I love the book of Acts because it traces the early steps of the Church. We saw the birth of the church in yesterday’s reading, and today we see the early church taking its first baby steps from Jerusalem, to all of Judea and Samaria. This is important not just for it’s historical value, but also because in discovering the ministry philosophy of the church in the first century, we learn more about how we are to be reaching our own culture in our own time.
In chapter 5, we see the story of Ananias and Sapphira, which served to remind the early Christians that God takes a high view of the church, and that we should not take it lightly. We also see the first arrest and miraculous freeing of the apostles from prison. In chapters 6 and 7 the story of Stephen is presented; a story that would encourage persecuted believers for years, and does so today as well. Chapters 8 and 9 present the story of the Apostle Paul; who he was prior to his conversion, the experience on the Damascus road, and his early forays into ministry.
One of the passages that really struck me was in chapter 5, when the apostles were arrested and thrown in prison. After the angel appeared and released them, the religious leaders had them recaptured and tried before the council. Toward the end of this trial, one of the Pharisees, named Gamaliel, stood up, ordered the aposltes to be removed from the room, and then addressed the council. He began by recounting the stories of a couple of pseudo-Saviors who had been able to gather a large crowd of followers around them, but when they died, their followers pretty much died out as well. Then he made the following remarks to suggest that the council take the same approach with these followers of Jesus,
“So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is from man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God.” (Matt. 5:38-39)
Well, we know the rest of the story now, don’t we? Through Roman rule and persecution, through the diluting of the church at the hands of Roman Catholocism, through the Middle Ages and Dark Ages, through the eras of the Renaissance and the modern Industrial Revolution, the church has stood strong, and has grown as a movement. Why? An old Jewish Pharisee (an enemy of the Cross), explained it perfectly…because “it is of God”.
Regardless of whether we are in the first century or the 21st century, the Church is not ultimately dependent on man to rise or fall or grow or shrink. The Church is not a movement of man, but a movement of God. Praise God for what He has done and is doing among us, His Church.