Saturday, June 25, 2011

Acts 29

I know there is no Acts 29. Tim Steiner knows there is no Acts 29. So when he asked me to write about it, I asked why, and he said that Back in the Day, the Jesus People of the early 1970's saw themselves as renewing New Testament church life. They were picking up where Paul and Peter left off. Hence, Acts 29.

Paul ends the book with the ringing declaration, yea prophecy: "I will bring the gospel to the Gentiles: and they will listen!" So here is an overview of 20 centuries of raving oversimplification of how and when Gentiles embraced the gospel. Every statement could be qualified with a "yes but" and a "you forgot this." And that would be true.

So here goes......

Every Roman bishop for many decades is martyred. Burned as torches and torn by lions, believers die trusting in Christ's resurrection and return. Romans respect courage which, combined with kingdom preaching and good works like nursing the sick and saving abandoned babies, produces many converts. The double-edged sword of political power comes in 314 AD when Emperor Constantine declares Christianity a state religion. Monastics, early "reformers" reject urban worldliness and seek God in desert solitude. Great councils of the established church codify doctrine and scriptures. When the western Roman empire crumbles, the church remains, preserving learning and universal language (the "Romance languages" and church latin) during the lawless Dark Ages (600 - 900 AD). Shining lights include Patrick, an English missionary to Ireland's druids and celts. Christian kings and princes protect and sometimes co-opt the church. The Viking terrorists eventually forsake Thor for Christ. The Eastern Roman Empire of Constantinople (Istanbul) and its Orthodox church thrive, sending missionaries to Russia and Eastern Europe, where kings receive Christianity and the people (eventually) embrace Orthodox faith. The new faith of Islam carves out huge chunks of African and middle eastern Christian countries.

Everywhere Christians periodically rediscover the gospel. Sometimes this threatens church and state, and persecution follows. Countless movements experience the cycles of receiving truth, faithfulness, and legalism or apostasy. Believers become pharisees oppressing new believers. Wheat and tares grow side by side, awaiting the Master Gardener's separation. The greatest reform is the Protestant Reformation, led by German Martin Luther, a man like Paul: a brilliant, learned theologian, by nature stubborn, impatient, and energetic, not humble by nature but led through crisis to wholly embrace Christ's salvation by grace through faith. Politics and the printing press help Luther survive and prevail. Soon almost half of Europe is Protestant, including the dominant sea power, England, which eventually controls North America. Thus is Protestantism, complete with countless mini-reformations (Edwards, Whitefield, Finney, Moody, AB Simpson, Nazarene and pentacostalism, etc. etc. etc.) established in the U.S. and Canada.

I see a pattern: the Spirit prompts "normal people" to consider the powerful teachings and example of the most amazing man who ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of God and Mary. In stark contrast to the falseness and shadows of their religious experience, they see something - no, Someone - Real. They fall in love and will live and die for Him. The ardor fades with subsequent generations, and the cycle is repeated. The Bridegroom woos his bride without domination and without ceasing, praise His name.

In the late 1700's the Protestants, perhaps inspired by earlier generations of German Moravians, get serious about world missions. William Carey evangelizes India, to be followed in example by Hudson Taylor to China, David Livingstone to Africa, Adoniram Judson to Burma. The list of servants at home and abroad is endless and will not be written until Jesus returns.

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