Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Principles and Patterns from the Book of Acts for Today’s Church

By Randy Watkins

Churches tend have patterns or traditional distinctions based on their unique history, beliefs and cultural influences. We can see a wide spectrum of forms which may have little support in principle. For instance, we find churches with forms that range between some of these extremes:

o Charismatic to formal
o Traditional to contemporary
o Biblical to emergent
o Legalistic to licentious
o Hierarchical to autonomous
o Robes to grunge
o Pipe organs to acid rock

Today’s churches whether old line denomination or the many of the variations of non-denominational, seem to be struggling with an identity crisis. Cultural changes and attitudes toward church make their traditions and patterns seem irrelevant. There is a lack of clear direction as to, who they are, and what they should be doing. This leads to trial and error programs, or copying something others are doing. Without focus on scripture the forms and patterns become the substitute for purpose and principle. Some forms may have an allusion to a scriptural basis but not necessarily normative. (I had to use that word somehow) With time and use the pattern becomes tradition and traditions become set in stone. These traditions can be and often are unhelpful, distracting, confusing, tedious, blinding, repugnant, or even blasphemous.

You can almost hear the questions behind the doors of the meeting rooms. Why are we in decline? Loosing members? Why do those people go there? Or why are we coming here? What can we do to be successful like the big churches? How can we attract young people? How can we attract wealthy people? Why do we attract people with special needs? We need new pews, carpet, new hymnals, get rid of the hymnals, sound system, a new wing, building, praise band, Christian schools, daycare, children’s programs, youth ministry, gymnasium, family life facility, health club, dining hall, theater, buses, celebrities, political leaders, healing service, music groups, revival meeting, camp meeting, holy land tour, cruise….

Without a biblical understanding and direction from the Holy Spirit, these activities and forms are just that. Is God moving us to do this? The events and narratives in the book of Acts tell the story of fulfillment of the ‘Great commission by the disciples as they were lead by the Spirit. Particular situations and events occurred not as a pattern but as fulfillment of a prophecy, (ie signs to the Jews) or expedient for a cultural environment. It illustrates that the imperatives that are clear (supported elsewhere in scripture) can be carried out by the church in many forms and with liberty as the Spirit leads. The book of Acts should make us ask ourselves some questions. Am I willing to follow the Spirit? Eagerly? Joyfully? Is it a privilege to be counted worthy to serve or suffer for him? A people bearing the fruits of the Spirit and proclaiming Word of God is the real underlying pattern.

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