In the previous article I outlined how in many ways the Church of Christ never moved out of Acts 2. We stay in Jerusalem amongst those who are most culturally similar to ourselves. We know that conversation. We know that debate.
In Acts 2, Peter and the apostles knew how to have a conversation amongst other Jewish people. They knew how to open the Old Testament and have discussions from people who shared similar assumptions.
In my opinion that is much like the Church of Christ for the last 200 years. But the early church didn’t focus solely there. At some point they had to go out and engage a world that required a different conversation.
This is why Paul was so important. God used Peter to get the cross-cultural Gospel inroads started but God used Paul to carry it through. God said this about Paul in Acts 9:15, “But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.”
Paul was from Tarsus, which was a town steeped in Greek culture and education. Paul knew Greek rhetoric. He also studied under a famous Jewish teacher – Gamalial. Paul knew both worlds. He was a Pharisee and was steeped in Greek rhetoric. This is who God used to take a very Jewish gospel and Jewish scriptures out to a world that needed that information contextualized to the lives of people living with a very different set of assumptions.
We see this happen after Acts 10…go into Acts 13-14 and look at who Paul and Barnabas are reaching out to – pagan idolaters. This isn’t Jerusalem anymore. This is no longer an in house conversation…it has gone global and it took people who had the chops to reach into cultures very different from their own. It also took the leading of the Holy Spirit to drive the mission.
I argued in the last article that we needed to move from Acts 2 (Jerusalem and “in house” conversations trying to convert people most similar to ourselves) to Acts 10 (reaching the Gentile God-fearers). I am still not convinced we have made it to Acts 10 in Churches of Christ…but whether we have or haven’t doesn’t really matter.
Here is what I am driving at – until we begin to see how to have a conversation with people very dissimilar to ourselves, the Gospel is not going to thrive.
Read Acts 17. Read how Paul went into their world. Paul engaged their thoughts and values. Paul knew them and loved them. He knew their culture and knew which inroads he could take in Athens to get the Gospel into their lives. He knew this because he spent time studying these things. And he had success…see how Acts 17 ends.
I am afraid we have gotten lazy and complacent. We adjusted to what we thought was an Acts 2 world – people coming to us (the U.S.) from all over the world like they came to Jerusalem…and like Acts 2 those who came were very much like us and started with the assumptions that the scriptures were the words of God.
But we don’t live in an Acts 2 world anymore. We live solidly in Acts 13, 14 and 17. And until we make that shift…until we learn to have new conversations and really love people who are different than us…the path forward doesn’t look good to me.
If it took them 20 years to get from Acts 2 to Acts 17 it has taken us 200 years of barely budging off Acts 2. I hope and pray we can make progress but I am not convinced it is going to happen until two things happen:
1 – We rely 100% on the Holy Spirit just as they did.
2 – We learn to love people not like ourselves.
These two things will drive us to the necessary cross-cultural work we must do to get to know people who live on our block and go to our schools and work alongside us in our own Areopaguses (marketplaces).