The Examples in Acts, How Viewed?

 

     I was on a discussion Internet list several years ago, a list that provided the means for many preachers (about three hundred in all) to post comments and participate in any consequent discussion. The discussion was posted regarding the nature and value of examples found in the Book of Acts. One preacher in the Church of Christ made the following post, one that led to an exchange and one that I wish to explore at this time:

     "Besides, the narrative accounts in Acts are examples of A way some people at ONE time in history responded to the Gospel. Where does Luke tell his readers that the examples he gives are binding and are the ONLY ways in which persons may respond to the Gospel?"

     Acts, may I suggest, is the history book of the New Testament. It is in Acts that we read of the gospel first being preached in its fullness and reality, the beginning of the Lordís church, remission of sin immediately based on Jesusí shed blood, and the implementation and progression of the Great Commission as given by Jesus (Acts 2: 14ff.; Acts 2; Acts 2: 38ff.; Acts 1: 4-8). Hence, Acts has a very important place in canonicity and the sacred writings.

     Salvation through and in Jesus started being presented in the Great Commission and Acts is the Great Commission, a running account, all the way to the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Mark 16: 15, 16, cp. Rom. 10: 18, see addendum 1).

     The record of the gospel recorded in Acts is not presented as an optional matter: "ÖA way some people at ONE time in history responded to the Gospel." Acts is, evidently, an extension and continuation of the Gospel According to Luke, starting out where Lukeís gospel ended, and designed to provide factual documentation. Consider the opening remarks in Acts, remarks that establish the nature of the twenty-eight chapters of Acts.

     "1: The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2: Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: 3: To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: 4: And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me" (Acts 1: 1-4).

     The historian and writer of Acts presents the gospel of the Great Commission, the church, and salvation as "the way" of God.

     It is in the Book of Acts that "way" takes on a new, special meaning and usage. Acts presents the concept of "the way." It was said of Saul, "And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem" (Acts 9: 2). "This way" is literally "the way" (tes odou). "The way" clearly distinguishes the way of Christianity apart from other ways and also suggests the exclusiveness of the way of Christ. The Jews at Ephesus "spoke evil of that way before the multitude," we are told. Again, the Greek is "the way." We also read, "And the same time there arose no small stir about that (the, dm) way" (Acts 19: 23).

     "The way" was despairingly called "heresy" by some (Acts 24: 14). We also read that Felix acquired "more perfect knowledge of that (the, dm) way" (Acts 24: 22). "The way" stands out in Acts as a strikingly different system. As seen, it was not only distinguished and singular, it also was separate and without any amalgamation. "The way" is certainly not observed in Acts as containing, in the main, examples "to take or leave," "accept or dismiss."

     Furthermore, the essential nature of the gospel is exclusive. It is the "one faith" and "Godís power unto salvation" (Eph. 4: 4, 5; Rom. 1: 16). This "one faith" was "once delivered" and must be diligently defended (Jude 3). Changing, altering, or tampering with the gospel is absolutely forbidden and such changing comes with serious attendant consequences (Gal. 1: 6-10; Rev. 22: 18, 19).

     Example, both negative and positive, is used by God to teach man and articulate His will to man (Phili. 4: 9; I John 3:11, 12, 16).

     The nature of the recorded examples in Acts. There are admittedly different examples observed in Acts. Some of these examples, I freely concede, are special and limited to certain ones, times, and circumstances. They are, in other words, endemic in nature. A case in point is the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1: 4ff.). The baptism of the Spirit was promised to the apostles and was part of enabling them to carry out the Great Commission (Luke 24: 45-49, see addendum 2). The baptism of the Spirit is only seen in two instances, out of the many examples of people being saved and over a period of thirty plus years. In addition, in the only two recorded special examples of the baptism of the Spirit, the baptism was not designed for and did not have anything to do with the immediate salvation of the recipients.

     One may ask, "How do I distinguish between special examples and universally binding examples in Acts?" The answer is, by studying the design, assigned placed, and nature of the example. For instance, it is apparent that the fact that the early church broke bread (Lordís Supper) on the Lordís Day is meant to be viewed as binding and fundamentally part of the worship on the Lordís Day today (cp. Acts 2: 42, I Cor. 11: 23ff.).

     As one examines examples of salvation such as are recorded in Acts 2, 8, 16, etc., one sees that by their very nature they are universal, for all peoples and for all times. Belief, repentance, confession of Jesusí deity, and baptism for the remission of sin are all observed (when a composite is considered) as constant and not special, but static (click on "Case Study of Salvation" to read more).

     In the absence of the examples and instances of salvation as recorded in Acts, what would one do in order to be saved? Man advocates salvation by "faith only," "grace only," and "Jesus did it all; therefore, man has no responsibility in his salvation." Manís theology as to how to be saved is not recorded, exemplified, or observed in Acts. When God provides the teaching, man is not at liberty to act (cp. Heb. 7: 14, Col. 3: 17). Moreover, manís teaching also stands diametrically opposed to what is actually recorded in Acts. Also, keep in mind that the teaching and examples observed in the New Testament epistles further confirm the universality and binding nature of the examples of salvation in Acts (I Cor. 2: 1-5, cp. Acts 18: 1ff.).

     It used to be heard in all "churches of Christ" and taught by all preachers in the "church" that we establish binding authority by "command," "necessary inference," and "approved examples." When I was yet a relatively young preacher, I began to notice that "necessary inference" was omitted by some. After a while, I considered how "approved example" was dropped. Alas, now we are in the stage of progression where even "command" is being challenged and omitted (see addendum 3 for a footnote to my list experience).

     Addendum 1: The Book of Acts ends with Paul under "house arrest" in Rome, about A.D. 62 (Acts 28). Colossians was one of Paulís "prison letters" and was written from Rome (cp. Col. 4: 3). Paul told the Colossians that the gospel had then been "preached to every creature under heaven," just as the Great Commission commanded (Col. 1: 23; Mark 16: 15).

     Addendum 2: For the sake of completeness, Cornelius and his household, representative of the Gentiles, also received the baptism of the Spirit (Acts 11: 15, 16). The baptism of the Spirit was special in the case of Cornelius in that it stood as visible proof of the acceptance and inclusion of the Gentiles as being recipients of the gospel (Acts 10: 44ff.). I am also persuaded that Cornelius had a special mission involved in the execution of the Great Commission, though not recorded.

     Addendum 3: When the quoted post was made to the Internet list of which I was at that time a member, I allowed time for others to respond. However, when there was no challenging response (those who did post appeared to agree with the quoted post), my post said about the same as this article (I do not believe that I was personal or "rude"). The list moderator placed me on disciplinary hold, which meant I was not allowed to post for a period of time, the time being determined by the moderator. When I complained off list to the moderator, I was told that there was, based on my posts, the sentiment to remove me from the list. I removed myself.