With this post, we start a series on the Book of Acts.
1. Purpose of the Study.
We’re not interested in merely developing some “doctrine of the church.” There may be a time and a place for such a thing, but in these posts we’re more concerned with “why” the church is than with “what” it is. For example, when the Lord Jesus ascended, why did He leave only a small, powerless band of men who had no idea what was going on? Further, what did He expect them to do? The Book of Acts gives ample answer to these questions, as well as telling us why we have been left in a world increasingly hostile to the Lord Jesus and His message.
2. Some Things to Think About.
In some circles, we hear about a lot about “The New Testament Church.” More than one group believes it can trace its roots back to Jerusalem, and so, of course, they are The New Testament Church.
An honest comparison between Acts and today shows such differences that it’s sometimes difficult to believe that there is any relationship between us and them at all. Nor do we believe that it’s necessary to provide a “genealogy” for a church so as to put it in direct succession with the church at Jerusalem. The only “link” that’s necessary is found in the Lord Jesus and not in some organization or group of organizations.
There are some things to keep in mind:
1. The “New Testament Church,” as such, is a concept, an ideal, that has never existed. The disciples themselves were blatantly far from perfect and even the church at Jerusalem had its problems, as noted in Acts 5 and 6. Indeed, most of Paul’s epistles were written to address problems and difficulties in “New Testament” churches.
At the same time, “New Testament churches” seek to be guided by principles of the New Testament and not by church edicts or dictates.
2. When we think of the New Testament church, though, we usually think of the first church, the church at Jerusalem. A moment’s thought should serve to show that the church at Jerusalem would be absolutely impossible to duplicate today.
a. Many of the people in Jerusalem, both believers and unbelievers, had seen the Lord Jesus and had witnessed or participated in the events surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord. Remember, the Lord was crucified less than two months before Pentecost. Further, many Jews had seen His miracles or heard His teaching during the three or so years of His earthly ministry.
b. Pentecost, though not the “birthday” of the Church (a thought to which we’ll return later on), was the catalyst igniting it, as it were, and getting it going. A second “Pentecost,” though some might earnestly long for it, is as impossible as a second Calvary. It is no more necessary for the Spirit to be poured out as He was in Acts 2 than it would be for the Lord to be crucified. Both were “once-for-all” events, though it is true that the effects and benefits of those two happenings must be individually applied and entered into.
3. Though many disagree, Acts records a final presentation of her King to Israel. In Matthew 12:39-41, the Lord stated that Israel would be given one final sign that He was who He said He was: He would only spend three days and three nights in the grave, no more. He would physically and bodily rise from the dead. Cf. John 2:19-21. See also Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:29, 30 (note “this generation” in v. 30). This is why the preaching in Acts always mentions the Resurrection.
Finally, it is sometimes said that Acts is historical and “transitional,” and so we shouldn’t rely on it to teach “doctrine.” Acts is transitional, but it contains some very strong doctrinal statements. Now, these must not be isolated from the rest of Scripture, as some do, but neither are they to be ignored. Acts shows the “transition” from a Jewish emphasis to a Gentile emphasis. Further, it shows the transition of Christianity from a local sect only in Jerusalem and Judea to an influence which moved the world of its day.