Bible Gemz 1339 - Acts as a Manual - Church Growth or Missionary Manual?
There is one more level I need to draw your attention to regarding the purpose for the Book of Acts. These days, many are treating the Book of Acts like a Manual - A Manual for Church Growth or a Missionary Manual. Well, it is actually fine to treat the book as a manual because all of the Bible really is the Maker’s Manual for Living Life (as God intended it). There is nothing wrong with that. We should always conclude any Bible Study or Bible reading with the application step. How does this apply to me? What do I need to do now that I know this truth? But the essential question we have to ask and answer in this case is, did Luke write Acts as a Manual? And if he did, was it a manual for Church Growth or was it a Missionary Manual (an Apostles’ Handbook)? Many places I have been, I have heard the idea preached, taught, discussed and debated that Acts is a Manual for . . . whatever our Conference may be about or whatever our organisation may be involved in. But is that how Luke or God intended it?
Acts as a Church Growth Manual
Is Acts prescriptive for how church should grow and be planted? Is this the pattern for what churches should experience? Did Luke choose events he describes to give us a model for the things a good church should experience? Many appeal to the Book of Acts for the model churches should follow. The closing verses of Acts 2:42-47 seem to describe the ideal of how a church should function. Are these recorded in Acts for us to emulate or is Luke merely being an historian and telling us what happened, from which we draw our own conclusions?
What is also interesting about the Bible is that it always records everything, warts and all. Most ancient writings only included the stories of humans emulating the acts of the gods. There were no bad examples included. No human error, no sin tendency, no bad behaviour, no bad examples for others to follow. But that is not what we find anywhere in the Bible. The Bible is unique in that it tells human experience as it is – the good and the bad. The Book of Acts is no different. Luke tells us of Ananias and Sapphira, Paul’s disagreement with Barnabus, Paul’s short fuse with John Mark, Simon’s desire to profit from this Holy Spirit thing. He records for us both the good and the bad. That fact makes it more difficult to determine if this should happen or if it can happen. What is normal and to be expected, in fact prescribed, and what is abnormal and may happen but doesn't necessarily mean it will. What is normal for the church? Many events are recorded in Acts once and not repeated. Remember repetition is used biblically for emphasis.
In Acts we have a record of Church Council meetings and how they went about making decisions. We have a record of how the early church sought for guidance from the Holy Spirit in the post-Jesus era. Notice too, that the pattern changes from the earlierOld Testament Urim and Thummim approach with the selection of Matias, to seeking the Holy Spirit collectively in Acts 13. It is all written for our benefit. We are told about typical church theological issues – Baptism with Water, Baptism with the Spirit, Circumcision and the Law, Speaking in Tongues, Conversion. The overarching question for us has to be – is this normal or abnormal behaviour? Is what has been recorded meant to be descriptive or prescriptive?
Acts as a Missionary Manual
Roland Allen wrote three influential books all based on an understanding of the Book of Acts.
Missionary Methods – St Paul’s or ours?
The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church
The Ministry of the Spirit
The Book of Acts appears to provide a model not just for Church Planting, Church Growth or other trendy topics related to the Church universally. It is also a good model for missionary methodology. In it we find the following teaching, stages, strategic plans. Call them what you like, they can be applied prescriptively for mission endeavour. Luke would have called the activity Apostolic, not Missionary. Luke gives us an account of how the early Apostles (read missionaries) went about the process of :
Commissioning and Sending Missionaries out
The activities they were to do included: Preaching, Discipling, Church Planting, Appointing Elders, When to leave, Going back on Supervisory Visits.
Discussing Strategy, key cities, multi-ethnic approaches
Funding Issues including Church Support,
Tent Making Approaches
Trouble Shooting Matters
All in all, it is a comprehensive coverage of how to go about missionary endeavour. But while saying that, I am not convinced that Luke set out to write a Manual for Mission Methodology.
We are left with the question: What was Luke’s purpose in writing the Book of Acts? Was it indeed to provide us with a manual for Church Growth or Missionary endeavour?
Or is that a spin-off that we can gain from what Luke wrote but which was not his main purpose?
It is questions like that which you will need to ask and answer as we make our way through Acts.
We begin with the actual words Luke wrote in the next Gemz. Wow it has taken me 11 Gemz just to lay some of the foundations. I sense gemming Acts is going to take a while given it is one of the longest books in theNew Testament.
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