Recently I combed carefully through the Book of Acts again, looking for what the Holy Spirit might have for me there. My special interest was in ecclesiology, but what really motivated me was to discover what made the early church so different from us today.
Just twenty years or so after the Ascension of Jesus, the church, by the testimony of a credible neutral, if not hostile, witness, had “turned the world upside down”. Now, if that describes your ecclesial experience, then a) I’m happy for you, and b) please contact me with information about how I can join your movement. Because, as for me, I see the church as compromised, disjointed and struggling. All that is ok, provided we’re moving in the right direction, but I wonder.
And so I began searching Acts once again to see what it was in the church DNA that we have lost. Before long, I came upon a curious little thing that writer Luke kept repeating. On the missionary journeys with Paul, he kept referring to the believers as “disciples”.
When I first noticed this, I easily dismissed it as a reference to the small band of missionaries that accompanied Paul. Paul’s MO was this: he typically would enter a town, preach Jesus in the synagogue, win converts, get thrown out of the synagogue, and then start a separate house church in the town, composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. Mere days or short weeks later, Paul and his band were gone, often forced out by persecution, and headed for the next town.
So I figured that Luke’s use of the term “disciples” couldn’t possible refer to the brand new Christians. They were mere babies in the faith; they could only handle milk, not meat. So I reasoned.
But as I read on, I came across solid evidence that those new converts to the Lord were exactly whom Luke was referencing as disciples. And with that understanding, my eyes were opened to the difference between the church in the Book of Acts and the current state of the church in the West.
Paul and his band did not preach a cultural Christianity, or mere morals. They preached total consecration to the Savior and to His church. Baptism was a symbol of dying to Christ, of leaving all the things of the previous life behind. It was not to be entered into lightly. And the persecution that continually dogged Paul was vivid evidence to any prospective new believer that if he were to accept Christ, he could expect the same in his own life.
Consider the power the church would have to change lives and impact the nations, if we were to shed our preoccupation with loveless doctrinal minutia and structures, and focus on radical obedience to the Holy Spirit; if we were to abandon materialism and individualism and dedicate ourselves to each other. This is the power the nascent church wielded, that caused it to thrive in a hostile environment.
I’ve heard that Chinese church leaders continue to ask the West to send more bibles, but not to send popular Western Christian books. Their greatest fear is not persecution, under which they have thrived for decades, very similarly to the church’s experience in the Book of Acts, it is becoming infected with self-centered consumerism under the flag of religion.
And so, I concluded that the key to awakening the church lies in discipleship. Funny, that’s exactly what Jesus indicated as He left this earth:
Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matt 28:18-20
We need to get back to basics. And it needs to happen now, in you and in me. The world is ripe for a final revival unlike anything it’s ever seen.
Not everyone is going to be willing to become a disciple. The cost is too great. Jesus understood that from the start. The Sermon on the Mount is universally acknowledged to be the greatest concentrated spiritual teaching in history, but look at how it happened:
When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. -Matt 5:1
Jesus never trusted crowds. Here he drew himself away from the crowds, to a remote place. Only those people who were willing to climb the mountain after Him would hear his intimate disclosure of Kingdom principles. The rest remained down below, awaiting their next “blessing”.
Another time, Jesus was walking on a road, with large crowds following. He turned abruptly and proclaimed:
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, and even his own life — he cannot be My disciple.
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. -Luke 14:26-27
Jesus purposely thinned the crowds. He would rather have a few who are serious than many who are just going along for the ride.
Yesterday I came across this video by Andrew Strom that speaks to the church’s need to recapture discipleship. Because these things have been reverberating in me lately, I found it riveting. I believe you will too. The sermon begins at around 11 minutes in.
Two coexisting rival kingdoms
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. – Mat 13:44
Jesus came and instituted his Kingdom “ahead of time”, as it were, while satan’s dominion on earth was still functionally intact. We know that God’s Kingdom is unshakable, and that it will continue to increase until all earthly counterfeits are done away with. But until that final day the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of man under satan’s domain coexist on earth. It is hardly a peaceful coexistence, as the enemy of God continually persecutes God’s saints, trying to wear them down through trials or trip them up with temptations.
Jesus left us in the world to bear witness to Him so that His Kingdom would increase. He could have taken each of us to Him the moment we possessed saving faith. But had He done that, who would have witnessed to the remaining lost of this world? In mercy, we were left here for the purpose of serving others.
Or we may think that at least God could have protected each of His children so that the sorrows of this world could not reach us as we went about our tasks. But if He had given his children a life of ease, then others would rush to join the side of Light not out of love of God, but out of selfish interest. So death has been permitted to reign during the present age, even over believers, to try our hearts and make us holy. Read more…