Growth and the Kingdom
This summer at Christ Church Edinburgh the sermon series has been exploring a portion of the book of Acts. As the sequel to Luke, Acts is an interesting book. Historically people have called it the Acts of the Apostles, yet Luke makes it clear from his opening that these are the Acts of the risen Christ.
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. - Acts 1:1–2
Where the Gospel of Luke tells us the beginning of Jesus' story Acts tells us the continuation. As we have looked at the spread of the Gospel in those early days of the New Testament church, a couple things have stood out to me. First, Luke tells us on multiple occasions that the 'word of God increased' (6:7; 12:24; 19:20). There is the sense in this phrase that the the Word of God is living and active. It is like a fire. (In fact, the sermon series title is the 'The Spreading Flame'.) As the Word is preached, the church grows. As the Word is preached, persecution follows (just look at what happens in the context of this phrase in Acts 7, 12, and 19). The logic of the Christian faith is that through something which looks like weakness (preaching the Word) God grows his church.
Last week in David's sermon, he mentioned an initiative in one particular denomination to 'rebrand'. Yet, what is interesting in the book of Acts is that it isn't 'rebranding' or finding the hottest marketing techniques that the grows the church, but the faithful preaching of the Word. It is bearing witness to the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, that the Spirit uses to change hard hearts and grow his church. What looks like foolishness to the wise of this world, is the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:18-23).
The second thing that has stuck with me is the way in which Acts fulfills many of the parables found in Luke and the other Gospels. While not every parable in the Gospels is the about the growth of the Kingdom of God, we can see that many of the parables do touch on it. These Kingdom parables are fascinating. So often Jesus takes small unassuming examples (a seed, yeast, wheat and tares), and he says that this is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto. When we look at a seed, we don't think much of it. When we put yeast in bread, we don't see how it is working. Yet, the mustard seed grows. The yeast leavens the whole lump of bread. These things happen in ways that are counter-intuitive.
It is easy to think that the way for the Kingdom to grow is by making sure the 'right' elected official gets into office, but that doesn't seem to be Jesus' strategy in Acts. That doesn't seem to be Jesus' point in the parables. We often think that if we can be more culturally engaged, that will grow the Kingdom. Yet that doesn't seem to be how Acts shows the growth of the Kingdom. Acts seems to show us and Jesus appears to be teaching us that it is the ordinary, regular preaching of the Word, administration of the sacraments, and practice of church discipline that grows the Kingdom. I am not saying we shouldn't be concerned with politics, culture, society, or whatever else you are interested in. What I am saying is that the way Jesus tell us the Kingdom will grow, and the way he grows the Kingdom in Acts is not the way we would do it. Jesus does not grow his Kingdom using the method and means that the world tells are most effective. Kingdom growth isn't five easy steps to win friends and influence people. In fact, the way Jesus grows the Kingdom looks like failure upon failure both in his ministry and with the Apostles being driven out of cities, riots starting, people being beaten or killed, and one church leader after another being taken to prison. There are not many church growth books out there that lay out this type of plan. Nevertheless, this is the way the Lord has promised to grow his Kingdom.
I love this series in the book of Acts. It reminds me that I am not the one building the church. If I was the one, the strategy would be completely different and far less successful. It reminds me that Christ has given us a simple calling: preach the Word faithfully to those around us. We don't need gimmicks. We don't need strobe lights and disco balls. We need people who will speak the Word of God boldly, knowing that there is power in what looks like weakness.