BOOK OF ACTS

Peter's Principle

I am re-reading, studying again for the Nth time the Book of Acts. This time, I am focusing my attention on Peter, his life, experiences, and perception of the missionary work during the early church. In chapter ten, we see here Peter's second conversion experience--an experience that turned him from a Jewish-centric view of God's salvation to a multi-ethnic, cross cultural, inclusive understanding of the Christian gospel. It is interesting to note the differences between his initial encounter in chapter ten and his interpretation of this encounter stated in chapter eleven. In chapter eleven, he is trying to persuade his fellow Jewish leaders of God's new revelation that the gentiles are now included in the plan of salvation. Chapter ten is mostly Luke's version. Chapter eleven is Peter's self explanation. Both are very similar except for a few things. Peter does not mention Luke's analysis of his perplexed situation we find in 10:17.  He also says "I heard a voice saying to me" (11:7) rather than "there came a voice to me" (10:13). Most important of all, Peter quotes a "word of the Lord" about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is not mentioned by Luke (11:16).

The whole point Peter is trying to say is the principle of undeniability. (Okay, I made this up.) What he is saying is that this is the Word of God. If we do not do it, then we will all perish. We must listen and obey. Obviously, Peter's principle worked. Those who listened, the ones in Jerusalem, even the ones who are members of the circumcision party, all agreed that God has also granted repentance and salvation to the gentiles (Acts 11:18).


Paul's Change of Heart

New Testament (NT) scholars tell us that Paul, in the Book of Acts, had a change of strategy. In the early years, he would always go to a synagogue first to preach the Word and start a missionary work (Acts 13:5, 14; and 14:1). Luke even says that "it was Paul's custom" to start ministry in the synagogues (17:2). Later, these NT experts tell us that Paul, during his Third Missionary Journey, started to preach the gospel in places other than synagogues. He used the School of Tyrannus, a public forum for gentiles, as a location for doing missionary work and public evangelism (Acts 19:9). These experts and scholars say Paul had a change of strategy. I agree. And I would even go further and say that Paul also had a change of heart, or renewed view of the missionary work.

In the beginning, Paul was always excited about doing ministry. Right after his conversion, Luke tells us that Paul "immediately began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues" (Acts 9:20 NASB). He was very bold. He always had his eye on the gentile horizon. He knew, even early on, that his preaching would bring him to a missionary work among the gentiles and non-Jews (13:47). I think, however, that Paul's vision for the gentiles at this point was located in the political structures of the synagogues. Simply said, he felt that missionary work among the Romans, Greeks, and other peoples must occur within the confines of the synagogue meeting place.

During the Second Missionary Journey, we see Paul starting to venture outside the synagogue and using a "place of prayer" as a location for missionary work. It is here that Paul encountered Lydia, the first convert in Europe. But we must mention at this point that this change of location was unintentional. Paul, Luke, and their companions were originally looking for a "place of prayer," possibly a religious meeting place similar to a synagogue (Acts 16:13). They, however, found Lydia by this riverside location and the rest is history, the story of the first missionary work in Europe. This approach of using the synagogues as a platform for missionary preaching continued even until the Third Missionary Journey. (Compare Acts 17:1-3, 17; 18:4,19; and 19:8.) Paul sees the synagogue as the place where cross-cultural ministry to the non-Jews and gentile God-fearers must occur. This is the strategy for missionary work. He could not think of any other way.

It is during his trip to Rome, that Paul realizes cross-cultural ministry among the Romans, Greeks, Africans, and Asians, is going to happen outside the confines of the Jewish synagogues. God reveals to Paul that witnessing in Rome means without the comforts of the synagogues. (Compare Acts 23:11 and 27:23-24.)  Paul has a change of heart.

We see Paul's change of heart more clearly when we look at chapter twenty-eight. After being shipwrecked and resting in the island of Malta, Paul, his companions, the Roman soldiers, and sailors of the ship find themselves the recipients of the islander's hospitality. There were many occasions where Paul could have started preaching. But he did not. He waited for God's visitation. When the islanders saw a miracle and thought Paul was a god, Paul did not come out preaching and "doing" ministry. He waited for God. He waited for three days. God came when the father of the leading man of the island was healed from an affliction. God visited through Paul's prayers for healing. Many people received God's blessings thereafter. (See Acts 28:1-10)

As I mentioned above, Paul had a change of missionary strategy. He moved from preaching in the Jewish synagogues to Roman-Greek lecture halls, such as the School of Tyrannus. He also had a change of heart. He started with a great enthusiasm for public preaching and debate proving that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20-22; 17:1-4; and 18:5-6). He continued on towards a more contemplative ministry--waiting on God to act first before moving forward.

There is a change of strategy. There is also a change of heart. But more importantly is that there is a change of view of the missionary work. God's works among the gentiles and non-Jews have moved from the familiarity of the Jewish synagogues to the obscurity of Roman and Greek public places. Paul declares that the "salvation of God has been sent to the gentiles" (Acts 28:28 NASB). God is the missionary God who will bring gentiles to salvation regardless of the presence or absence of the Jewish synagogue. Paul concludes with this declaration and rightly states that the gentiles will listen (v. 28). The missionary work among the Romans, Greeks, Africans, and Asians will prosper because God is the one leading it. All we need to do is to wait on God to act first, and then we can move on to cross many different cultures and foreign lands.


Paul's Silence

Big hoopla before the First Missionary Journey. A big church council before the Second Missionary Journey. Before the Third Missionary Journey, however, there is silence. No big parties, no memorable induction service, no great deliberations to inaugurate this next missionary journey. What is wrong with this picture? Why the silence?

In the Book of Acts, chapter 13, we read of Paul's First Missionary Journey. Before this event, the story speaks of Barnabas and Saul (Paul) coming back from Jerusalem and successfully fulfilling their mission with the "mother church" (Jerusalem church) to deliver the contributions of the Church of Antioch in response to the famine in the land (see 11:27-30 and 12:25). Also, there is the dramatic laying of hands by the church leaders of Antioch (see 13:1-4). When we come to the Second Missionary Journey, the preceding event is the great Council of Jerusalem (see 15:1-35). Big decision were made and great orations were given, before Paul and Barnabas went out for their journey. Before the Third Missionary Journey, we have only one verse to describe a prior event (more like a series of events). In Acts 18:22, the writer of the Book of Acts, Dr. Luke, tells us that Paul landed in Caesarea and proceeded to Jerusalem and then to Antioch, period. Nothing more, nothing less. What happened in these three places, we do not know.

Why was Paul silent about this event before the Third Missionary Journey? Maybe, we should ask the question: Why would Dr. Luke, considering that he is a very detailed and precise historian, not mention any events prior to this last missionary journey? Was this intentional on both Paul and Luke's writings? What is the reason behind this silence?

I really cannot be certain about the reason for this silence. But one thing I notice is a shift in Paul's approach to ministry. Here in the third journey, he intentionally goes to places where gentiles congregate. In the first and second missionary journey, ministry among the gentiles, the Asians, the Greeks, the Romans, Africans, etc., were only incidental. Paul always started with the Synagogues and among the Jews of the region he is visiting. Cross cultural ministry among the non-Jews was only an appendage.

In the Third Missionary Journey, he had his eyes set for Rome (19:21). It was during this journey that he moved from preaching in the synagogues to preaching in a Greek lecture hall (19:9). Also, it was during this time that Dr. Luke the writer includes the story of Apollos, an African and most probably a product of a missioanry work not directly connected with Paul or Barnabbas (18:24-28). Luke also mentions in detail some of Paul's non-Jewish companions and assistants (20:4). There is also the poignant story of the Holy Spirit descending on a group of people from Ephesus (most probably gentiles) and they in turn spoke in tongues and started prophesying (19:1-7). This is a picture of "The Spirit descending on Pentecost," that is mentioned in the second chapter, but this time among the gentile followers of Ephesus. Paul's approach to ministry shifted from the Jews to the non-Jews.

We know of course that when a person changes focus or shifts his priorities from one thing to another, then it produces some anxiety and internal confusion. I think this is the reason for Paul's silence. We see in the narrative that he took a vow because he was in the middle of making an important decision that could change his future (18:18). He was in a hurry to go back to his "home church" to consult with his leaders (cf. Acts 18:19-20 and also, 20:16). He was hoping this change of priorities and ministry shift would find agreement with his colleagues in Jerusalem and Antioch. I think, Paul, as well as Luke, were silent about this changes because they did not want to create any more trouble and confusion among the Jewish Christians of that time. In one of Paul's oratory defense among the Jews, this adverse reaction to a gentile ministry became obvious (see Acts 22:21-22). Paul and Luke knew there was going to be a violent reaction. And eventually, this is how the Book of Acts ends, a rejection among the Jews, but a renewed vigor for cross cultural ministry among the Asians, Europeans, Africans, and Romans (see Acts 28:26-28).

Are we ready to cross cultures? Are we ready to shift gears? Are we ready not be silent about it? Let us throw a big party. Announce it to the whole world. We are going to minister to people who are not like us, to go to places where the local culture and society is different than what we are comfortable with. We are going and telling the world about Jesus' love and restoration. Let us be noisy about it. Let us make a ruckus!


Paul's Problem

Paul declines an invitation from the people. They want him to stay a little longer so he can share the gospel with them. (See Acts 18:20) What is Paul's problem? Here is a group of people from Ephesus who are hungry for the preaching of God's words. And he refuses to stay with them for a time of ministry.

I am still reading the Book of Acts and I am now in the in-between part, the transition between Paul's second and third missionary journeys. Paul must have a reason for declining the people of Ephesus. As we read the surrounding text, we notice that Paul is quite in a quandary. The narrative says, before coming to Ephesus, he had his hair cut because he was under a vow (18:18). He must have been struggling with some serious decisions. Furthermore, the way Dr. Luke, the writer, tells the story, Paul was in a hurry to go to his home base in Antioch and come back to Ephesus by way of Galatia and Phrygia (see 18:22-23). It seems to be, Paul's refusal to stay in Ephesus was only temporary because he wanted to consult someone or something in Antioch. He wanted to be sure that when he comes back to Ephesus he has "his bases covered."

So, what was Paul's problem. We really do not know for sure. But I think, he was in the middle of shifting gears in the ministry. He wanted to focus his attention to gentile ministry, and most probably wanted to stop "synagogue ministry." We get a hint of this when we see him moving away from the synagogue and going to the "halls of Tyrannus" (Acts 19:8-9). He wanted to make the gentile ministry the main thing, and not just an appendage to his work among the Jews who were scattered abroad. In so many ways, he wanted a truly cross-cultural missions work, a place where the Christian gospel is crossing cultural, religious, and philosophical boundaries.

Some of us are in the middle of making big decisions. We are caught in the in-between. Cover your bases, consult your leaders, refuse an invitation, and maybe decline an offer, but make sure that you hurry up and come back to the place where God wants you to be.

I feel like Japan right now is my Ephesus. I do not know yet so many things. I am declining some "invitations" and refusing a few decisions. I need to hurry up and come back to the place God has called me to be. Pray with me.


Mistakes we make in the mission field

If we have Facebook, post our thoughts on a public blogsite, and/or speak to our peers on a regular basis, there is no way we can hide the mistakes that we commit out there in the mission field. But Paul, the great apostle and theologian, did not have all these things when he started his missionary career. So, now, we readers in the modern times, will never know what he did when he first ventured out for his first cross-cultural missionary work in Arabia (see Galatians 1:17). Whatever he did there, including the mistakes he made, will never be known. Let me explain.

I am currently studying the Book of Acts. In chapter nine, Dr. Luke the historian recounts Paul's conversion experience and travel from Damascus to Jerusalem. We all know that from Paul's own testimony in The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians (Gal. 1:11-24), he mentions a trip to Arabia, before he went up to Jerusalem. This part of Paul's life is a little obscure. So, I consulted a few experts to enlighten my study, Martin Hengel and Eckard J. Schnabel. Two books I am presently reading are PAUL THE MISSIONARY: REALITIES, STRATEGIES AND METHODS (E. J. Schnabel, 2008) and PAUL, BETWEEN DAMASCUS AND ANTIOCH: THE UNKNOWN YEARS (Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer, 1997). Both of these works explain that Paul's time in Arabia was a cross cultural work, and I would say, Paul's first attempt to do missionary work. Although his Damascus ministry was also a missionary work, it was more of a "local missions" nature. It was only in Arabia that he encountered a truly "foreign" missions experience, his first cross-cultural missionary work.

What do these books have to do with Paul's missionary mistakes?

First, allow me to explain the circumstances surrounding Paul's missionary trip to Arabia. One, Paul went to Arabia as a "solitary missionary" (Hengel 1997:109). Two, he went to Arabia as an "expression of his concern for independence" (Hengel 1997:110 and Galatians 1:16-17). Three, Arabia was in political turmoil. His two to three years of missionary work there was full of resistance and emotional stress (Schnabel 2008:63 and Hengel 1997:112). Four, Paul spoke Aramaic in that region, a language that is not his mother tongue (Hengel 1997:119). Five, it was in Arabia that Paul started to preach among the pagan locals and non-Jewish peoples (Schnabel 2008:63). It was Paul's first cross cultural experience in the ministry. All these five circumstances are a recipe for disaster, for making mistakes in the mission field.

Of course, we do not have a record of these mistakes. Even the Book of Acts do not mention this Arabian episode. Paul refers to it only in passing (Gal 1:17). It is as if he did not want to talk about it. What I am trying to say is that if ever Paul was going to make mistakes in his life, it would have been during this time in Arabia. By inference, we can say that there is no mention of his time in Arabia because he did not want to remember his mistakes. Okay, okay. I know I am stretching this too far. This is more of the imagination than a product of a scholarly work.

The point I want to make is that even the great apostle Paul made mistakes in his missionary career. And I think, those mistakes most likely happened in Arabia. What we can learn from Paul is that he did not let his failures overcome him. He learned from his mistakes. We see later, after chapter nine of the Book of Acts, he consulted with the leaders in Jerusalem, he followed the mentorship of Barnabbas, he employed the assistance of language helpers (e.g, John Mark, Titus, etc.), and he slowly transitioned moving from preaching to the Jews in the synagogues to engaging the Gentiles in the marketplace. He learned from his mistakes.

So, the next time you go to the mission field, do not be afraid to make mistakes. Do not hide them. Post them on your Facebook walls. Blog about them. Learn from them. And perhaps, we, can also learn from your mistakes.