The early church in Acts


(Sarah Todd) #1

How much should our churches these days reflect the church as it was seen at beginning of Acts? There is a lot of emphasis these days in some churches on the necessity of seeing all the things they saw in Acts & if we are not seeing these things (notably great signs & wonders which accompany the message) then we must obviously be missing out on what we should be experiencing as the church of Jesus Christ.
I’m personally not sure this view is borne out in the NT as a whole, as the church was in its infancy at that stage, but I would be grateful to have some further material to consider on this subject.


(SeanO) #2

@Sarah_Todd That is a great question - I think we have to keep in mind a few things. One is R. C. Sproul’s quote from the article below, which reminds us to be careful about extracting theology from narrative texts. It is easy to take them out of historical context and come to errant conclusions.

R. C. Sproul explains how Christians must interpret biblical narratives through the lens of broader Christian teaching: “We must interpret the narrative passages of Scripture by the didactic or ‘teaching’ portions. If we try to find too much theology in narrative passages, we can easily go beyond the point of the narrative into serious errors.”

Furthermore, we can break down the attributes of the early Church into a few categories:

  • total surrender and devotion to Jesus - love for brothers / sisters in Christ
  • the miraculous
  • surrender of possessions

The Miraculous

You specifically mentioned the miraculous. There are a few views here:

  1. We should not expect the miraculous signs that accompanied the apostles - they were for a specific time and place in God’s plan.
  2. God can still do miracles today, but He most commonly does them in places where people have never heard the Gospel before
  3. We should expect all of the same miracles

I think position (2) is the most rational - it avoids putting God in a box and also explains the very Biblical truth that there are certain times or places where God works in more obvious ways.

Sharing of Goods / Wealth

I do believe we should give radically and sacrificially, but I do not think that the command model in Acts is a model we are supposed to follow.

Radical Devotion to Jesus

Of course we should still be devoted to prayer and the pursuit of God’s will as we take up our crosses and declare the truth of the Gospel to the world. We should expect the Spirit of God to guide us and use us as we seek to walk in the Spirit and glorify the risen Christ.

Hope that is helpful :slight_smile: Do you have any further thoughts? The Lord Jesus grant you wisdom.


(Harris Ratnayake) #3

Very good question Sarah. I have been wondering about this too. I have come to the position - not with certainty - that signs and wonders are completely of God’s doing, not something we can manufacture by godly living. We hear of Moslems in Iran getting converted in seeing dreams of Christ. This is not because of something they are doing but a supernatural act.


(Sarah Todd) #4

Thank you so much for your structured response. We find ourselves in a tricky situation currently. We are in a small church with a big heart for the community. There are LOTS of positives here, with great social action, a close knit family feel, and people whose heart genuinely want to bring others to know Jesus. So far so good.
However, recently we are increasingly uncomfortable with the direction of some of the theology being taught. There is a lot coming out of the Bethel / Bill Johnson / Heidi Baker/ Todd White / Finger of God stuff being encouraged as what we should be expecting as part of our normal Christian walk. We feel there are various heretical ideas mixed with the truth. And we have raised our concerns with the Bible open. But our misgivings are being labelled as a fear response to “not being willing to step out of the boat in faith” and we seem to be communicating at cross-purposes. Our hearts desire is for the church to stick to Biblical orthodoxy and to know how to handle the Word of God correctly. But we are not the ones in leadership. We are seeing how things play out at the moment as we address each concern in turn, prayerfully hoping that God can orchestrate some resolution here. Anyway, feel free to PM me and sorry if I have stepped out of line in the type of post allowed here, I can always delete it if necessary. Prayers and wisdom appreciated :blush:


(SeanO) #5

@Sarah_Todd I understand your concern. I really like some of Bethel’s music - especially Jeremy Riddle. And I like how passionate they are in their worship. But their theology does distress me at times because I feel it misleads people. Part of Bethel’s theology is what might be called an ‘over realized eschatology’, whereas the Bible actually teaches an ‘already, but not yet’ eschatology. God does promise that one day there will be no more sickness - but not yet. However Bethel, at least in practice, implies that we should expect healings all over the place if we just have faith - that is over realized eschatology.

I had a group of friends in college that got really into Bethel and the IHOP (International House of Prayer) movement. One day when I was walking across campus a group of them approached me and noticed I had a gash on my hand. Immediately they wanted to pray for healing - Todd White style. I allowed them to - I figured no harm done. But they were a bit disappointed when it didn’t heal immediately.

A few things that bother me most about this movement are:

1 - Healing on demand - their over realized eschatology leads to false expectations about healing - I think this can be harmful
2 - Prophecy on demand - they schedule ‘prophecy appointments’ where people can come and say words from God over you - I personally think this is quite frightening - even in the Bible there were very few prophets with this type of authority and they could not just speak from God on command. God always initiated. This type of behavior seems to forget that God is not a tame God - you cannot control when He speaks.
3 - Insisting that this generation will usher in the coming of Christ - this is not unique to Bethel - but only God the Father knows when Jesus will return

I think my friends knew and loved Jesus - they were wonderful people, but I was definitely worried for them. One time a woman came to one of their meetings who reminded me 100% of a gypsy fortune teller - it was definitely not of God. I’m not saying it was demonic - it was just hocus pocus. It really bothered me. Everyone started prophesying and saying that God was giving them visions of revival in this place or that place. Needless to say - none of it came true. I had to leave after briefly exhorting some of them I trusted. But it really bothered me.

Personally, if the leadership at a Church drifted and I started to feel wary I would seriously, prayerfully consider finding another Church. The Church we attend now is not as far out there as Bethel - but they do have people speak ‘words of knowledge’ and place a strong emphasis on hearing God’s voice. I’m more of a wisdom guy - God’s Spirit helps us to grow in wisdom so that we can make wise decisions and God guides through circumstances / wise council. I love the fact that my Church has prayer meetings that last for hours and are filled with great worship and that they have a team that prays during all of the services - I think that is super great. So while I don’t agree with all of the things they emphasize, I think the Spirit is there and I like that they are prayerful / worshipful. I guess we’ll never agree on everything - so I think it just takes discernment to know when they’ve gone too far off the rails or where God has you in this season.

You may find the following threads helpful for thinking through these topics further. I think so far the discussion has been valuable for our Connect community. If you want to PM me feel free - no trouble. The Lord Jesus grant you guys wisdom, keep you safe and help your Church to walk in wisdom :slight_smile:


(Sarah Todd) #6

Wow thanks! Loads more food for thought there. We have communicated to them that we are not cessationists as per the definition. We would class ourselves I think in the more conservative end of the charismatic spectrum. We are trying to stick to discussing the basis (or lack thereof) for some of the practices coming out of the Bethel / NAR teaching. For example:
From Bill Johnson:

  • we believe the Bible does not support the NAR teaching that territorial spirits must be cast out of cities and nations before God’s kingdom can be advanced
  • Kenosis heresy
    Jesus becomes a powerful model to imitate, rather than the incarnate Lord and Saviour to worship
  • That if God was in control of everything, Jesus’ death is a tragedy and you have to say God allowed it for some purpose!!! Argh
  • that Jesus was born again. Ummm…
  • that God works through a mystical impersonal power (1)
  • He rejects the sufficiency of scripture and insists on new revelation. (2)
  • He misinterprets the power of the gospel to change lives and focuses on experience and manifestations. A drug-like mystical religion. Not the reality of living with Jesus as Lord (3)
    (I can put references if needed…)

And Todd White…

  • He is said to be a “new breed” / “manifest son of God” (1)
  • Claimed to be sinless, just like Jesus, “I live with me!” (2)
  • He changes the meaning of the gospel to minimise our sin and magnify our value (3) we must be worth something if Jesus died for us…
  • he brags about himself and how good he is “I live with me” (4) (contrast with Paul the Apostle humility)
  • he is “in with” Kenneth Copeland (5)
    That’s enough for me
  • he lives the prosperity gospel (making himself $625,000 personal income per annum through his charity) (6)
  • he is of the “name it and claim it” brand even in the way of salvation. But he also contradicts himself. (7)
  • he commands God & the Holy Spirit to do stuff as if they were his to summon
  • he promises people that every sexually transmitted disease will be healed / scars from self mutilation will disappear. Any evidence?? At all?? (9)

We believe that lots of the miracle healing claims are fake / psychosomatic and not open to evidence based enquiry. It is very difficult to track people down to talk about their experiences. I have tried…

But, with all this in mind, and a genuine concern to try and highlight these issues within the church, we do not want to be divisive, but would love to be able to open people’s eyes to the truth. And to the fact that the real gospel is not boring either!! But wonderful and life-giving.
How realistic is it do you think that people can have their minds changed on this stuff? Do you know anyone who has “come out” of Bethel and what was it that caused the shift in thinking? Anyone? We are such close friends with some of these people and the church is like a family to our children especially. We are not going leap out in a hurry.


(SeanO) #7

@Sarah_Todd Wow, looks like you’ve done your homework :slight_smile: I’m not around this movement much, so I don’t know of anyone personally, but there are lots of testimonies online of people leaving this movement after they saw the excesses. I don’t think it’s possible for me to say what the chances are of these folks changing their minds. One suggestion I could make would be to understand the ‘anatomy of belief’, as Guiness calls it, why people believer certain things and to be winsome as a communicator. Generally people don’t change their mind unless they run up against experiences that are contrary to their current paradigm - and that causes a paradigm shift - that causes them to go on a temporary hunt for truth (possibly). It sounds like you’re pretty invested relationally, so maybe it’s just a matter of waiting for the right time to speak if people are not ready to listen yet.

May the Spirit of Christ grant you wisdom to know when / what to say and with whom to speak.

Hank Hanegraaff

Hanegraaff has some resources, if you are not already familiar, that may prove helpful. You might be able to read through this book with some of the leaders at your Church and discuss??? Hanegraaff is well respected.

https://equipblog.wpengine.com/thoughts-on-the-message-of-bill-johnson-and-bethel-church/


(Sarah Todd) #8

Thank you so much for your responses to my questions. And the helpful links you have sent. The link for the introduction to the book is fantastic, and also this article that he links to from there:
http://www.hnlc.org.au/rensford/toronto_text.htm
which thoroughly examines the roots and branches of how the various modern “revival” movements have spread and taken taken hold within the church. Absolutely fascinating reading. If also quite disturbing, how easily the church can be sidetracked and how difficult it is to undo false doctrine when paired with spiritual experiences…


(SeanO) #9

@Sarah_Todd Glad it was helpful. Yes, it takes a lot of courage to admit that the experiences you thought were from God were false and to still have faith to seek the living God. And it takes a heart hungry for righteousness to seek God rather than pleasure or spectacle. But it is so much more rewarding :slight_smile: