Reading Plan for Days 43 to 49:
Sunday, 2/19: Acts 8-10
Monday, 2/20: Acts 11-13
Tuesday, 2/21: Acts 14-16
Wednesday, 2/22: Acts 17-18
Thursday, 2/23: Acts 19-20
Friday, 2/24: Acts 21-22
Saturday, 2/25: Acts 23-24
Some Introductory Comments:
The “early” Church
There has been a resurgence in recent decades, particularly within “church growth” and non-denominational movements, to reclaim the ‘early church’ as the model for the contemporary congregation. This early church is characterized by a deep sense of community and unity, by mutual love and service, and devotion to regular worship and learning. There are modern movements focused around being an “Acts” or an “Acts 2:42” Church, and indeed the model of the early church inspired earlier reform movements, too. John Wesley regularly cited the “primitive church” (meaning the church as described in Acts) as the ideal that he hoped the Methodist movement would emulate.
Indeed, perhaps it is key to remember that the Acts Church is the ideal to which we strive, but not the reality in which we live. Several commentators even suggest that the early church did not live up to the ideal set forth in Acts – that passages such as Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-35 share a romanticized view of the past. In part, this view emerges because the descriptions are present with counter-examples (such as the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5), and that the earliest of Christian documents (Paul’s letters) regularly reflect on and seek to offer counsel about disunity, fractured community, and other issues and difficulties in the church.
So perhaps Luke was romanticizing the memory of the early church, but it is clear that the descriptions put forth in Acts serve as the guide for how the church has always understood it should be. We may fall short of the mark of fulfilling our identity – just as we do as individuals – but we can, and should, continue to strive to live out this ideal.
Paul and the missionary journeys
We are first introduced to Saul in 8:1, where he gives approval to the stoning of Stephen and is associated with the persecution and scattering of the early church. He emerges again more prominently in Chapter 9, the story of his radical and life-changing encounter with Christ. Sent back to Tarsus, Saul is later (ch. 11) retrieved by Barnabas, and serves for a year in ministry with Barnabas in the church in Antioch, where the mission of the church extends beyond Jews to Gentiles. Somewhere along the way, he takes the name Paul.
Around chapter 13 of Acts, the focus shifts from the Apostles in Jerusalem and the disciples in Judea and Samaria to the mission and ministry of Paul as he travels and founds churches. Acts includes three primary “missionary journeys” of Paul (and various co-workers):
- First Missionary Journey (Acts 13 & 14), which begins and ends in Antioch, visiting Cyprus, Perga, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.
- Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16 to 18), which includes visits to Tarsus, Derbe, Lystra, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth.
- Third Missionary Journey (Acts 19 to 24) which includes visits to Galatia, Ephesus, Macedonia, Corinth, and Caesarea.
- Arrest and Journey to Rome (Acts 24 to 28). Several chapters deal with Paul on trial after being arrested in Caesarea, and then his journey to Rome, the center of the Roman Empire (and thus the known world).
Blessed reading to you this week! Please post any comments, insights, or questions you might have in the comments section below.