The Big Problem with the Book of Acts and the Big Solution

June 17, 2019

Acts 2:42-47 (in context)

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.


Everyone loves to idealize the early church. Those were “the good old days.” Entire movements of the church, known as Restoration Movements, have attempted to cast aside all of church history and tradition  beyond what we have recorded in Scripture, in the interest of getting back to the “early church,” when it was all working. If we can just do what they did, the rationale goes, we will see what they saw.

There’s a big problem, though, with the Acts of the Apostles. The book isn’t about that. The book is about the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Why is this a problem? Because if we think this is all about the  acts of the Apostles we will focus our attention on their tactics rather than their target and we will think if we can just emulate their tactics we will hit their target.

To be clear, these practices outlined in today’s text (study, prayer, shared meals, common purse, etc.) are all excellent and worthy of emulation, but they are not a prescription for church growth. They are a description of a growing church. We must abandon formulas and look for the deeper reality. The early church was not growing so dramatically because the people were doing these things. The church grew because of the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit in their midst. They did what they did in response to the Holy Spirit, not in order to get the Holy Spirit to respond. This is a critical distinction. Our focus must not be directed at parroting the  practical movements of a people, but rather on wholeheartedly seeking after the Prime Mover.

As a young youth minister I participated in a class led by a youth pastor  of a nearby mega church. This guy had hundreds and hundreds of kids in his flock. I will never forget the lesson where he presented a chart to the class that detailed a process map for getting people to move into ever-deepening commitment and involvement in the ministry. He was instructing us to just follow this chart. He was prescribing a particular process that would guarantee the results we wanted and make us more famous than Jesus. I was buying in to the ideas until he gleefully offered this comment, “If you can get this process chart working in your ministry, your group will grow dramatically—even without Jesus.”

There are times to read Scripture from a tactical angle and there are times to read it from a larger perspective. It takes wisdom and discernment to know the difference. As we move forward in reading the story of The Movement, let’s take care not to read too prescriptively, in search of  principles and such. Let us instead seek to attune ourselves to the person of the Holy Spirit and his nature, character, and ways of engaging with the human community. To be clear, the acts of the Apostles mattered. That’s just not what this story is about.

So here’s the simple solution to the big problem. Stop calling the book the Acts of the Apostles. Can we agree henceforth to refer to this story of The Movement as the Acts of the Holy Spirit.




How is it going with the breath prayer, “COME HOLY SPIRIT,” in your daily life? Are you giving it a try? How is that going?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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