Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Acts 8: Discipleship and the Big Bang theory

Two main things jump out at me when I read the first 17 verses of Acts Chapter 8.

The first is how God used a severe adversity in the life-cycle of the early church for immeasurable good:
"On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria."

(contextual note: I'm having a hard time finding exact information on how much area this really represented, but it seems likely that these early believers were scattered over several hundred square miles.)

Note what happens next:
"Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went."

The persecution of the early church was like taking a hammer to a glob of mercury... the result was the scattering of a mass resulting in widespread contamination.


Acts then follows the story of Philip for a little while- a believer who flees to the south of Jerusalem and ends up in a city in Samaria, where he "proclaimed the Christ." The result, according to Acts, was that "there was great joy in that city."

So we see the early church spreading the Gospel wherever they went. We call this evangelism. But the second thing that jumped out at me was this:
"When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them."

Know what we call that?

Evangelism is only the first part of the story, isn't it? Matthew 28:18 records Jesus' last instructions to these same disciples:
"Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

You may know that I'm particularly fond of the way this verse is rendered in The Message:
"Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you."

I've never noticed before now how true to form the disciples were in carrying out Jesus' instructions. They definately trained those they met, far and near, in the way of life Jesus spoke of, and Acts records that "when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized."

And then what? The apostles sent Peter and John. Why?? Because evangelism was only the first part of Christ's commission.

I'm reminded of how often that one part becomes the totality of our focus in Christian ministry. But there is another part: "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" was how Jesus finished. I'm fascinated to note how the early church implemented this element of discipleship into their ministry.

Oh, it's also worth noting that Jesus used the word then. Evangelize, baptize, then instruct them. If we fail to focus beyond evangelism as Christians, we're equally guilty of putting the cart before the horse- instructing people in the practices Jesus commanded (and expecting them to obey) before they know who Jesus is!

But that's definately a rant for a separate post. :-)

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