In my pursuit for combining signs and wonders with peace and justice, I often get to see parallells between the Charismatic and activist streams of Christianity. One is that both want to get back to the original church; Pentecostals, as you probably know, want to resurrect the charismatic explosion of Acts 2, and radical Christian activists want to see the community of goods and the overflowing love and unity of Acts 2.
But then there’s a problem both parties face. Some Christians don’t want to return to Acts, basically because they argue that Acts was temporary – we’re not supposed to live like that any longer. You will find this among cessationists, who argue that the miracles in the book of Acts died with the apostles, and among most other Christians as well who argue that the community of goods and radical economic equality of the early church was just a temporary experiment. The church of Acts may have been good for that time but is not very relevant for our churches today. Guess we’re smarter now, or something.
This view has always surprised me since the very reason we value the New Testament as the Word of God is that it’s written by the apostles, or their direct disciples. The apostles had authority (Acts 2:42) since they were elected by Jesus and were the first church leaders. How come that we value their words more than their lives? If they were healing the sick and practicing community of goods, how could that possible be abnormal Christian living?
Jack Deere has written about this. He’s an ex-cessationist who became one of the main leaders in the Charismatic Vineyard movement after the Vineyard pastor John White went to his church and healed som people and drove out some demons. He really nails the problems with the theology of the abnormal Acts in his book Surprised by the Voice of God (Kingston 1996, ss. 61-63), which I qoute below:
The experience of some Christians leads them to conclude the Christianity of Acts is not normal Christian experience. Okay, let’s concede that the book of Acts represent abnormal Christianity. In the same way, we could also say that the apostle Paul’s passionate devotion to Jesus Christ was abnormal. How many people have you met who could truthfully say with the apostle Paul, ”I do all things for the sake of the Gospel (1 Cor 9:23, NASB)? Or ”For me, to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21)? I’ve found this kind of passion to be abnormal in the church today. But wouldn’t we be better off to choose the abnormal in this case?
[…] There’s a danger we need to consider. If we say that the book of Acts represents an abnormal state of Christianity, we may be unwittingly guilty of judging Scripture. When we say it is abnormal, we are comparing the experience of the New Testament church in the book of Acts to something else which we regard as normal. Is this ”something else” another scriptural history of the New Testament church? No, the book of Acts is te only inspired, inerrant account we have of the church’s history. None of the histories of the church written since Acts have the same divine authority or truth. Because its ultimate Author is God, the book of Acts is a perfect witness to the kind of life the early church experienced. It is also a witness meant to teach us about life in God.
[…] I never saw a miracle, never heard God’s voice outside the Bible, until the Christianity of Acts became a serious model for me. Since that turning point, I have experienced many of the same things reported in Apostolic times. I know credible witnesses who have experienced more than I have. I believe Acts does represent normal Christianity. Anything less really is less.
Amen, Jack! It’s the powerless, unequal, boring Western church that’s abnormal, and we should normalize it through letting it becoming more Acts-ish.
- III. Acts : God builds His Church (bridgebarriers.com)
- What is the Power of God? (theeyesoffaith.wordpress.com)
- A Prostitute Teaches Me How To Worship – Part 1 (stevensawyer.wordpress.com)
- Acts 4:23-37 Courage, Worship, Grace by Craig Herr (firstpresjoliet.wordpress.com)
- The Heart of Pentecostalism (joshuaziefle.net)