The church in Acts is driven by the call to live as witnesses of Jesus . This missional thrust is driven by two primary convictions that are inseparably linked. First is the belief that God has raised the crucified Jesus from death and exalted him as Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:22-24, 32-36). The second conviction is that salvation is found exclusively in Jesus (Acts 4:12).
This is not a form of platonic dualism where salvation is the separation of the soul from the physical body and world en route for an ethereal view of heaven. Rather, salvation is the understanding that the world is lost in darkness but that Jesus makes it possible to live a new eternal life in which heaven and earth are coming together as they will be when Jesus returns. Because the world is lost and enslaved to the powers of darkness, the message of Christ is the good news (gospel) of salvation in which people find the freedom of new life in Christ.
This is the purpose driving the church we read of in Acts. Everything else we read of flows from this missional purpose and is rooted in this gospel of Jesus Christ. Most Christians probably agree that this is the anchoring purpose that should drive churches today. However, there’s one more idea to consider as churches strive in living on mission with God.
In Acts 15, as the Gentiles are turning to God, the church gathers to discuss the matter since some Jewish Christians believed the Gentiles must be circumcised. However, the church decides this is wrong and that the only prohibitions should be abstinence from practices rooted in idolatry (Acts 15:19-21, 29). The reasoning for this decision is stated in v. 19: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Think about the reasoning of this decision. The church in Acts believes that the Gentiles are lost and need the salvation found exclusively in Jesus Christ but they also believe they should make it easy for the Gentiles to turn their lives back to God. There’s a lesson here that shouldn’t go unnoticed. The lesson is that churches should make it easy for people to turn to God.
What does this involve? To begin with, it doesn’t involve watering down the gospel message or lowering the bar on discipleship. This much should be clear from just a cursory reading of the New Testament. What is involved in making it easy for people to turn to God is that churches should not allow their traditions to stand in the way of people turning to God by putting such people in a position where they must embrace the traditions in order to become a Christian. When I speak of traditions, I am speaking of issues like worship preferences (including a capella singing), dress codes, recreational hobbies, etc… Churches may attempt a defense of these traditions as “biblical” by proof-texting scripture but it is important to remember that one can make the Bible support about anything by proof-text.
Churches must consider what concessions are necessary to make it easy for people turn to God with faith in Christ. This begins by making “the lost” a priority in conversations that churches have about vision and the future. Too often, people outside of Christ receive the least amount of consideration. The bottom line is this: Without watering down the gospel message or lowering the bar on discipleship, what must churches do to make it easy for these people to find salvation in Christ?
- A similar version of this article was originally published in Connecting 29 (January 23, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.
- In fact, these prohibitions may have been made to make it easier for the Jews to join the Gentiles in table fellowship. See Charles H. Savelle, “A Reexamination of the Prohibitions in Acts 15,” Bibliotheca Sacra 164 (Oct-Dec 2004): 463; Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, Sacra Pagina (Colllegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992), 273.