from ancient Greece. The church father Jerome will use the Septuagint in his popular translation of the Latin Vulgate. Some Protestants see Jerome’s version as less than pure. This is also why the Catholic bibles have the Apocrypha in them [The books between Malachi and Matthew that the Protestant bibles don’t have]. When Jerome translated his vulgate, he brought these books over from the Septuagint version. Jerome did put an asterisk next to the apocryphal books, he noted they were included from the Septuagint, but were not seen as authoritative. Simply added for historical content. So we see the tremendous influence that Greek culture and philosophy played in the early stages of the church. Paul knew their thought, but his gospel was founded on more than some new belief system. Paul claimed that Jesus had been raised from the dead!
- ACTS 18- Paul goes to Corinth, he meets Aquila and Priscilla. They are all tent makers and he stays with them and does some manual labor! Poor Paul, he just didn’t understand that when we read earlier in Acts, that the Apostles at Jerusalem devoted themselves to prayer and the word, that this meant they were in ‘full time ministry’. I am being sarcastic! The point is Paul did not see his very gifted apostolic ministry as a ‘ministry’ that would be run like a modern business. He certainly did not see manual labor as some type of lack of faith. In today’s environment you can ask a brother ‘how are you supporting yourself’ and many times the answer is ‘we are a faith ministry’ kind of saying ‘I don’t work, but I ask for money’ [Ouch!]. Now, Paul will say it’s good to meet the material needs of laboring elders/pastors, but don’t develop more into it than this. At Corinth Paul teaches for a year and a half, one of the longest recorded stays at any of his ‘churches’ [cities with believers in them]. He goes to Ephesus and back to Antioch. Then makes a tour of the cities where he originally preached. Basically going back and strengthening the churches. The Lord speaks again to Paul in a vision while at Corinth, he says ‘don’t be afraid to speak, no one will lay a hand on you. I have lots of people here’. Simple encouragement by divine means. Why, or how Christians can develop doctrines that say ‘these things don’t happen any more’ is beyond me. At Ephesus Aquila and Priscilla hear a great preacher. His name is Apollos and he is very well spoken. He is also limited in his understanding of the gospel. They take him and ‘expound unto him the way of God more perfectly’. It took humility on both sides for this to happen. Over the years I have had good friends who were/are pastors. As the Body of Christ goes thru transition it is becoming very well known that the development of the full time clerical office of Pastor was really not a scriptural development. Sort of like realizing during the reformation that there were limited teachings from the church that were simply wrong. As the people of God become more aware of ‘the more perfect’ things [more mature understanding on stuff] there is a humility that needs to be present in order for the proper change to occur. In many cities across the nation [and world] there are structures of church and practice that are limited. As Gods people [both pastors and parishioners] see this, then there is a process of change that occurs. In the more limited ‘churches’ you have scenarios where well meaning men often rebuke any freedom of growth along the lines of ‘I am your pastor, your role is to come to the Sunday [they view it as some type of Sabbath] service, pay your tithe to the storehouse [which they actually see as the church building!] and any rebellion against this order is like rebelling against Moses in the wilderness!’ Now, all good pastors obviously are not like this, but there are more situations that fit this example than you realize. So like Apollos [a good public speaking ministry- Pastor] he simply had to go thru a stage of seeing things at a deeper level. Simply submitting to the gifts that exist in the Body of Christ and being humble enough to learn. After Apollos learns, he is even stronger than he was before!
- ACTS 19- Paul runs into some of Apollo’s disciples at Ephesus, he asks them if they received the Spirit ‘since they believed’ [Notice what they were believing!] And they said they have never heard about the Holy Spirit. He questions them on what they are believing in. They answer John’s baptism. They only knew the message of John the Baptist on repentance. The basic preaching from Apollos before he was ‘instructed in the way of the Lord more perfectly’. Paul does not say ‘now, believe in the Holy Spirit and you will have the baptism in the Spirit’. He says ‘John [the Baptist] preached that you should believe on him, that is JESUS, who would come after him’ after hearing THIS [the basic message of Jesus!] they were baptized in Jesus name and Paul laid his hands on them and they received the Spirit. There are lots of things here that different groups use to justify their beliefs. I fully believe in all the gifts and workings of the Spirit, but once again many well meaning pastors [from Pentecostal backgrounds] teach this chapter as saying these disciples were believers in Jesus and did not have the Spirit. This is not true! They were not yet believers in Jesus and the actual person they believed in to get the Spirit was Jesus, not the Spirit! But all in all we see the laying on of hands, prophecy and tongues happen. So these guys are charismatic! But also Calvinist [in my mind- I believe Paul was strong in predestination, but also operated in the gifts]. Now Paul goes and ruins his reputation! Can you believe he is actually sending handkerchiefs to sick people and they are getting healed and delivered from evil Spirits! Old Jonathan Edwards would never do that! [Or Calvin or Luther…or would they?] Paul casts out some demons in Jesus name [that’s it, he is cancelled from speaking at our reformation conference!] and 7 sons from a Jewish family try to cast out a demon from some guy using Jesus name. The demon says ‘Jesus I know, and Paul too! But who in the heck do you think you are’ and the guy who’s possessed beats the hell out of them! Ouch! I find it funny that the demons knew Paul by name. They must have heard how Paul was one of the deadliest enemies to satans agenda. The demons who were showing up for orders were scared they would be assigned to Paul, they knew he had some strong handkerchiefs! Demetrius, a guy who made his living building idols to Dianna, a false goddess, realizes that if Paul keeps preaching about Jesus that his living will be threatened. So he stirs up trouble. He says ‘if we don’t stop these guys, our shrine making business will be in jeopardy, oh, and the great goddess Dianna will also lose her honor’ He couldn’t give a rip about the fake god, he was worried about the bottom line! I find it funny how people will choose which image of ‘God-Jesus’ they believe in based on the bottom line. Some choose to grasp an image of Jesus contrary to the New Testament, if you challenge this belief, they will simply ignore you based on the bottom line. The Jesus of scripture challenges the materialistic gospel that permeates many in today’s church. Some grasp this modern image of Jesus because they can’t let go of the possibility that there ‘trade’ [belief system of profit] is going away!
- ACTS 20- Paul travels with some brothers on the journey. This mode of visiting different regions and bringing brothers with him is exciting! They are truly seeing the Kingdom of God becoming established in the earth. Scripture says ‘they broke bread on the first day of the week’ we read later in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that when they met on the ‘first day of the week’ he asked them to take up a collection before he arrived [so he could take the money and meet the needs of the poor saints at Jerusalem]. Do we see here some type of Sunday Sabbath, that is the ‘church day to pay tithes’ so you don’t get cursed? Of course not. You are seeing the simple practical outworking of a people who are becoming the people of God. It’s fine to meet on a Sunday and to ‘break bread’. Hey, the group needs to know when to meet for the meal! But don’t develop liturgical/sacramental ideas out of this. You say ‘hooray for John [me], he is really giving it to those Catholics’ well, don’t say hooray yet. Now he calls for the Elders at Ephesus to come to Miletus so he can give them some instructions and a farewell. This address from Paul is one of the best in the New Testament. He covers the basics for leadership and church growth. Now, he tells them ‘all the time I was with you guys I was upright. I taught you publicly and from house to house. I showed you repentance toward God and faith towards Jesus Christ. I worked and did not covet your money. I did this to prove I was not there to gain financially from you. To give you an example as Elders yourselves, so you would not see the responsibility of oversight thru a covetous mindset. Beware! After I leave you there will be an attempt by the enemy to undo the work of the Cross. Some men, even from your own group will rise up and speak twisted doctrines. They will try to become preeminent in the group, drawing away disciples after themselves. Don’t become sidetracked and become followers of men! Guard the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Feed them Gods good word’. Paul lays down strong guidelines here. He actually teaches the elders that he worked when he was among them to leave this example of leaders not seeing ministry as a means to get gain. In one of his future letters [Timothy or Thessalonians?] he actually says this ‘working’ that he did was a tradition for them to keep. He said this in context of those who refused to work. Very strong indeed. Peter also will teach the Elders to take oversight of Gods flock ‘not for money, but out of a pure motive’. In the wars that rage over ‘simple church’ versus the modern 501c3 model, both sides have shot at each other wrongfully at times. There are very intelligent brothers who will take this chapter and teach that the modern Pastor has fallen into the trap of ‘making disciples after themselves’. They see the development of the role of Pastor as becoming the fulfillment of this. Now, I do see some merit to this, but I see most pastors [all the ones I know and have known personally over the years] as Elders who are striving to help Gods People. I see a real need for all leadership to see that ministry is not a fulltime clergy type office that has developed over the centuries! Paul is simply addressing the Elders [more mature ones- in the gospel, not necessarily old!] and showing them that their purpose is to help the people of God grow in grace and make it to a place of self sufficiency in Christ. Paul is pretty much laying down the gauntlet that leadership is not some ticket of ‘now that I am in ministry, my income comes from the God ordained tithe’. This is never taught as a means of support for New testament ministers. These ideas have developed out of the Old Testament idea of the tithe supporting the Levitical Priests. In the New Covenant all are Priests and we don’t practice this type of thing. But Paul does teach that it’s good to support materially [financially] those who are feeding you spiritual food. He does teach ‘don’t muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn’ [he called us ox’s!] seriously, he lays down the biblical guideline of supporting those who minister the word. But it is important to see he was not establishing some type of clergy system, the fact that he was working while with these Ephesians and actually used this as an example for OTHER ELDERS as well as the believers shows you this. All in all the main point Paul is getting across is he wants the basic truth of the gospel to prevail and he does not want top heavy leadership to come in and draw away disciples after them. That is for strong gifted leaders to become the main focus of these Ephesian believers. So this chapter is important because we see Paul address these elders that he has been ‘ordaining’ in the churches [groups of believers]. We see the basic character and function of these men. We see the warning that cults will arise. In Paul’s day groups did come forth from the basic Christian communities [Gnostics and Docetists] that had a basic understanding of certain Christian things, but would deny the reality of Jesus. Paul bids them Farwell as they all embrace on the shoreline. The Elders were heartbroken over Paul’s words that he will probably see them no more. He wanted to keep the upcoming feast at Jerusalem and eventually preach at Rome. He was on this obsession to carry this gospel to the seat of the empire, even if it means his life.
- ACTS 21- Paul goes to Tyre and the saints prophesy for him not to go to Jerusalem. He makes it to Caesarea and Phillip has 4 daughters who also prophesy. Agabus shows up, he is a prophet, and he takes Paul’s garment and does one of those weird prophetic actions and wraps it around him and says ‘the Lord says whoever owns this garment will be bound like this at Jerusalem’. A few things, many good men teach that the word for ‘Prophecy’ [to prophesy] is simple preaching. Now, true simple preaching of the gospel is a function of the prophetic. Paul says in Corinthians that whoever says the name of Jesus is speaking mysteries that only the Spirit knows. So preaching does fall into this category. But a simple reading of the text shows you that Agabus, who functioned in the office of a Prophet, was doing more than simple preaching. There obviously was a predictive element to what he did. Agabus is an ‘ascension gift Prophet’. In Ephesians Paul teaches that after Jesus ascended he gave gifts unto men. Some of these gifts are Prophets. Why would Jesus establish an entire class of New Testament Prophets, and take them away as soon as the New Testament was complete? Now Paul makes it to Jerusalem despite the warnings. Right away James and the Elders call him to a meeting. They rejoice over all the Lord is doing with Paul’s gentile outreach, but they tell him ‘look, we have many Jews. They are all believing in Messiah, and they all keep the law’. There is a fundamental rift between James and Paul. Most preachers do not say or admit this, they feel to admit it would violate the Canon of scripture. First, read my commentary on Hebrews 11 on this site. Second, I believe we are simply seeing the historic development of truth as we progress thru Acts. Peter, James and Paul [later we read Johns epistles] never contradict each other as far as the overall message of the Cross is concerned. But God does allow us to peer into the different insights that these key 1st century elders were seeing. So James might really be seeing things from a different vantage point than Paul. Paul might not fully see James reasoning. They are both being used of God, their writings will harmonize. But they don’t necessarily see it yet! James pressures Paul to take a vow with some brothers to basically show he isn’t teaching Jews against the law. Paul does it. The city finds out Paul is in town and they drag him out of the Temple and they beat the guy! The local police come and rescue Paul. As he is being carried away he speaks Greek to the soldiers, they are surprised he speaks Greek. He then addresses the Jews and speaks Hebrew. Paul used positioning and all the influence he had in any area [even language] to make his point. In the next chapter we will read his defense. I want to close with us seeing that Paul was being accused of teaching Jews against Moses and the law and Temple. Was he? Actually as Paul’s understanding of the gospel of grace increases, he does teach this. If you believe Paul wrote Hebrews [the letter] then you see it there. But Paul initially was only preaching grace to the gentiles. James even says ‘show the people that the rumors about you are wrong, show them that you too are keeping the law like all Jews’ and basically Paul gives in by agreeing to join in the vow with the brothers. Some times we read Acts [as well as the bible] as if it were a single book written at one sitting. When you do it like this you don’t leave room for the development and growth of the characters themselves. God is allowing Peter to preach in a more limited way in the first few chapters, after Peter hears from Stephen and Paul he seems to leave more room for believing and being justified. He is learning and growing as the story progresses. The same with James. His epistle is obviously a different view point from Paul. Do they contradict? No. But some commentators do not honestly look at the different angles. James will actually say ‘see how a man is justified by his works, and not faith only’. Now, he does say ‘faith without works is dead’. And many good teachers say ‘all James was saying was you need active faith at the time of conversion’ [James isn’t speaking about the ‘time of conversion’!] Well actually , he was saying more. Was he teaching justification by works? No, at least not in the way most theologians see ‘justification’. But James was seeing justification thru the lens of the future result of the believer actually becoming just! [What some believers call sanctification] He was seeing the Genesis 22 justification of Abraham offering Isaac, not the Genesis 15 account that Paul emphasizes. So James is teaching ‘justification by works’ that is, Gods grace that legally justified you when you believed, actually changes you to the point where you do good works, and at that point God continues to say ‘good job son- you are doing what’s right’ [another word for doing what’s just/right- justification!] Now, I can’t explain the whole thing here, the point is James is dealing with Jewish believers and he is seeing things from a different timeline than Paul. The strife between the early Jewish believers and Paul is intense. Ultimately the Temple will be destroyed and the future of the Christian church will be shaped by Paul’s theology. James writes a great letter! But Paul will carry the day. NOTE- I see James saying ‘see how a man is justified by works’ meaning the future act of God being pleased with the changed life of the believer. We see ‘see how a man is justified by works’ and try to make that fit ‘see how a man is initially saved/born again’ but James, in my view, is not speaking of the initial act of justification [which is solely by faith] when he says ‘see how a man is justified by works, and not by faith only’ James is working on a different timeline!
- ACTS 22- Paul makes his case before the Jews at Jerusalem. As he speaks in Hebrew, they give him special attention. We learned earlier [Acts 6] that Hebrew speaking Jews were looked upon as better than non Hebrew speakers. Paul tells the Jewish people that he too used to be zealous of the law and also hated the new movement of Messiah. He informs them that he was raised under Gamaliel’s school of Phariseeism! You had different schools of learning, even within the class of the Pharisees, Paul was what you would call a Harvard man. He explains that on his previous trip to Damascus he encountered Jesus. He gives his conversion testimony, which by the way contains most of the elements of all the various conversion accounts in Acts ‘arise, be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord’. Paul was such an anti Christian that the Lord made sure he would cover all the angles![and also be received amongst all the different groups of believers thru out the church who will claim strong baptism verses, or calling on the Lord verses. In essence you can find in him the varied experiences of believers thru out the centuries]. Now Paul recounts how after his conversion he had a vision in the Temple at Jerusalem. He has his audience captivated until he says how Jesus appeared to him and told him to go to the gentiles. This was too much for the elite Jewish mind to grasp. The people chant ‘away with him’ they want him killed! As the soldiers are getting ready to beat him some more, he says ‘is it lawful for you to beat a Roman citizen like this?’ Paul was quite a guy, he used any advantage he had to win the argument. The soldier’s enquire how he obtained Roman citizenship, he tells them he was ‘free born’. All people under the rule of Rome were not Roman citizens. The region of Judea and the area of Jesus and his men were considered the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ Galileans were a low class. Most scholars believe Jesus spoke Aramaic, the language from his area. Paul was the first out this bunch of radical followers who had an upper class image. His pedigree was good. He surprised his opponents by having a good education and being a Roman citizen. Paul also wrote [Corinthians] how not many noble and educated people were chosen by the Lord. It wasn’t because the lord didn’t want the upper class folk! It was the fact that education and ‘class’ can be such obstacles in the minds of those who posses it. It’s the sin of pride. Also in this chapter Paul describes his vision at the temple as ‘being in a trance’ the same language used of Peter in chapter 10. A trance is a different type of experience. St. Thomas Aquinas, considered by many to be the most intellectual apologist of the latter middle ages [scholastic period] shared experiences he had right before his death. He would call them ‘being in a state of ecstasy’. These were sort of ‘trances’ where he would experience the presence of God so mightily that he would describe it as almost unbearable. He would say that the Lord revealed so much to him during these times that all he had ever written or taught in the past seemed trivial compared to what he was ‘seeing’ during these events. Paul himself will write about being caught up into the 3rd heaven and not knowing whether he was in the body or out of it. He would say he saw things that were impossible to explain in human words. In this chapter Paul says Jesus appeared to him at the beginning of his journey, it seems as if this wasn’t the only time he saw the Lord.
- ACTS 23- Paul continues his defense before the council and chief priests. He realizes that the council is divided ‘politically/religiously’ along the lines of the Pharisees versus the Sadducees. Though these were both religious groups who were Jewish, yet they had major disagreements. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection or spirit or angels [why in the heck would you even want to be religious if you rejected these things? ‘Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die’! The philosophies that rose out of the enlightenment era and the French revolution were based on ‘nihilism’ the idea of having no moral compass. The rise of Marxism and other communist expressions of Government had good intentions at times! The problem was they espoused the atheistic philosophies of the time and ultimately this leads to a total loss of purpose and meaning. Though these philosophers tried to say that religion and the ‘God delusion’ were the cause of all the ills of society, there grand scheme would ultimately lead to forms of human government that disrespected human life. Hitler of course was an extreme example. He did embrace eugenics, the idea that the stronger races will eventually win and the weaker races/classes will die off. He simply thought he was speeding up the process by exterminating Jews. Though the philosophers of the enlightenment fall into different groups. Some for example did believe in deism and they felt God could be proved from natural means. Others saw religion as the ‘opiate of the people’ and ultimately did disgrace unto the human race!] The Pharisees believed in resurrection. So good old Paul stands up and says ‘I am a Pharisee, and the very reason I am in trouble is because I believe in the hope of the resurrection’ Paul knew how to ‘triangulate’ [politically]. Well of course the Pharisees say ‘well, we see nothing wrong with this man. If an angel or spirit appeared to him, then Gods will be done’. So the group splits. Paul is put under guard and eventually appeals to the next step. The authorities send him to Governor Felix in Caesarea for the next appeal. Why is it important to see the legal maneuverings of Paul? Jesus even appears to him again and says ‘you will testify of me in Rome’. The religious leaders of the 1st century did all they could to not report the facts of the early followers of Christ. The gospels tell us that they even resorted to outright lying to cover up the fact of the resurrection. Paul’s interjection into the legal arena caused there to be a written record of these events! The historians of the day were covering the legal events of the day. The record of Jesus and his followers would be forever imbedded in the historic records of the time. God wanted Paul in this system as a sure testimony of the witness of Christ’s resurrection. We end the chapter with Paul waiting at Caesarea for the accusers to come and make their case.
- ACTS 24- Paul’s accusers come down from Jerusalem. They hired a lawyer [orator] to accuse him! Tertullus gives a speech to the Governor that could be defined as the classic political ‘suck up’ speech of all time. Paul defends himself and says ‘I am not guilty of these so called accusations. But I am guilty of believing the law and the prophets. I believe that what they spoke of [the shadows] have happened! I believe in the resurrection. Jesus has fulfilled the promises of the prophets!’ I had a discussion with a good friend the other day. We have a mutual friend who is really into Messianic stuff. He has espoused the idea that the feasts and images of Israel are EXACT PICTURES that give us a detailed road map to Christ’s return. Basically the friend believes that all the shadows and images are exact descriptions of all future events. I shared with my friend that I too believe that the feasts of Israel are prophetic signs of things. Surely Passover and Pentecost have had great meaning for the people of God. Paul says ‘Christ our Passover died for us’. Some see the end time feast of the latter harvest as having future fulfillment in the ingathering of the nations to Christ. I have taught some of this on the radio before. The problem with this other stuff is it takes the feasts and shadows and tries to ‘detail’ every little thing. Paul understood the prophets and law having been fulfilled thru the present work of Christ and his resurrection. I can’t stress enough how the apostolic witness in Acts sees Jesus as the fulfillment of these things. They do not preach a heavily nationalistic [Jewish] message, though they are all Jews! [The Apostles] As Paul defends himself, the governor listens and trembles! Paul spoke of judgment and temperance and the reality of a future resurrection of the just and unjust. The basic apostolic message as seen in the classic creeds of the church. Paul will sit under house arrest for 2 years until another person takes over Felix’s position. The guy’s name is ‘Porcius festus’ [I think I would prefer the name Judas over Porcius!] We end the chapter with Paul waiting to give another witness of Jesus before another ruler. The legal problems of Paul were Gods providence to give Paul opportunity to speak the gospel all the way up the chain. The chain ends at Rome.
(765) ACT 25- Festus hears the Jews at Jerusalem, they want him to bring Paul to Jerusalem. Festus goes back to Caesarea and asks Paul ‘why don’t you go back with me’? Paul appeals to Caesar! Of course going to Rome was part of the plan. Now King Agrippa [another one of the many ruling authorities that Rome had over the people!] comes to Caesarea and Festus tells him about Paul. Agrippa will get a strong word in the next chapter. Also the Jews come down from Jerusalem and accuse Paul of many things. I want to make a note here. In the area of apologetics, which we do a lot of, you need to be careful that you don’t jump on the bandwagon of unfounded accusations. There are and have been real doctrinal heresies that needed to be dealt with, but some of the apologists really get personal. Even calling family members degrading names! In Paul’s case he had accusations that were not true. He does defend himself against the false ones, but also admitted that he believes in Christ’s resurrection and that this is considered heresy among certain Jews. Paul’s main message was Christ and the resurrection! As we get ready to close our study in a few more days, I want to recap the importance of seeing Jesus and his fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets as the main message of the Apostles. This early teaching by the Apostles needs to be the ‘tradition’ if you will, once again. We [believers] have a tendency to delve deeply into all sorts of stuff. Paul will warn his spiritual sons ‘don’t get lost in endless genealogies and debates about the law’ and Hebrews says ‘it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace, not with meats [legalistic doctrines] which have been unprofitable to those who have gone that route’. Now, you guys know I believe in correct doctrine, and Paul wasn’t advocating ‘no doctrine’. But it is easy to get lost in endless debates that lead to nowhere. Ultimately our goal is to present every man perfect in Christ. Paul will stick with this message all the way to Rome!
- ACTS 26- Paul makes his case before Agrippa. Paul says that he is being accused of the hope that all the Jews are waiting for and serving God day and night to receive! It’s funny how all the religious requirements of the law and temple, the whole culture of Judaism. All the symbols that made up their heritage. All the times they would quote Moses or Abraham ‘we have Abraham as our father’ ‘we know God spoke to Moses’ all of these things were for THE SOLE PURPOSE of coming to a point in Jewish history where the Jews would receive their Messiah. Paul states ‘this actual hope and reason for our existence as a Jewish nation is the cause of contention that the Jewish leaders have against me’. What an amazing thing! Now once again Paul will state the basic Christian doctrine of Jesus and his resurrection ‘king Agrippa, why would it be so hard to believe that God can raise the dead’? Did you ever ponder this question? A few years ago you didn’t exist [30-50-70?] since you were born you have been taught that you exist because of certain natural means. You learned the process of birth, and some of you have actually had kids yourselves. During you life you have heard and learned about the universe, planets, the history of man. We have lived thru an industrial and technological revolution. We put men on the moon, we splice genes, we take men’s hearts out of their bodies and put pumps in there place! Plus all these things came from a point in time where there was no thing! Hebrews says God made every thing from nothing! Science actually does agree with this [read my section on Evolution] and after all this experience and knowledge you have attained in your very short life, yet if God were to say ‘I will raise the dead’ people say ‘now, how can you expect me to believe that?’ We do have pea brains at times! Paul also retells his conversion and says how Jesus told him he would be a witness of the historical events of Christ and his resurrection, but Jesus also said ‘and you will testify of the things I will reveal to you in the future’. Now we have to do some stuff. What were the things that Jesus was going to reveal to Paul in the future? We read these things in Paul’s letters. Basically the great reality of our sharing in the divine nature [actually this is Peter] our sonship. The great mystery of God making one new man out of Jew and Gentile. Truths concerning the ascension and the heavenly realities of redemption [Hebrews]. The point is the ‘future revelation’ of Jesus to Paul was not some knowledge outside of the boundaries already laid down in the gospels. The doctrine of the Apostles was already being taught thru out the book of Acts. God simply gave Paul greater insight and revelation into the truths that already existed. The Gnostics [early second century cult of Christianity- the word comes from the Greek term ‘Gnosis’- knowledge]. They taught a type of special knowledge that said the basic Christian who only has the historical truths of Jesus are at a lower level. Once you become a Gnostic, you then have special revelation that can’t be learned thru normal means. A popular Christian teaching comes close to this ‘revelation knowledge’. Many years ago I was a student of E.W. Kenyon and the word of faith movement. Brother Kenyon taught a type of mystical teaching that said God can reveal things to people outside of the 5 senses, and this is ‘revelation knowledge’. Can God do this? To a degree, yes. We actually read how Agabus gave Paul a prophecy about being bound at Jerusalem. Or Paul dreaming about a man in Macedonia asking for help. I see the reality of God being able to reveal things to us supernaturally as a gift of the prophetic. We are born of Gods Spirit and we do receive understanding from God as his Spiritual children. But yet Paul will write ‘study to show yourself approved’. So Jesus told Paul he was going to show him stuff in the future. Paul based his apostolic authority on this fact [Galatians 1-2]. He would say ‘the gospel I preach was not given to me by men, but God revealed it to me’ what gospel is Paul talking about? The gospel [good news] of the grace of God. Jesus revealed the more important stuff to Paul as time went on, Paul was seeing more and more grace!
- ACTS 27- Paul heads to Rome! He sets sail under guard and has a few harrowing experiences. He warns the ships captain not to sail at one stop, the time of severe weather is at hand. They refuse to listen, they set sail and wind up almost dying. Paul gives them a classic ‘I told you so!’ and says ‘don’t worry, an angel from God appeared to me and told me your lives will be spared’ [poor Paul, when is he going to see that these prophetic experiences are ruining his ministry!] they all swim to shore after the ship gets stuck off shore. At one point while still stuck in the water Paul tells them ‘you guys have not eaten in 14 days, have some food’ he breaks bread, thanks God and invites them to eat. I really see this as a type of ‘Lords supper’ thing. I have showed you guys in the past that the early church practiced a type of ‘common meal’. They seemed to take Jesus words in John 6 [Paul in Corinthians too] to teach that ‘as oft as you do this’ [do what? As oft as you get together and eat a meal from this time forth, you will remember that your actual spiritual life is pictured by you eating and drinking for physical life. I am your daily bread of life. You live because I live!]The early believers seemed to take it in this ‘buffet style’ way. So Paul seems to be holding some type of ‘invitation Lords meal’ and saying come and dine! At the end of this chapter Paul’s life is spared by the favor he had with the centurion Julius. God gave him protection to complete the mission. Paul has been witnessing of Jesus to all these gentile [Roman] authorities and he will take it to Rome. Ultimately it will take 3 centuries before the whole kingdom [Roman Empire] will bow the knee, but Paul was the firebrand who set the match.
- ACTS 28- After the shipwreck they wind up on an island called Melita. Paul meets the barbarous people and they welcome him. During a bon fire type thing, Paul is collecting wood and a poisonous snake bites him. The people think ‘surely this man is a murderer and ‘vengeance’ got him!’ Notice the fact that moral/natural law was imbedded in the consciences of these savage like people. Where in the world did they come up with such an idea of right and wrong and justice? The atheists say ‘well, all people simply come up with some type of code to live by. This is really not proof for moral law’. The Christian answers ‘so how come you never find some isolated tribe who rewards murder and punishes goodness’! Now, I realize there are distant tribes who practice violent stuff. The point is in all of these societies, there is a basic right and wrong that is honored. If the tribe is violent, they still don’t reward the cowardly killing of one of their own kids! These savages had the built in conscience of moral law that Paul teaches in Romans. Now after Paul doesn’t get sick or die from the bite, they ‘change their minds’ and say he is a god! People are fickle. Paul heals the father of the chief of the island, a small healing revival breaks out. Paul demonstrates the power of the gospel in word and deed. Even today, in many 3rd world countries you see healings and miraculous signs along with the preaching of the gospel. They launch off and land in a few more spots and finally make it to Rome! Paul calls the Jewish leaders and makes his familiar defense. He lists the accusations against him and defends himself. He thought the whole Jewish world knew about the gossip! The leaders tell him ‘we haven’t heard any stuff about you, but tell us more about this sect’. Leaders, don’t make the mistake of defending yourself over personal stuff from the pulpit! Often time’s people don’t know what you are talking about. Paul does set up a day and teaches the Jews in Rome from morning till evening showing them all the scriptures that testify of Jesus in the Law of Moses and the prophets. He ‘testified of the Kingdom of God and Christ’ [they go hand in hand!] Some Jews believe, others don’t. Paul then quotes the most quoted verse from the Old Testament in the New Testament ‘Isaiah was right about you! Having eyes you can’t see, ears you can’t hear…’ Luke ends the chapter [and book] with Paul living 2 years in a rented room and preaching the kingdom of God to all who will listen. Paul finished his days infecting the capitol city of the empire with the gospel! Church history tells us that Paul [and Peter] were martyred under Nero’s persecution. John [the apostle] writes about the beast making war against the saints and killing them. No wonder why the early church called Nero ‘the beast’. Paul writes one of his best letters to the Roman saints and the church will forever have an ‘eternal witness’ in the city of Rome. Paul got his wish.
- ACTS CONCLUSION- As we finish our study in Acts, I want to review a few things. The ‘church’ [ecclesia] as seen in Acts are without a doubt ‘organic’ this term describes the community of people in the various locations who believed the message of the Messiah. These people were not establishing ‘church meetings at the church on Sunday’ to compete with the Jewish meetings at the synagogues on Saturday. The transition from the old law into the new covenant was not only one of a change in message [law versus grace] but also a transition from shadows to reality. All the ways of worship and ‘liturgical’ form were part of the old law. The temple and priest and altar were important types and symbols of what was to come. But in the New Testament communities these ideas of physical worship changed. The actual praise of Gods people and doing good deeds will become the sacrifices that God is well pleased with [New Testament]. The Lords meal was actually a meal! The gathering on the first day of the week became a good tradition in memory of Christ’s resurrection. But as time went on many well meaning believers would return to the symbols and incorporate them into their worship. The church would be seen as the ‘church house’ the altar would be seen as a real place upon which the ‘bloodless sacrifice’ [Eucharist] would be re offered again for the sins of the world. The priest would be seen as having special powers given to him by Jesus, that during the mass the host becomes Jesus flesh and blood and as the people ‘eat’ him they are partaking, literally, of Jesus flesh and blood. Now, are all these believers wrong? Should we see the development of sacramental theology as pagan? I personally don’t think so. I prefer to view the changes that took place in the church as part of a process of Gods people grappling with doctrines and beliefs while at the same time struggling to maintain unity as the centuries progressed [I am not making excuses for wrong doctrine, I think well meaning church fathers grasped wrong ideas out of a fear of loosing their identity. The idea of a strong magesterium [teaching authority] gave room for wrong doctrines to become firmly entrenched in the collective mind of the early church]. For the first 1000 years of Christianity the people of God were primarily seen as Catholic. In 1054 the official split between eastern and western Christianity will take place. Another 500 years until the Catholic Church split again . The host of churches that came out of the Protestant Reformation are too innumerable to mention. Should we view all of these groups as deceived religionists? Of course not. Do we find a pattern in Acts that would allow us to trace ‘the true group’ and lay claim to being the most authentic? I don’t believe so. But as all the people of God strive for the unity that we actually posses in Christ, we have the great resource of the church fathers, the wisdom and insights of the reformers. The heritage of the outgrowth of the restorationist movements. The excitement of the Puritans as they launched out to found a new world free from religious persecution. If it weren’t for the strong institutional church we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have even had a Luther [Wittenberg] Calvin [first Paris then Geneva] or Zwingli [Zurich]! Or the ‘pre reformers’ Wycliffe, Huss and Knox. These men were products of Catholic higher learning! It was the reality of Catholic institutional Christianity that allowed for these men to be trumpets of truth in their day! The university cities that they taught in as Catholic priests allowed for their influence to spread far and wide. In each generation of believers you have had Gods people progress so far and leave us with great treasures that were intended to be passed on to future generations If we severe ourselves from historic Christianity, then we lose the great gains that have been made in the centuries gone by! The book of Acts shows us the freedom of the people of God. ‘Where 2 or more are together in my name, I am in the midst’ isn’t some description of ‘local church’. As in if we copy the formulas of what happened in Acts [break bread, prayer, etc.] then you ‘have a church’. Jesus promise to be with us when we are together is the act of brotherhood. Surely we saw Jesus going along with the people of God all thru out Acts. The Spirit of God that indwelt them in chapter 2 was the promise that he would be with them. He legitimized them! Not some institution [‘local church’] that they were to start! So today all the people of God are striving to find a closer identity with each other as fellow believers in the Lord. I believe the book of Acts gives us a beautiful picture of the church in her infancy stage. I also believe the growth seen as we read Paul’s letters to these churches indicates the heart of God for his people to remain in grace. Paul warns the churches to not fall into the legalism of observing days and regulations and legalistic requirements. He wants them to live simply, free from sin and to be the people of God in society. Some branches of Christianity took hold of the strong ‘we are pilgrims’ view [which is true to a degree] and would separate from society. Not realizing we are pilgrims and strangers to the worlds system, but our Father is God of heaven and earth! We are here to impact this planet! So let’s run with the exciting message and revolutionary mindset that the early church possessed. They weren’t in this thing for what they could get out of it, they were really laying their lives down for the gospel. They were sharing their stuff with each other. They were loving God and their fellow man in ways that were uncommon for their time. It wasn’t only what they said that allowed them to ‘turn their world upside down’ it was who they were, the People of God.