Ananias and Sapphira, early Christians who lied to God, were struck down for their sin. How did it happen?
Jesus, the Man that many believed was the promised deliverer of Israel, the Messiah, had died. But then only three days later, He had risen from the dead. Jesus had a glorified body, He was not just a ghost, and He had appeared to a few (Luke 24:39-43) and to hundreds (1 Corinthians 15:6). After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples had shared His message in Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit had come upon the people (Acts 2:1-36). Three thousand believed. Signs and wonders, miracles of healing and power, began to happen through the hands of His disciples, also known as the Apostles. The Jewish authorities arrested the church leaders, Peter and John, for proclaiming Christ. Believers began selling their possessions for the benefit of others in the church, and everyone was filled with awe. What would God do next?
Continue reading “Cause of Death of Ananias and Sapphira”
God used the most ordinary means to make His Church the largest and most powerful organization on earth.
There seems to be much for Christians in America to be discouraged about in 2016. Conventional wisdom holds that while the Church is growing quickly in China and the developing world, Europe and America are in the “post Christian” doldrums. The 2016 presidential campaign has taken twists and turns that have distressed some evangelical believers. In her book Confessions of a White House Speechwriter, Peggy Noonan writes that growing up on Long Island in the 1950s, a woman who attempted suicide was a celebrity because no one else did it. Divorce and even adultery were unheard of. Sixty years later, such cultural morality seems a distant dream. Christians have more children than their secular counterparts, but then lose many to an implacably hostile school system.
The paragraph above reflects the feelings of many, but contains some statements that are true and others that are false. Even if every word were true, believers in Jesus Christ should never be discouraged. Over the course of dozens of recent conversations in church and at home, I have tried to reassure my brethren with the promises of God in Scripture (John 16:33, Romans 8:28). While these verses can be encouraging, many people need more visible encouragement.
Continue reading “The Early Church – From Movement to Organization”
The Church of Jesus Christ will always grow – the Almighty has so willed it. How wonderful that we get to help.
Jesus told His disciples to go to the uttermost parts of the earth and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1). For 2000 years the Church of Jesus Christ has shared the good news of the gospel throughout the world. The body of believers has grown from 120 members in the Upper Room (Acts 1:15) to over 2.3 billion people, out of a total world population of 7.3 billion, today. While the Way of Christ is growing by leaps and bounds in places like China and sub-Saharan Africa, progress seems to have stalled in Europe and North America. In the heavily Muslim areas of North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Indonesia, Christians comprise a tiny fraction of the people. Growth feels impossible, and some become discouraged.
Sometimes Christians have effectively demonstrated the saving grace of Jesus to those around them, but other times have not. Many people reject Christ because they don’t have a clear idea who He is. Dedicated believers have often looked to one of the most exciting periods in the history of Christianity, the early Church, for guidance on how to grow. This is a great practice, for the earliest years of any new religious movement (NRM) are the most dynamic. Since few NRMs survive their founder, early Christianity was an example of how to grow and sustain growth over the decades, centuries, and millennia. This article will examine Acts 2:41-47, which describes the earliest days of the Church, to look for clues about how to grow and sustain the Body of Christ today.
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Modern historiography, almost regardless of the topic, has a standard framework. Whether describing a person’s life or describing an event or series of events, the modern historian will write chronologically; things that happened earlier in time will occur earlier in the article or book. Certain elements are also usually present. A biography, for example, will almost invariably contain a chapter about the subject’s family and background, another about his birth and childhood, both early in the book, several chapters about his life’s work and contribution in the middle and then a chapter about his death at the end. Modern authors carefully specify when and where events happened so that readers can associate what they are reading with other people and events. Ancient history is more likely to be thematic and dialectic than modern history, and less willing to sacrifice theme for chronology.
Continue reading “Acts as Theological History”
A brief summary of the missionary trips of the Apostle Paul.
As Christians read the New Testament, it is easy to forget how much time elapsed between Matthew and Revelation, almost 100 years. Jesus died and rose again around 30 AD, and for two years the church grew, rapidly and in relative peace. The persecution began about 32 AD, and Paul became a Christian in that year. He spent years preaching in Damascus, and then spent quite a bit more time in Arabia before returning to his hometown in Tarsus, Asia Minor. His first missionary journey did not begin until AD 47, covering many cities in Asia Minor and the eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus, Perga, Iconium, Lystra, and others. After a short return to Jerusalem in AD 49 to help with the Jerusalem Council, Paul left on his second missionary journey. During this mission he wrote Galatians and probably Thessalonians. He began in Asia Minor, but received the call to Macedonia and crossed over into Europe. Paul and his companions ministered in Philippi, where he was imprisoned and beaten, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, where he spoke at the Aeropagus, and Corinth. In 52 AD Paul returned to Syrian Antioch to complete his second journey.
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Paul’s conversion was seminal in the church, but the stories differ. Are they false, or true?
The story of Paul’s conversion from a devout Jew, violently persecuting believers in Jesus, to a devout Christian, fearlessly spreading the Gospel against all opposition, is found three times in Acts. The stories differ slightly.
The first account, in Acts 9, narrated Paul’s conversion when it actually happened. After being a ringleader in persecuting Christians in Jerusalem and Judea, Paul obtained permission from the high priest, and then set out for Damascus, hoping to find and arrest Christians who had fled his persecution. While enroute, Paul and his companions suddenly saw a great light (v3). Paul fell to the ground and heard Jesus’ voice, asking why he was persecuting Him (vv4-5). The voice then told him what to do (v6). Paul had been blinded by the light, and his companions led him to Damascus where he had nothing by mouth for three days (v9). Meanwhile, the Lord commanded a believer named Ananias to meet Saul and minister to him (vv10-16). Despite his fear at revealing himself to the feared Pharisee and persecutor of Christians Saul of Tarsus, Ananias obeyed (v17). Saul, soon to be known as Paul, regained his sight and began his ministry. Something like scales fell from his eyes, he regained his sight, he was baptized (v18), and he took food and water (v19).
Continue reading “Paul’s Conversion – Why Three Accounts, and How Do They Differ?”