I just finished an intensive reading of The Acts of the Apostles. It freshly strikes me that, in the first chapter, Jesus gave the apostles no specific details of their new assignment. He promised them power through the Holy Spirit and charged them to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and all of the world (Acts 1:8). How exactly were they to take His word elsewhere?
Eight overarching principles in the book of Acts form the foundation for a church that honors Christ and takes ground to make disciples in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the world.
Principle of right proclamation: The Lord honors the proclamation of His word. At least 24 notations in Acts clearly state that the Lord blessed the proclamation of Jesus as the Christ and the bold proclamation of His word. The capstone of this pattern occurs in the last verse of the book, that is, Acts 28:31, in which Paul is described as proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. Also note: Acts 4:29-31; 5:42; 8:4-5; 11:20-21; 12:24; 18:28; 19:8; 19:10; 19:17; 19:20; 20:20-21.
Principle of trustworthy leadership: Leaders must demonstrate a life worthy of trust. This principle is demonstrated primarily in the example of the disciples bringing their possessions to the leaders. Acts 4:34-37 details the first such scene. The apostles testify to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lord extends His grace upon the people, and the people respond by generously giving. The local church gave generously to the people who were in need, but they gave to those people through the apostles. Acts 4:35 says they brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet. This pattern is replicated in Acts 11:29-30, when the disciples entrusted Barnabas and Paul to deliver financial relief to brothers and sisters in Judea. In both of these examples, the disciples had confidence in the integrity of the leaders. That confidence led them to trust the leaders to do what was right and good with the wealth given to their care. But the leaders bore the burden of ensuring that the money was properly distributed. If the leaders had failed, they would have lost the trust of the people.
Principle of generous giving: The leaders had the responsibility to properly handle the Lord’s money, but the people had the joyful opportunity to give generously as a blessing to others. Acts 4:34-37; Acts 11:29-30; Acts 20:35.
Principle of proper polity: The local church is to be led by leaders qualified to shepherd the Lord’s people. These core leaders include elders and deacons. In Acts 6:1-7, the apostles delegated authority to the congregation to choose from among themselves men who would serve as deacons to meet the basic needs of the people. In Acts 14:23, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for every church in every church. In Acts 20:17-35, Paul defends his ministry and charges the elders of the church at Ephesus to diligently defend and shepherd the Lord’s church.
Principle of proper purpose: The gospel of Christ is to turn people to the light of Christ in order to receive forgiveness for their sins and to be counted among those sanctified by faith in Christ. Acts 26:18.
Principle of clear and urgent teaching: The Lord wants preachers and teachers to clearly, thoughtfully and urgently teach the Scriptures. In many references in the book of Acts, Paul, Peter, Stephen, Phillip, Apollos, Barnabas and Silas demonstrate the value the Lord places in competent teaching of His word to His people and to unbelievers.
Principle of clear commitment to doctrinal purity: The Lord values right doctrine. Right doctrine clearly describes the required response to the identity of Jesus Christ. Paul warns the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:30-35 that some will speak twisted things and draw people away from the truth of Christ. Paul admonishes them to remember the words of the Lord Jesus.
Principle of competency in selfless serving: The Lord wants leaders to be more than dispensers of truth. They also must demonstrate the Scriptures’ command to serve others. The Lord’s sensitivity to the care of others’ needs, for example, led to the appointment of deacons in Acts 6:1-7. Selfless caring for others is key throughout Acts.
Christ’s judgment of a church’s success may or may not square with a specific culture’s evaluation of success. In the evangelical Christian culture of the U.S., for example, success is commonly defined as numerically large, musically contemporary, financially wealthy, and featuring rock-star leaders. The Lord’s review of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 should encourage those who cannot boast about any of those.
Christ evaluates success by several factors:
- faithfulness to Christ;
- faithful service to others;
- protecting the church;
- endurance in suffering;
- fighting false doctrine;
- embracing the Lord’s reproof and discipline.
He nowhere marks success by numbers, worship music, financial wealth and rock-star leaders. That should be an encouraging reminder to those without big numbers, financial wealth, amazing worship music or rock-star status.