A friend of mine, Steve Hill, recently sent out the following email which I felt was an excellent challenge to how we so often read the Book of Acts. Steve and his wife Marilyn are actively seeking to promote, assist and encourage the establishment of scriptural churches in many countries of Eastern Europe by practically assisting believers in those countries who are doing the work which God has given them. Steve and Marilyn have written “The Luke 10 Manual” which has been translated into many languages. They seek to practice and live what they teach. They presently live on Manitoulin Island (here in Ontario) and work with their own hands to meet their own needs as Paul taught in Acts 20:33-35 and send gifts which come their way to believers “on the ground” in Eastern Europe.
You can check out their web site from the link at the end of Steve’s email.
Here is Steve’s recent email….
Many of you can identify with my journey of beginning to question and then discard firmly held convictions (mostly about how to do church). Too many “Biblical principles” turned out to be cultural or institutional dogmas. In this process I began to wonder about the early disciples and to look at the book of Acts through a big question mark- What was their journey?
Luke writes the Acts account by simply telling the story. He makes no value judgements. He does not say whether something done was consistent with the teachings of Jesus or not. He just tells the story. We assume that everything he records the early apostles as doing was good, but should we? Acts begins with them asking Jesus, “Lord will You at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” They were still thinking of an earthly kingdom that would kick out the Romans and give them BMW camels. They were still asking this question after a forty day seminar on the Kingdom of God! They were on a learning curve and I do not think it ended with the Day of Pentecost.
Jesus talked about building on rock or on sand. Sand used to be rock. Sand is bits broken from the rock. You can choose bits of the scripture but what you build upon your favourite bits will fall. We need to wrestle with the whole as revealed in the Rock, Jesus, if we wish to build something that will last. The old saying “Text without context is pretext.” is accurate. If you cut and paste, you can make the scripture say anything you like.
Maybe the problem is not just understanding the original historical context but seeing our own? How much of what we see in the scriptures is because we are looking at them through the filter of our present presuppositions and reading that back into them? Or maybe just reading the scriptures through the lens of our own desire for significance, power, position and privilege?
Is this what the early apostles did? The church at Jerusalem was hugely successful but was having a problem feeding all the widows and orphans. More accurately they were having a cultural problem in that the Jewish background widows and orphans were getting better food than those of Greek background (Acts 6). The apostles did not think it was desirable “that they should leave the Word of God and serve tables….. but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word.” So they appointed deacons to this task. Luke says this “Pleased the whole multitude” but does not say if it pleased the Holy Spirit.
These verses have been quoted over and over again in support of “full time ministry” but should we not question them? How could the very men for whom Jesus made breakfast, the very men who heard Him say that even a cup of cold water given in His name would be rewarded, the very men who helped Him feed the multitudes, the very men who received the instruction that whatever was done unto the least was done unto Him…. How could these men think that serving tables was beneath them? In appointing deacons were they forgetting the teachings and example of the Master and reflecting the privileges of the religious leadership culture all around them?
To ask questions through the book of Acts you may have to question some of your favourite bits and cultural filters. You may have to acknowledge that you are on a journey. You may have to question some of your security blanket convictions. You may have to ask the Holy Spirit some questions.