A Contextual Look at Acts 8

Here at Saint Paul’s in Foley, we had a very positive Annual Meeting based on the model of an Acts 8 Gathering (You can read about it here).  The obvious question for us has become: Now what?  How do we capitalize on this momentum to further our little corner of the Kingdom of God?  This weekend, we’ll have our first opportunity as our vestry gathers in retreat where our Rector will invite us into another Acts 8 Moment (with a little Acts 6 thrown in for good measure).

Our second opportunity to dive into what it means to be a parish committed to mission and ministry based on the Church in Acts 8 will come this Lent as I lead our Annual Lenten Series, which this year is entitled, “Acts 8: how God does the impossible through is servants.”  As I began to plan our four sessions, I realized that while Acts 8 is a powerful turning point in the life of the early Church, the constant illusions to Saul and the Stephen affair mean that some context is absolutely necessary.  With that in mind, I’ve set our four topics as:

  1. The Martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:2a)
  2. The Church Scattered (Acts 8:2b-8)
  3. Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-39)
  4. Saul’s Conversion (Acts 9:1-21)

Life being what it is, I’m nowhere near as far along as I’d like to be 2 weeks removed from Ash Wednesday, but I hope to share my findings here on the Acts 8 blog along the way.  Today’s gem comes from an unlikely change agent, John R. W. Stott, in his concluding statement on the Stephen affair in his commentary on The Message of Acts in The Bible Speaks Today series:

“Stephen’s teaching, misunderstood as ‘blasphemy’ against the temple and the law, was that Jesus (as he himself had claimed) was the fulfillment of both.  Already in the OT God was tied to his people, wherever they were, not to buildings.  So now Jesus is ready to accompany his people wherever they go.  When soon Paul and Barnabas set out into the unknown on the first missionary journey, they will find (as Abraham, Joseph and Moses had found before them) that God is with them.  That is exactly what they reported on their return (14:27; 15:12).  Indeed, this assurance is indispensable to mission.  Change is painful to us all, especially when it affect our cherished building and custom, and we should not seek change merely for the sake of change.  Yet true Christian radicalism is open to change.  It knows that God has bound himself to his church (promising that he will never leave it) and to his word (promising that it will never pass away).  But God’s church means people not buildings, and God’s word means Scripture not traditions.  So long as these essentials are preserved, the buildings and the traditions can if necessary go.  We must not allow them to imprison the living God or to impede his mission in the world.” (p. 143)

I think I like where this study is going.  Stay tuned for more.