In their discussion of the book of Acts in An Introduction to the New Testament, Carson and Moo say:
In Acts, Luke conducts the reader on a whirlwind tour of three decades of church history. We visit Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Syria, Cyprus, many cities in Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, and, finally, Rome. We witness everything from preaching and miracles to jailbreaks and shipwrecks. And, while many individuals accompany us on our tour, two are rather constant companions: Peter, who is often with us in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria; and Paul, who is our almost constant companion from Syria to Rome. We can, in fact, divide our tour into two major parts based on the prominence of these two individuals: chapter 1-12 and chapters 13-28. Each of these major sections can be subdivided further into three parts, which are marked off by key summary statements. In these brief notes, Luke sums up a series of events by telling us that they have led to the growth of the Word of God or of the church (6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20). Each section carries us to a new geographic and/or cultural stage in the itinerary of the gospel, as Luke portrays the fulfillment of Jesus’ command to the apostles that they be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8).
Have you ever thought about how the church propagated in those early years? Over the past few days I’ve been reading the Book of Acts again. I’ve been specifically trying to pay attention to how the word of God… the church… the gospel… propagated from person to person, place to place, city to city, region to region.
So far, I have seen very little indication that structures or organizations played a part in the propagation of the church. In fact, at times, organizations and structures actually seemed to work against the propagation of the gospel and the church. It was when the organization gave in to the work of the Holy Spirit that the word of God progressed.
How did the church and gospel propagate? Simply through the direction of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit led men and women – and as those men and women obeyed – the word of God spread and the church grew. At times, these men and women followed the Holy Spirit to increased influence in the community and the world. At times, these men and women followed the Holy Spirit to their death. At times, the believers seemed to be victorious as they followed the Spirit. At times, the believers seemed to be defeated as they followed the Spirit. But, in all cases, as men and women followed the divine direction of the Holy Spirit – regardless of what happened to the men and women themselves – the word of God spread and the church was edified.
I think we have become too safe… too planned… too predictable… too organized… in our understanding of the spread of the gospel and the church. I think we have spent too much time listening to strategists and planners and not enough time listening to the voice of the only One who can grow the church and transform people’s lives. I think we have expended too many resources trying to create a successful church instead of following the only One who can and does make us victorious.
Of course, listening to the Spirit is subjective… and we can’t guarantee that we will hear him or that we will follow when we do hear him. But, is any other answer really an answer at all? Is any path other than a step-by-step obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit worth any expenditure of time or resources?
Perhaps it is time to stop trying to build a successful church, and start living as believers who attempt to walk each day, make each decision, and approach each person in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.