Last week, I had the opportunity to teach on the Book of Acts for Dave Black’s New Testament class. Several people have asked me about sharing my lecture notes.
In fact, I rarely use lecture notes, per se, and I didn’t use notes this time. I often use an outline that includes quotes from books that I want to share during the class. Plus, this class was intended to be interactive. So, while I guided the discussion, I asked for and received alot of input from the students as well.
However, I will share the outline that I used.
Since my goal was to show the church as both “gathered” and “sent” in the book of Acts, I used quotes from a book that argues that the Anabaptists saw the church in the same way. (This does not meant that ONLY the Anabaptists (historically) saw the church in this way.)
The Church by Example in the Book of Acts
Greek name: Πράξεις τῶν Ἀποστόλων (activities/practices/actions of the apostles)
(Used as early as Irenaeus who died in 202 AD.)
But, according to Acts 1:1, the book describes the continuing actions and teachings of Jesus Christ.
However, it’s true that the book describes what Jesus Christ continues to do and to teach THROUGH his followers, both those who are apostles and those who are not apostles.
The book is primarily narrative, like the gospels, although the genre is somewhat different than the gospel genre because it does not focus on one person.
Of course, most of the Old Testament was written as narrative, and Paul tells us that it was written down for our instruction. We are to learn from narrative Scriptures.
What does the Book of Acts illustrate for us that we can learn from?
Let’s begin with the title: Acts. The early believer saw this book as an example of the actions taken by Jesus Christ (via his Spirit) through the children of God.
What actions do we see illustrated in Acts?
I’m going to divide the actions into two groups: 1) those related to being “sent” by God, and 2) those related to be “gathered” by God.
For many, many years, the church has recognized (at times) its dual nature of both being sent by God and being gathered by God. Today, these joined ideas are expressed in buzzwords such as “Missional Community.” But, for the early church, living as a community taking part in God’s mission daily was not simply a buzzword… it was a way of life. For many today, phrases such as “Missional Community” are more than buzzwords; they also describe the way of life in Christ.
Through the centuries, other groups of Christians have recognized that they were both “sent” by God and “gathered” by God.
The Anabaptist View of the Church by Franklin Hamlin Littell:
The dominant theme in the thinking of the main-line Anabaptists was the recovery of the life and virtue of the Early Church. The ordinances which had characterized the True Church (die rechte Kirche) in that Heroic Age were to be made a program for thoroughgoing reformation. The Reformers were not willing to make so radical a break from the past, but those whose key concept was restitutio rather than reformatio were determined to erase what they considered the shame of centuries and to recapitulate the purified church life of the Golden Age of faith. (pg 79)
(From Peter Ridemann – 1506-1556):
Therefore, such a people, community, assembly, or church is gathered and led together by the Holy Spirit, which from this point forward rules, controls and orders everything in them…
The children of God… become his children through the unifying Spirit. Thus, it is evident that the church is gathered together by the Holy Spirit: also that they have their existence and are kept in existence by him, and that there is no other church apart from that which the Holy Spirit builds and gathers.
Not only was a new historical significance given to the Great Commission, but its application was made relevant to the life of the ordinary layman. The missionary mandate was no longer the prerogative of special orders or selected professionals. The layman was no longer limited to remaining obediently in his appointed place and status. The Commission applied to the most simple believer and claimed him as an evangelist. (pg 113)
A Sent Church
a going church
– Acts 8:4-5 (Philip), Acts 11:19-21, Acts 15:36-41, Acts 16:1 (Timothy), Acts 20:1-6
a sending church
– Acts 8:14, Acts 11:22-24, Acts 13:1-4, Acts 15 (many occurrences),
a proclaiming church
– Acts 2:14ff (Peter), Acts 3:12-15, Acts 7:2 (Stephen), Acts 8:5 (Philip), Acts 9:20 (Paul immediately after being saved), Acts 13:16ff (Paul), Acts 14:12-17 (Paul)
a growing/expanding/increasing church
– Acts 2:47, Acts 4:1-4, Acts 6:7 (just before Stephen), Acts 9:31 (after Paul’s conversion), Acts 11:19-21 (Antioch – Gentiles), Acts 16:4-5, Acts 19:20 (Ephesus)
A Gathered Church
a gathering church
– Acts 2:46-47, Acts 12:12 (17) (gathered for prayer), Acts 14:25-28, Acts 15:30-31, Acts 20:7
a teaching church
– Acts 11:25-26 (Paul/Barnabas in Antioch), Acts 15:1, Acts 15:30-35, Acts 18:24-26 (Aquila/Prisca w/ Apollos), Acts 19:8-9, Acts 20:7-12
a sharing/serving church
– Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:32-37, Acts 11:27-30, Acts 28:8-10, Acts 28:14
an eating church (hospitality)
– Acts 2:46, Acts 10:48 (Cornelius), Acts 11:1-3, Acts 16:15 (Lydia), Acts 16:32-34, Acts 20:7
Both Sent and Gathered Church
a praying church (often with fasting)
– Acts 4:24-31, Acts 10:9 (Peter praying alone), Acts 14:21-23, Acts 20:36-38 (Ephesus elders)
a following church
– Acts 16:6-8
a suffering church
– Acts 8:1
He [Paul] lived there [under house arrest in Rome] two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. Acts 28:30-31
– The church in Acts made mistakes
– But, they managed to maintain their focus on mission and community in spite of suffering by constantly and continuously following the Holy Spirit.
What happened to the Anabaptists?
So, what happened? Why did the evangelical fervor of those early Anabaptists lessen over time? Littell suggests two reasons: 1) They forgot that the Holy Spirit had gathered them together and separated them from the world, or 2) They forgot that the Holy Spirit had sent them into the world. Some groups seemed to lose their desire to follow the “life and virtue of the Early Church”, while others desired to completely isolate themselves from unbelievers and lost their “missionary mandate.”