Acts, Chapter 1
This book was written by Luke, a doctor by trade and a close companion of the Apostle Paul. Although Luke was not himself an Apostle, he used reliable sources and eye-witness accounts to summarize the life of Jesus (in the Gospel of Luke) and to write the book of Acts. The early church (meaning the believers during the first 100-200 years after Christ's resurrection) required a book to be written or approved by an Apostle for it to be considered scripture. The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were both approved to fit this category by the early church.
Acts was written 33-40 years after Christ's resurrection. Luke was a non-Jew (Gentile) writing to a non-Jew named Theophilus. (He also wrote the Gospel of Luke to Theophilus.) It's believed that Theophilus was a Roman official or someone that Luke knew would be publishing or preserving his letters in some way.
So there's the groundwork. Now we'll take a look at what this first chapter tells us:
Jesus prepares them to receive the Holy Spirit. (John the Baptist said this would happen in Luke 3:16.) Jesus knew that these men would not be able to carry out his work without him. So first he promised them power from the Holy Spirit so that they would be equipped to share the truth with everyone on earth.
The intention of Jesus is not that his followers be only Jews, or Europeans or Americans. Christianity is not simply an American tradition. Jesus did so much more than start a new cultural religion. He revealed the truth about God and humanity and wants EVERYONE to understand it.
Verses 10-11 clearly indicate that when Jesus returns it will not be metaphorical or represented symbolically in some way. It will be a visible, physical, and local event.
We think of the word "church" as referring to a building, usually with pews and nice carpet. The word "church", (first used by Jesus in Matthew 16:18) comes from the word Ekklesia and means "the body or group of those who are called". Only in a secondary sense did it ever mean a specific local group of people. But still, the "church" is a "body", not a scattered number of people on isolated spiritual journeys. And it has always been that way, even since the very first church meeting recorded right here in Acts 1:14.
Pretty soon the number grew from a couple dozen to more than 100. And almost immediately this church began to organize. Peter makes the point that one, among the original "12", rejected Christ and so should be replaced. So they held a meeting to determine who would take the vacant position.
For many people being "spiritual" seems right, but they'd like to avoid "organized religion". But we can see as early as this chapter that there has to be some level of organization if we expect to be as effective as possible in carrying out what God is asking us to do. If we're going to care for the poor and teach truth to those who've never heard or understood it, we'll need to organize. If we're going to really move forward in our spiritual journey's, we'll need to be around other people that can help us learn, give us encouragement and provide us with opportunities to serve.
The Bible supports continued meetings of Christ's followers in Hebrews 10:25-
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
So the real problem isn't the fact of organization. The real problem is poor organization, or defective leadership. Unfortunately, these issues exist at some level in all churches and even more so when a church is organized based more on man-made ideas than biblical ideas. But rather than avoiding organized groups altogether, we should make an effort to find a group, or "church", that makes a real effort to teach straight from the Bible and gives priority to the things it prioritizes. The more a church is willing to trade in its man-made traditions for biblical truth, the more effective it will be in following Christ and serving others.
Next Week: The Holy Spirit changes everything for the growing church and we see a clear example of what today's churches should be about!
Coffee House Question:
What positive or negative images or memories come to mind when you think of the word "church"?