Christian Research Institute Journal

Return to Index Page - This File/ Plain Text

The Spirit, Acts, and the Church

by Brian Onken

from the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, Winter 1991, page 39. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

More often than not when the subject of the Holy Spirit comes up in Christian circles, controversy and confusion reign. This is truly a sad state of affairs. Christ's great gift to the church (Acts 2:33) has become the ground for great distress in the lives of the saints.

There is an old children's tale that helps to illustrate this problem: Goldilocks and the three bears. As you may recall, when Goldilocks reached the home of the three bears, the bears were out. Entering, she found three bowls of porridge. Being hungry, she sampled each. The first bowl of porridge was too cold. The next one was too hot. The last, however, was just right; so she ate it up.

For many Christians, the varied theological views regarding the Holy Spirit and His ministry must be like those three bowls Goldilocks faced. At one end, in the first bowl, are those who seem to resist the Spirit and insist that the miraculous that typified the early church was for that time only. The gifts of the Spirit (particularly the more sensational ones) have "ceased" and there is little expectation that what the Spirit used to do He still can and will do. This view leaves many believers with the distinct impression of being "too cold."

Those who take this "no miraculous gifts for today" approach tend to relegate Luke's second work to the "helpful history" pile. These teachers and believers insist that Acts does have value -- but primarily (and sometimes exclusively) as a record of what God did then. Thus it has little practical to say about what He might still want to do now.

At the other end of the table is the bowl filled with those who wholeheartedly embrace all the miraculous and wonderful in the Scriptures. These long for returning, somehow, to the "good old days" of "first century Christianity." A concerted effort is made to establish certain activities of the Spirit as mandatory for all believers everywhere; to somehow ensure that exactly what happened then happens now. For example, some insist that since all the disciples in Acts 2 prayed in tongues, every believer everywhere must also have this experience. This view leaves many with a sense of extremism -- the view seeming a little "too hot."

The adherents of this persuasion see in Acts an exacting blueprint that must be followed; as if Luke had given us something of a theological dance diagram. Every place the church in Acts put its foot, believers everywhere must also place theirs. What grows out of this is a situation where what was an experience of life in Acts becomes a controlled and regimented practice.

What a pity it is to live at either of these extremes. Both tend to put the Spirit and His ministry in a box of man's creation: some insisting that He can't do things in the life of the church which He has done before; others insisting that He must do the identical things in the life of the church which He has done before.

Somewhere, in between these two extremes, there must be a view that is "just right" -- a theologically sound, biblically sensible view that allows for the full expression of all the Spirit seeks to do without falling into the perceived extremes found in many Pentecostal and charismatic circles.

I would suggest that Luke was actually illustrating this middle ground when he penned the Book of Acts. He never intended for it to be taken as a rigid and normative blueprint, nor as a sacred history of things gone by. Could it not be that God directed him to write Acts as an example, a model, for church life?

This idea is by no means foreign to Scripture. The New Testament frequently advocates the concept of modeling and leading by example (e.g., 1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess. 3:7; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3). In fact, in 1 Corinthians, Paul calls the saints to be imitators of himself (1 Cor. 4:16).

When Paul made this call, he clearly wasn't suggesting that everything that happened to him needed to happen to all the Corinthians. The saints in Corinth did not need to first become rabbis, then persecute the church for a while, then have an encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and so forth. To follow his example it wasn't necessary for them to be "cookie cutter" copies of himself. What he was calling for was an essential resemblance -- what characterized Paul's life was to characterize the lives of the Corinthian believers. In other words, there was to be a "family resemblance."

I'm convinced this is how we should approach Acts. What characterized the church in Acts should characterize the church of the living God throughout the ages. There is to be a basic "family resemblance."

Here is where the "Acts as a divine blueprint" believers err. They assume that Acts is much more than an example. Rather than expecting qualitatively similar things to happen in the life of the church, they insist on the exact same things in the exact same way. Rather than looking for a "family resemblance," they will not be content unless the church today looks like an identically dressed, identical twin of the church pictured in Acts.

But it is here also that the "Acts as helpful history" believers err. They assume that Acts is much less than an example. Rather than looking for qualitatively similar things to happen in the life of the church today, they insist that Acts is a portrait of a way of life no longer to be lived. Rather than looking for a "family resemblance," they believe that the portrait in Acts is of a different family altogether. Due to some perceived change in God's dealings with man, they see no need to bear the family likeness of the church found in Acts.

How wonderful it would be if believers put the emphasis on seeing Acts as a model, as an example. The accent would fall on what characterized the church of the first century, instead of attempting to live the identical experiences and take the same specific actions they took. How dynamic and alive the church is (or should be) would be highlighted, unobscured by self-justifying excuses as to why the church today lacks the first century church's vitality and power. Acts would be seen as a portrait of a normal church; not a normative church nor an untypical church -- just a normal church alive to Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God.

End of document, CRJ0084A.TXT (original CRI file name), "The Spirit, Acts, and the Church"
release A, April 30, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.

Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.

This data file is the sole property of the Christian Research Institute. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute"). This data file may not be used without the permission of the Christian Research Institute for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content with the exception of a few brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words.

If you desire to reproduce less than 500 words of this data file for resale or the enhancement of any other product for resale, please give the following source credit: Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute, P.O. Box 7000, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688-7000.

More About the Christian Research Journal - Return to Index Page

Christian Research Institute

P.O. Box 7000
Rancho Santa Margarita
California 92688-7000

Visit CRI International Official Web Site: