What Today’s Church Needs to Learn from the Book of Acts

That there would be heaps of lessons to be learned from the book of Acts should be obvious – this is after all the brand new, pristine body of believers closest to Christ and closest to the original vision of what the church should look like. If anyone knew what church should be all about, it would be these early believers.

Entire books would be needed of course to draw out all the lessons the contemporary church could/should glean from Acts. I can only offer several here, taken from my daily reading, which now obviously is in Acts. What stuck out in the early chapters were several things.

acts 2Let me mention just three of them. In Acts 7 we read about Stephen. Chapter 6 informs us of his arrest, and the next chapter features his lengthy speech and his stoning. The end part of his speech, and the furious reaction to it, are worth noting here:

“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him – you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.

The notable thing here is how in the very early church there was no timidity, no men-pleasing, no attempts at seeker-sensitivity. There were just very strong, very bold, and very forceful words spoken by fearless disciples. These guys didn’t mess around. They spoke truth boldly, even if it meant getting an instant hostile reaction.

By contrast, today’s church is full of cowardly types who would never dare confront anyone, rock any boat, or speak forthrightly in the public arena. We instead have plenty of pulpits full of men pleasers who want to be known for how tolerant and accepting they are. They would never be like Stephen, and they would even condemn him if he were speaking in our churches today.

We find another example of this in Acts 8:9-25 which records the story of Simon the Sorcerer. He had just become a believer, but still was pushing his old ways, as we read in verses 18-24:

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

Another extremely strong and confronting rebuke. No Mr Nice Guy here. No PC tolerance. No ‘we just have to love everybody’ nonsense. Very strong words were used in a very strong rebuke. This was serious business. Such sinful actions had to be dealt with firmly and immediately. And repentance was insisted upon.

But most church leaders today would also do some rebuking. Rebuking Peter that is, not Simon. They would blast him for being so unloving and unChristlike and so intolerant. They would condemn him for his harsh and judgmental attitude.

They would carry on about Simon being a new believer and how we must be so gentle and patient with him, and not rebuke him like that. They would do this because they have little or no understanding of the seriousness of sin, and the holiness of God.

Indeed, they would absolutely flip out over what took place a few chapters earlier. The instant and dire judgment of God on Ananias and Sapphira as recorded in Acts 5 would absolutely appal these contemporary Christians. Indeed, I am sure most would never even mention the episode, let alone preach on it.

But there is so much more found in the book of Acts which differs so radically from what we find in most churches today. Let me offer one final clear example of this. In Acts 9 we read about Saul’s conversion. God tells Ananias to go to where he is and lay hands on him to restore his sight.

Ananias knows all about Saul the persecutor of the church and is not too thrilled with this idea. But God insists, as we read in verses 15-16: “But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’.”

Hmm, more questionable material for a new believer. How much he must suffer for his name? That is not what you tell a new believer. That is not how you lure in a new convert. You give ’em all the good stuff. You promise them the moon.

You talk about having “your best life now”. You tell ’em about all the neat stuff you get when you come to Christ: a new car, a new home, a new job, a new self-image, a new outlook on life. You tell the new believer that they can be whatever they want to be, claim any promise, and even lose weight for Jesus.

But you certainly never say anything about suffering. Indeed, that is not how you fill the church and keep the money pouring in. You never discuss anything “negative” like suffering, persecution, the costs of discipleship, the need to die to self and take up your cross, and so on.

This is all wrong, and goes against all the proven church growth techniques and contemporary Christian marketing trends. Avoid difficult subjects at all cost. Never mention the hard stuff of Scripture, and simply give your people what they want to hear.

That is how “successful” churches operate. None of this old fashioned religion stuff that will turn away many. None of this legalistic stuff about holiness, obedience, discipleship, denial of self, and carrying the cross. Just give ’em what they want, and they will keep coming back for more.

Why is it that the book of Acts seems to belong to another planet? It seems to have nothing in common with so much of Western churchianity today. It looks totally alien and out of place. It is just so extreme, so radical. Can’t we just water it down a bit and keep everyone happy?

The early church was utterly counter-cultural to the values and culture of the day. And nothing has changed. Biblical Christianity will always be counter-cultural. How can it be anything but? The world will always be at odds with real Christianity. The surrounding culture will always be hostile to genuine biblical faith.

We all need to go back to the book of Acts and let it speak to us afresh today. Pastors and church leaders especially need to revisit the book, immerse themselves in it, and not leave until it produces some radical changes in their thinking and practice.

If we fail to learn about what real Christianity is from the book of Acts, we will just keep on playing church, pleasing men, and displeasing God.

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9 Replies to “What Today’s Church Needs to Learn from the Book of Acts”

  1. Amen! I just preached last Sunday about how preaching this Gospel often leads to suffering for our Lord, & I even mentioned how it seemed counter-intuitive for Jesus to predict suffering for new convert Paul.
    I love it when the Holy Spirit speaks the same thing to others that he has been showing me.
    God bless your ministry, Bill!

  2. Thanks again for the timely article, Bill! The cost of discipleship, death to self, and carrying of our cross daily are messages rarely heard these days. It’s time for us as Christians to get back into the Word, know it, take it to heart and LIVE it!

    God’s blessings to you.

  3. How refreshing it is to hear a message that is so ripe for the Body of Christ today. You preach it from the hip Bill, and that is exactly what America needs to hear form the pulpit. No more feel good messages, get rich schemes, or 7 ways to getting closer to God type messages. There is no more power in our churches. The Holy Spirit is absent in the majority of American churches today and most pastors are on a “strict” time schedule. The messages have become outright boring. Thank you for what you do Bill.

  4. The Word, the Word, the Word.
    “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Word will never pass away.”

    People can preach their own words and interpretations to teach people The Way, but nothing works like “The Word of God.”
    Using as much of The Word (Scripture) while teaching has to be, (is) much more effective than any other method in the world.
    It never returns void, but accomplishes God’s goals and purpose. Do you want to see hearts changed? Share His Word! Our duty is to share/teach, God will move those He chooses, according to His purpose. Alleluia, Amen.

    Thank You Bill for sharing at our church, we loved and appreciated it very much. Ken – Victory Life,Perth

  5. Bill, I just ran across a few of your articles and enjoyed them immensely. Thank you for “speaking the truth in love”

  6. Hi Bill, your critique on the prosperity gospel is right: ‘That is how “successful” churches operate. None of this old-fashioned religion stuff that will turn away many. None of this legalistic stuff about holiness, obedience, discipleship, denial of self, and carrying the cross. Just give ’em what they want,’ I am totally with you that the book of Acts ‘seems to have nothing in common with so much of Western churchianity today. It looks totally alien and out of place. It is just so extreme, so radical.’ Yes, it is true that these health-&-wealth church leaders, man-pleasers, are ‘watering it down a bit and keep everyone happy’. I think Dietrich Bonhöffer also has hit the nail on the head when he commented, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

    Paul Au

  7. Wow! This is so Awesome! I’m studying the books of Acts now and I’m seeing that we are NOT there at all!! It’s pretty clear that the church is far away from the book of Acts!! Thanks for this blog! God Bless you Brother!

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