Wednesday, December 17, 2014


ΠΡΑΞΕΙΣ ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΩΝ. The Acts of the Apostles.

Graduate work in seminary is now over twelve years behind me, but I still cringe when I think about those moments in a theology, Bible, or history course when someone, usually during a break, would comment, “I wish we just had to learn about practical ministry.” My visceral reaction (that I politely kept choked back) stuck with me far longer than it should. I remember a professor in a missiology class saying that the missionaries went out to do the work of reaching the lost, and that it was the “MDiv student’s job” to make it appear biblical. It’s only recently (in the last year or so) that I can open a popular book on ministry. There are good ones out there, I know, but the taint of those who only wanted the practical side of our training stuck to these “hands on” sort of books in my sinful mind.

Last week I opened a Greek New Testament to look something up. As I was flipping through the pages, I saw the title at the top of the pages to the book of Acts. ΠΡΑΞΕΙΣ ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΩΝ. Πραξεις, the first word in that title, is cognate with our English word “praxis.” Part of the same word-family as “practical.” The fifth book in the New Testament, in a sense, is a “practical” book on how to do ministry. I was both chastened for sticking my nose in the air concerning the idea of “practical ministry,” but also curious. According to the Holy Spirit, Who worked through those apostles in the first generation of the new covenant Church, what did “practical ministry” look like?

They prayed (1:14).
They added a leader for “ministry and apostleship” (1:15-26).
They met together (2:1).
They proclaimed “the wonderful works of God” to every ethnicity and language (2:4-40), preaching a sermon about God’s saving work in Christ from numerous Old Testament texts, ending with a command to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”
They baptized “those who gladly received his word” (2:41).
I’ve always loved these next verses, which show the daily,“practical” work of the Holy Spirit in their midst: “...they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (2:42-47).
They went to where the people were, healed a man, and preached (3:1-26).
They witnessed to the authorities who had arrested them (4:5-22).
They prayed for boldness to preach even more (4:24-31).
They sold possessions to meet the needs of the poorer members of the Church (4:32-36).
They gathered where people were and healed them (5:12-16).
They were arrested, freed, and told (by “the Lord”) to go preach again (5:17-21).
They were arrested again, and get to preach another message (albeit shorter) to the authorities – not on civil rights, or injustice, but the Gospel (5:29-31).
They were released, “and daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (5:42).
They were meeting the needs of the widows in the congregation (6:1).
They were appointing men “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” to the office of servant (6:2-6). These office-bearing servants were so “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” that two of them, Stephen (6:8-7:) and Philip (8:4-40), become unmatched preachers (Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr) and missionaries.
In addition to the office of servant (to meet the needs of the widows in the congregation and set the world afire with Gospel preaching as the Spirit directs), the original leadership continued to devote themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6:4-7:60).
They grieved over their dead (8:2). In case that sounds too tame, they “made great lamentation over him.” Corporate grief is a psychologically and spiritually invaluable gift of God, lost in our culture (read the hymn-book of the Bible, the Psalter, sometime to see the emotions on display in their congregational singing).
They baptized former enemies (9:18).
They preached (9:20).
They made peace for the building of the fellowship and ministry (9:26-28). Beloved, we need more peacemakers like Barnabas! “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
They healed (9:32-34).
They restored the dead to life (9:35-43).
They prayed (10:9).
They traveled to places for the purpose of preaching and baptizing (10:34-48). Yes, there were probably still lots of households in Jerusalem that needed the Gospel. But God sent Peter on a short-term mission trip to this particular house.
They met to sort out disagreement and confusion about the mission work (11:1-18). They ended up glorifying God for reaching a people very different from themselves.
They preached (11:19-21).
They encouraged preachers (11:22-25).
They assembled the Church and taught them (11:26). For a year.
They collected an offering to meet the needs of the Church suffering from what we would call a “natural disaster” (i.e., an act of God, 11:27-30).
They were killed (12:2) and imprisoned (12:3) by the civil leadership.
They prayed (12:12).
The leadership of a local congregation “ministered to the Lord and fasted” (13:1-3).
They sent out missionaries after having “fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them” (13:3).
They traveled and preached (13:5).
They traveled and preached some more – about Jesus from Old Testament texts (13:13-41). Then they did it some more (13:44-49).
And some more (14:1-3).
And some more (14:6,7).
They healed (14:8-10).
They preached (14:14-17).
They preached the Gospel not just in marketplaces or the synagogues, but in local congregations, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.’ So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in Whom they had believed” (14:22,23).
They reported their mission work to the Church that had commissioned them (14:27,28). Paul and associates were accountable to a local congregation. What had the local congregations been doing while Acts reported on Paul’s mission trip? The practices outlined in 2:42-47.
They met to resolve doctrinal conflict (15:1-31).
They traveled and preached (15:32-35).
They traveled and encouraged the Church (15:36-40).
They kept on traveling and encouraging the Church (16:1-5).
They traveled and preached (16:10).
They preached and baptized (16:13-15).
They cast out a demon (16:16-19).
They “were praying and singing hymns to God” to a new audience – fellow prisoners in the Philippi jail (16:25).
They preached and baptized (16:31-34).
They encouraged fellow believers (16:40).
They traveled and preached Christ from the Old Testament (17:1-4).
They did it again (17:10-12).
They traveled and preached about God the Creator, judgment Day and the need to repent, salvation in Christ the Judge alone, all while quoting pagan poets (17:16-34).
They traveled and preached (18:1-5).
They baptized (18:8).
They taught “the Word of God” for eighteen months (18:11).
They traveled and preached (18:19).
They traveled and took time to encourage congregations (18:23).
They traveled and preached Christ from the Old Testament (18:24-28).
They baptized (19:5).
They preached for two years (19:8-10).
They healed and cast out demons (19:11,12).
They sent out men to preach whom they had personally discipled and mentored (19:22).
They traveled and encouraged believers “with many words” (20:1,2).
They gathered to break bread and hear preaching throughout the night on the first day of the week (20:7).
They taught and prayed for the leadership of local congregations (20:17-36).
They prayed (21:5).
They reported on mission work (21:17-25).
They were arrested and preached to hostile mobs (21:37-22:21).
They remained arrested and preached to hostile groups of leaders (22:30-23:1,6).
They defended themselves before a regional governor – and preached the Gospel (24:10-21).
They did it again (24:24,25). It’s noteworthy that, while preaching “the faith in Christ,” some of Paul’s topics included “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come.” Does your Gospel preaching and/or witnessing include these topics?
Still in custody, they continued to witness to Christ while on trial (26:1-23).
While shipwrecked, they healed (28:8,9).
They enjoyed fellowship for a week with believers (28:14,15).
They preached (28:17-29).
While under house arrest, they taught Christ for two years (27:30,31).

This is the Bible’s book on “practical ministry.” While modern books on “practical ministry” can be helpful, they can also pull us in dozens of different directions from the basics outlined in Acts. Let’s make sure we’re reading and following the model of the first “practical ministry” book before reading the advice of well-intentioned and successful leaders of today. Foundations matter.

I’ve purposed to read one of these modern “practical ministry” sort of books once a quarter these days (bearing fruit in keeping with repentance, you might say). If they’re good, I pass them on to church members or leaders in other congregations. What qualifies as “good”? They guide back to the original “practical ministry” book and increase faithfulness to the Holy Spirit’s model.

Let’s not outgrow Acts.

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