Monday, May 22, 2017

Acts 1:6-14 Church's Self-Identity is Missional

KEY TEXT: Acts 1:6-8 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth"

KEY THOT: The disciples were curious about times and seasons concerning the end-time. But Jesus turned their attention away from speculation about matters that were God's prerogative towards things that were their responsibilities, viz., to be "my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (v.8b). Becoming a community of witnesses should be the church's main priority and preoccupation. All ministries of the local church should focus on equipping members to fulfill this mission, be it worship services, Sunday School, Care Groups etc. Furthermore, Jesus told the disciples that they would "receive power" of the Holy Spirit to equip them for this mission (v.8a). When Jesus says we are to "make disciples", he implies that these disciples would follow him to become "fishers of men", and not remaining caught fishes in the acquarium called "church"--that is, to become a community of "witnesses" whose basic self-identity is missional. 

It is interesting to note that after the Holy Spirit has come upon the 120 gathered there in the upper room, the first manifestation of His power is their ability to "speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4). And the gift of tongues was not given for edification but for evangelism. It became a sign to the diaspora Jews gathered to find out where this strange sound came from. The Jews heard the 120 disciples speaking in the languages of their countries of origin: "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language... telling in our own tongue the mighty works of God?" (v.8-11). The gift of tongue itself was not only a sign but also a sermon declaring God's mighty works at the Cross.

Too much focus of the gift of tongue is on its nature rather than its purpose. The gift of tongue is a missional gift because the Holy Spirit is given to help the church bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The more members in the congregation have the gift of speaking in tongue, the deeper will be the church's missional self-identity. The gift of tongue can turn an inwardly-focused church to become an outwardly-focused missional church.

It is also interesting that Luke recorded the early church's main activities as "the apostles' teaching and fellowship... breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). Comparing this with Rick Warren's "five purposes" of the church (worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and mission), we may say that "breaking of bread" is worship, "fellowship" is fellowship, "apostles' teaching" is discipleship and "the prayers" is ministry. But where is "mission" or evangelism in Luke's list of church activities? There are only four listed here but no evangelism, yet we read that "the Lord added to their number day by day (NIV: daily) those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).

The answer is found in their corporate self-identity, Mission was not an activity--it was their basic self-identity: they were called to be "witnesses" not do "witnessing". In fact, evangelism is the sum of what they do every day: "And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles" (Acts 2:43). These miraculous signs are simply indicative that proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom was their main focus. They don't need an evangelism "program" to do evangelism: they do evangelism as a corporate lifestyle because that's who they are--a community of "witnesses".

While it is possible to do "witnessing" as an occasional activity, we can only be "witnesses" 24x7. That explains why the early church was growing "daily" even though they had no daily evangelism "program." For the NT church, who they are determines what they do. Their basic self-identity as a missional church underlines and undergirds all of their four basic activities of discipleship, worship, fellowship and ministry. Evangelism is not a department of the early church: it is their self-identity. They do not need an evangelistic method--the missional church is their method.

Evangelistic programs like Alpha will not inspire evangelism if the congregation's basic self-identity is pastoral (insider-focused) rather than missional (outsider-focused). A missional church's priority is not focusing on "what's-in-it-for-me" but what's in it for Christ.  And only a church with a missional mindset will receive the "power from on high" (Holy Spirit), for He is given to empower the church as a missional community: "You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:48-49).

Father, help us restore our missional self-identity as a church of witnesses. Amen.

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