Preface: the following series of meditations on Acts are set within the backdrop of my own church, Emmanuel Anglican. We have had the recent privilege of seeing our own priest promoted to the position of professor at a local seminary. But now, bereft of our minister who has guided us through the murky waters of the controversy within the Anglican church we face a new crisis of leadership. The Bishop Colin Johnson has ordained a lesbian living with her partner to the priesthood. Now, we must without our priest’s wisdom navigate this storm. So in response, my wife Cathy and I have chosen to lead a Bible study in Acts on Sunday nights, 7:00 – 8:30 pm, along with worship of God and prayer for our church community–how we might best respond this crisis of leadership. On December 12, 2010, we met for the first time, and this is the meditation that I offered.
(1) We are about to lose our leader.
The disciples had watched the Roman authorities take Jesus and crucify him–one of the most ignoble ways ever invented to kill someone. But they rejoiced when he appeared to them alive and physically intact. Now Jesus had appeared to them and taught them during 40 days was about to leave again. So they asked, aren’t you going to bring the Kingdom now? They expected Jesus, the Risen King, to establish his Kingdom. Instead, he said “Wait for the the Holy Spirit”. So even though he was not at this point going to establish his physical Kingdom, he was sending them out with the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses in the world.
At Emmanuel we stand at the brink of losing our leader, Peter, who is going on to another task. But God isn’t leaving us alone. We still have the Holy Spirit, and as we look to find a successor to Peter, we must remember that the church doesn’t belong to the priest but to God. Our task remains the same as for the early Christians, to go out and be witnesses for Jesus to the end of the world.
(2) We are dealing with a religious hierarchy which many of us believe is no longer obeying God.
The early Christians were Jews subject to both religious and political hierarchies. The Romans were in political power, but they ruled through the intermediary of the high priests and the Sanhedrin. It is with these very authorities that Jesus and the early Christian came into severe conflict. In Acts chapter 5, we will see that the Sanhedrin even orders them to stop preaching in Jesus’ name. The choosing of the apostle to take Judas is significant: For the number twelve is significant. They believed they were choosing twelve person to take leadership over the twelve tribes of Israel.
The Anglican Church of Canada is in the process of changing 2000 years of Christian teaching by ordaining homosexuals and insisting upon the blessing of same sex relationships. If we stand up to this because of conscience (as Luther, “Here I stand I can do no other—God help me, Amen!”), we would be following in the footsteps of the disciples when they said: “We must obey God rather than men”(Acts 5.29). We know that we must remain faithful to God and obey him rather than to obey man. Therefore, we expect that God will appoint new leadership where the old leadership is failing.
(3) We are facing a time of serious chaos and upheaval
Since the time of the beginning of Roman rule, the Jewish people benefited from Pax Romana. But high taxation threatened the livelihood of the people and poverty was rampant. Thus, Pax Romana thus came with a price. The four decades following the Ascension of Jesus would be a time of serious upheaval to the Jewish nation
We have enjoyed peace on American and Canadian soil for a long time–our wars have been fought largely on the extremities of the our world, just as in the Roman world until the Jewish Revolt. But can this peace last? Are we Christian ready for what the future might bring? We are on the brink of of economic disaster.
(4) Jesus calls on us to wait for and depend on the Holy Spirit.
Jesus instructed the early Christians to wait for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would guide them and empower them in the mission. God knows the future. So what better guide could we have than the Spirit? He can even inform us when disaster is about to strike, as God informed the prophets in Acts of the impending famine (cf. Acts 11.28).
If we wait on the Holy Spirit as a community we can expect his guidance for the future: (1) what minister we should choose; (2) how we may prepare ourselves for impending financial calamities that may come; (3) how we should respond to the religious authorities (4) and political events coming in the future.
(5) We will be empowered for mission.
The main purpose of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit was not merely the survival and edification of the community but mission. A rag tag group of fishermen, a zealot, a tax collector, a doubter (Thomas)—but all uneducated by worldly standards, not one of these men had a “PHD”. Jesus called them to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. And by the last chapter of Acts, we see that Rome had a vibrant community of Christians even before Paul’s arrival there. Within a century or two the Roman world had been transformed, and the seeds of church had been planted everywhere.
What is our mission as a church community? How will we transform our world? Often our focus as a community has been survival—rather than mission. We look upon the dying embers of the Anglican church as it’s fire wanes. How shall we respond? Is it time to quit because God is abandoning the church? Is it time to fight the fight within the church itself? How shall we respond?
What I’d like to do over the coming weeks, if its ok with you, is to study the book of Acts and reflect on how the teaching and experiences of the early Christians can inform us in overcoming and thriving in our present set of difficult circumstances. How do they respond to religious and political authorities? How did they maintain an honest and faithful witness to God?
How we are like the Christians in Acts 1?