Early church modeled boldness, knew audience

Lately, in my personal Bible reading, I have been working my way through the book of Acts. The book of Acts is the story of the beginning of the church. I’ve been amazed and reminded of the miraculous events that took place in the life of the church.

The miracles start right away in the first chapter of Acts as the disciples witness their rabbi, Jesus, ascend into heaven. At the time the church was a very young movement.

The church was a group that did not have a lot of credibility in the eyes of its culture, yet that did not stop it from being bold.

As this group began to come together, its critics wanted them stopped. The critics could see that this movement could get out of hand and could potentially become very hard to control at a later time.

They wanted this movement shut down, and quickly.

One of the early church’s most ardent opponents was a man by the name of Saul. Saul would do anything to see that the message of this group known as Christ followers was silenced.

He had many killed for spreading the message that Jesus had risen from the dead, but something happened to Saul that altered his life’s calling.

He had an encounter with Jesus.

Jesus called Saul to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ love. Saul became known as Paul. Paul turned from persecuting Christ followers to becoming one of them. Paul then began to spread the message of Jesus instead of trying to squelch it.

So this movement continued on, but not without resistance. This movement grew despite the fact that what it was teaching was often countercultural.

This movement expanded despite the fact that people did not originally understand what was being taught. Paul and others had to understand the culture they were speaking to. He had to find a way to connect with them.

This is the challenge for those who are Christ followers today. We must learn to find ways to engage our culture. Once we learn to engage with today’s culture, then we will be able to share with people the gospel message that Jesus Christ loves them, died for them and wants to have a relationship with them.

Acts 17 records Paul speaking to three different groups. One of the groups he spoke to was a crowd in a city called Athens. The city of Athens worshiped many different gods.

Here is what Paul had to say to them in Acts 17, verse 23: “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship — and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”

Paul was able to recognize what was going on in the city. He noticed what had their attention, their gods. So he asks them, “What if I could tell you about this unknown God, what if I could tell you his name, would that gain your interest?” He started to tell them about Jesus. He was able to recognize, right away, where they were as a people with regard to their spirituality. He began to tell them story of God from creation all the way to the resurrection of Jesus.

I believe what happened in the book of Acts is relevant for those who call themselves followers of Jesus today. The movement started out strong but soon had to adapt the methods it used to tell others about Jesus.

We live in a culture much like that found in Athens. People worship a lot of different gods: money, popularity, sexuality, independence, and the list goes on. So as Christ followers tell people about Jesus, we often have to start from the beginning. Start with the creation story and work toward the resurrection. We must use new methods to once again tell the unchanging message of gospel, the good news!

As we seek to once again tell the old, old story in new ways there is always the danger of reflecting culture instead of influencing it. That is the tension, reflecting versus influencing, the first followers of Christ faced. Those who are following Jesus in 2015 face the same tension. We must not reflect culture but understand it so we can tell others about Jesus in a way that makes sense to them.

There are many people today who do not know much about the story of Jesus. Recently an Episcopal priest was asked, “What is that guy doing up there on the plus sign?” (James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones). It’s time we tell those who ask such questions in a way that will be meaningful to them. Tell them in a way that draws them to the love of Christ.

Robertson is pastor of New Hope Church of the Nazarene. This weekly column is written by local clergy members.