I’m beginning to teach the the book of Acts, and the more I study the more I’m convinced of its relevance for today’s church. Of course, all Scripture is relevant. Always. But in light of certain American evangelical tendencies, the message of Acts is urgent. Here are four reasons why the American church needs Acts:
So we can get back to the basics. The church today often attempts to grow by human innovation, worldly wisdom, trends and fads. Acts shows us how the first church grew. God acted through godly men who preached God’s Word by God’s Spirit. To be faithful, we need to get back to the principles that drove the apostles. It is a beautiful simplicity.
So we will stand up for the truth. In an age where no one wants to offend anyone, and everyone is hung up by this idea of “tolerance,” Acts is a fresh supply of reality. We need to be reminded of the boldness of Peter and the rational, engaging argumentation of Paul. Let’s remember that there is such a thing as truth, that we are not the dummies for preaching it, and that there’s a mass of humanity that needs to hear it.
Also, under this heading, we need to be reminded that the truth offends. It does. But it also saves. Peter’s message about the risen Christ was met with repentance and three thousand hearers that day were “cut to the heart” (2:37) and added to the church. Stephen’s message about the risen Christ was met with a murderous rage. Peter and Stephen preached the same Christ.There’s a lesson to be learned here: truth will unite God’s people to the church and at the same time will instigate opposition to it. It is outside our capacity to determine how people respond to truth. It is our duty to preach it.
To help us grow thicker skin. The American church is flabby and in great need of some spiritual muscle. The church needs to recapture the vision of holy grit, tough compassion, relentless love in the face of opposition. We give up too easily, back down too frequently, are offended too often, and discouraged too much. Too much fluff. The church in Acts shows us what thick skin looks like, what it means to have a spine, what manly mature Christianity looks like. Not many of us are willing to say to the governing authorities “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (4:19-20) or how many of us have witnessed fellow believers “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (5:41)? Too few, I think. May the Holy Spirit make us tough!
Opposition was real in Acts, and as we faithfully and boldly proclaim the gospel, we will face it. The tenacity of the apostles in Acts inspires us to face a grim and hostile reality.
To remind us of divine power. Because we have become so accustomed to manipulative ministry—trying to manipulate people into following Christ with human means—we need to remember that there is such a thing as divine power. Acts shows us that Jesus is alive, that he rules as king on high, that he is commanding his forces and moving. If Luke is the story of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Acts is the story of his heavenly ministry as Head of the church. He still sits at the right hand of God, he still holds all authority in heaven and earth, and he is still building his church. The more we depend on his divine power, the better off we’ll be.