It should come as no surprise, but perhaps for many of us, it is. Certainly our behaviour suggests so. Consider the extraordinary events of Acts 8-11.
The Samaritans find faith in Jesus (resulting in an apostolic visit); then an Ethiopian finds faith (as a result of a Spirit-inspired diaconal encounter with Philip); then Cornelius, a roman solider, finds faith along with his household (during a Spirit-inspired apostolic visit); then the Greeks start to find faith in Antioch as the new diaspora of persecuted followers of The Way tell the story of Jesus.
This narrative tells us several vital things which we would do well to take on board as we consider the task of global evangelism.
Firstly, there is an unfolding narrative. The 120 disciples were told by Jesus that they would be his witnesses – in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Luke’s narrative is simply one that tells the story of how these words of Jesus were fulfilled in the early Church. And they continue to be so, even in our own times.
There is a clear and strong outward focus in the early church. The fledgling church looked beyond the interests of their own small community to the wider world. The Spirit within them personally and corporately compelled them to be centripetal. To engage the people around them was the natural overflow of their inward life. They could not be other than they were because the Spirit burned so brightly within them.
They did not live in little silo. Instead they had a deep openness to engaging across cultural barriers that existed, especially those of ethnicity and religion. Of course, there were challenges. Much of Paul’s writings, for example, explicitly focuses upon how the Christians were to live – in such a way that their lives were to embody the Gospel. Not all were as open to the new life in which they were called to live as was Peter.
There was both divine and human agency involved. It was not one or the other, but both/and: both Spirit and people engaging together. Neither worked without the other’s participation. Thus, the inward life of devotion to Christ was a core focus of how the Christians lived. They met together for worship and prayer, sharing life together and being fed through the Word and through sacrament.
All were involved in this work of witness. The telling of the Jesus story is done both by ‘the professionals’ (apostles and deacons) but also by the ‘ordinary’ followers of Jesus. They spoke of Jesus even as they fled persecution; they lived lives that showed faithfulness and holiness; they were generous; they tried to follow the teachings of Jesus. And so the church grew.
All the categories we read of responded to Jesus’ story: Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles all find faith. Of course, there were those who opposed the new teachings – hence the imprisonments and violence against the Christians. And there were also people who did not specifically reject the faith but certainly did not embrace it. But many did become disciples.
We should have the expectation that God will work in and through us as we deliberately become outward focused, considering the needs of our neighbours and society as above our own, and crossing the cultural, religious and political boundaries that separate us from one another and from God. This is possible – really, it is inevitable – when our main focus is Jesus Christ.
The views expressed in this blog post are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GC network.