Thoughts on the Church’s Mission in Acts

The question was to pick a section from Acts and write how it tells about the mission of the Church. Here’s my answer:

My first thought is of Acts 1.15-26, but this doesn’t really hold much conflict for the future of the Church. So briefly, I’ll just say that I find this section important in that the leadership of the burgeoning Jewish believers in the Messiah was required to have witnessed the Resurrection. While many of us today focus on the death, the Resurrection is central at this moment. Further, the proclamation of the Resurrection is central to the mission of these Jewish believers.

I also would like to have mentioned Acts 8 where Saul of Tarsus is said to go after both men and women in this group, something counter to the culture of the day when only the men were targeted because only men were leaders. Here, though, we get a glimpse that in the early Church, women were a threat enough to be considered dangerous to the non-Messianic Jews behind Saul’s power.

However, the main passage which I will discuss is a combination of three: 8.26-40, 13.46-52 and chapters 10 and 15. Herein is the preaching to the Gentiles proclaimed! We see first that the Ethiopian eunuch, contrary to Deuteronomy 23, is now welcomed into the most holy of holies. No more are the physical limitations or requirements required for the worship of God. Admittedly, the Ethiopian was a God-fearer, but due to some sensitive acknowledgments, couldn’t partake of Abrahamic covenant. Yet, Philip doesn’t require this and instead only asked about his belief in Christ. Cornelius is not subjected either to physical requirements of the Abrahamic Covenant. He was a God-fearer and one who was in every way, but at least one, a follower of the Mosaic Law. He contributed alms and performed works for God. God took notice of the piety here and sent Peter to his house. We know the rest of the story. Following these stories is the call of the Apostle Paul to preach to the Gentiles in 13.46-52. Here, I believe, is the pivot on which Acts turns, and indeed the history of the Church. We have to be careful, however, not to assume too much in regards to the ‘Jews’ of verse 45. However, I note that during this time, there were other things which were written which show that some Jewish sects believed that the Messianic Age would bring about the mass conversion of the Gentiles (I think we see some of this train of thought in Revelation). With Paul’s claim here, the Jewish leaders may have suspected that he was claiming validation for Jesus as Messiah by going now to the Gentiles. But, to top all of this off is the story of the first Ecumenical Council in Jerusalem.

This council had been called to determine if circumcision was to be the requirement. Already Philip and Peter had refused to consider. Historically, we know that this is what kept many of the God-fearers out of Judaism, but now the Messiah Believers were not requiring this to be a Jew any longer because of Jesus. Nor was the strict adherence to the Mosaic Law. After the discussion, the first encyclical was issued and which settled the matter at least for the Jerusalem assembly. We see this in Galatians and other epistles by Paul. The conflicts which arose when the Gentiles came in were not as simple as many see it. Gentiles were already proselytes. Many more were God-fearers. (They just couldn’t make the final cut into Judaism). But now, because Jesus was being heralded as the Messiah, they could partake of the Covenant with Israel and indeed, this had to frighten various sects of the Jews, some of which had rested on prophecies that the Messianic Age would bring about the conversion of the Gentiles.

I think that overall, Luke was validating the mission to the Gentiles and the ‘laxity’ in which they celebrated the Mosaic Law. I further think that it is Peter’s speech in Acts 15.7-11 which is key here. That the Gentiles believers were the same as the Jews and were now saved the same way. Further, Peter mentions that the Jews were saved by the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ as now were the Gentiles. James goes on then to issue the epistle which alleviates the Gentile’s requirement to obey the Law of Moses. If everything is the same – the Spirit, the Grace, and the position in the Covenant – then surely Luke is leaving open the theological assumption that the duty to the Law of Moses must also be the same between Jew and Gentile.

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