Preaching Acts

Tim MacBride, Lecturer in New Testament & Preaching, Morling College

An Acts to Grind: using Acts as a church manual

‘Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the way things are done, just as they were handed down to us by those who were foundation members of our particular denomination. Therefore, since I myself have carefully confirmed my own prejudices from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write a prescriptive handbook for you, most excellent twenty-first century reader, so that you may know for certain that you are right in how you do church*.’

[*Some authorities add: ‘and that anyone who disagrees with you is wrong’, here and everywhere else throughout their ecclesial practices.]

Although this may be an unfair caricature, it never ceases to surprise me the number of times I hear Acts preached as though it were primarily a manual for how we should do church. An issue of practice or strategy arises, and we thumb through its pages to find out how they did it back then – often with the unchallenged assumption that this will tell us precisely how we should do it, too. Unless, of course, it doesn’t fit with our own cultural preferences, denominational heritage, or the latest strategy in church growth to emerge from North America – at which point we mumble something about ‘cultural context’ and try our luck in the pastoral epistles.

Even if we are able to shed the lenses of our own ecclesial prejudice and come to the text as impartially as possible, is the Acts of the Apostles intended to be the definitive guidebook for how all future generations organise and conduct themselves as the people of God? More simply, is Acts prescriptive as well as descriptive? Entire denominations have been built on this premise, but is the premise itself valid?

See the full article (PDF): Preaching Acts


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