Acts of Obedience
I have been doing correcting for the local "Perspectives on the World Christian Movement" class and writing about Acts 26 at the Bible Book Club. I love how the reading for Perspectives and my writing have collided this week. God's perfect timing! No wonder it took me so long to write through the book of Acts!
Here is an excerpt from the reading in Perspectives:
Boldness in Costly Public Witness
Were they faithful to the mandate Christ had given them? As Luke records it, they were to take a public stand as witnesses (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8). To act as a "witness" in Luke's way of speaking had very little to do with personal one-on-one communication of the goespel to friends and family. Only in recent times has the term "witness" been equated with general gospel communication. Reading Luke's use of the term "witness" revearls that almost eveyr time someone acts as a witness, they did so in a public setting.
Why was a public declaration in courts or in the streets so important? God wanted something more significant than a widespeared awareness of Christ's resurrection. God was establishing an unshakabel church. A witness not only asserted the facts of Jesus, they also established the profound value of following Jesus by their readiness to suffer.
The ordeal of public trial served to distinguish the movement of Christ followers, placing the entire church in public view. Ordinary men and women went on public display, along with their Christ-like character. Even their enemies recognized them "as having been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). Their lives became an expression of the highest ideals of their people (5:13). The function of witnessing could not be reduced to a brief commuicative action -- it was a process. Their obedience as witnesses transpired over weeks ormonths or longer.
Witnessing has to do with the paradox of shame and glory. After one courtroom appearance, Peter and his fellow witnesses rejoiced that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name (5:41). Jesus relays word to Paul by Ananias that Paul was a chosen instrument "to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel." It sounds like a regal duty, but the cost is severe -- a tetimony comprsied of suffering. The very next phrase the Lord gives Paul ist his: "for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake" (9:15-16). Their shame brought Chrsit's glory.
The Lessons for Obedience Today
Witnessing is not so much personal sharing of the gospel as it is the public estalblishing of the Chruch. It will take more than slick communication to plant churches where there are none. The drama of Acts may be a portrait of the way any new church is planted. There maybe be exceptions but for the most part, the record shows that thriving movements for Jesus must emerge into the public view. Secret movements grow weak and often disappear entirely. Movements that endure bear Christ's name boldly and at the same time display much that is recognized as the finest ideals of their people. How does this happen. it is by men and women (usually ordinary local people rather than missionaries), who are falsely accused and are brought into a setting of open testimony. At that moment, the value of following Christ is established.
(Excerpt from "Acts of Obedience" by Steven C. Hawthorne from Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Fourth Edition, edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, p. 139)