One major source of the differences seen in the church today I outlined in my Charismatic-Cessationist Spectrum are differing approaches to the book of Acts. Some say it is merely a descriptive book to tell us the story of the growth of the early Church. Others say it is prescriptive, giving us an idealised model of what church life should be like, it is in other words “normative.” That does not mean that churches will always look like this, but it does mean that this is a model to aspire to. It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am in the latter group! Indeed this belief is partly why I believe prophecy is for today that somehow didn’t make it into my 25 reasons post.
- All biblical narrative is intended to be instructive for us today. If Paul can say of the events of the Old Testament “these things took place as examples for us.” (1 Corinthians 10:6) how much more the events of the New
- If we are not intended to learn lessons about how to do church from the book of Acts then how are we to understand “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Should that be re-written to say “all except the narrative bits”?
- God designed the Bible to be mostly a narrative for a reason. Throughout history more people have been so-called “oral learners” who relate better to stories, and truth be told even those of us who think we have outgrown them are actually still heavily influenced by stories, as the success of Holywood demonstrates.
- Jesus promised his disciples something “better” than having him with them, and there is no hint that we are now second class citizens to the disciples, in fact we are all in a kingdom where the least of us is in a better position than John the Baptist! How bizarre to think that God would dangle a vision of church life in front of us, then snatch it away.
- The fact that by around 300AD church life looked very different from the book of Acts means nothing, since we believe that the church should be restored to the teachings of the New Testament, why not the practices?
- Pragmatically other models of church government have been invented and largely failed. The organic yet well led picture we have of church life in Acts is something that is tried too rarely.
- Churches are surely not meant to be either wholy independent from each other, nor part of some dominating hierarchy. Acts offers us a better way where major strides can take place spontaneously (Eg the way that the Antioch church began) but leadership and mutual service of churches is a regular feature. Traveling ministries of apostles and prophets bind the churches together into a family.
- Luke writes what is almost an idealised account of the churches early years. It is strange indeed that few if any mistakes are included in the narrative if what he is writing is not “see this is how it is done…” Remember that all the mistakes of the Old Testament saints are recorded, why does Luke largely not do that?
- Luke seems to be writing at a time when the future of Paul’s ministry is far from certain, and appears to be laying down a model for those that will come after him.
- Luke does not end the book by explaining that things in the church would now be different as the original apostles had departed, and nowhere does the Bible propose a future essentially without the Spirit. Far from it, Paul challenges us “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)
It is fair to say that the above views have previously been a bit of a minority viewpoint. A reader on Twitter recently asked what non-cessationist commentaries on Acts I was aware of. Thanks to another reader, I was thrilled to read the introduction to Ben Witherington’s commentary, in which he argues that Acts, broadly speaking, is indeed normative. Here are a few truncated quotes to get you interested:
- “There is no hint that Luke takes the so-called apostolic age as somehow unique and unrepeatable”
- “Luke believed that God continued to act in his own day in a similar fashion…[to that] portrayed in Acts”
- “Receiving the Spirit and water baptism are never simply identified in Acts” -
- “Luke believes a person is not a fully-fledged Christian if they’ve not yet received the Holy Spirit”
Read the rest of the introduction and buy the book here: http://amzn.to/12X1gXH