Seeking the Answer
I believe we are faced with similar circumstances. While God’s work among us has been significant, I believe we are on the edge of greater breakthroughs. Our answers to the questions facing us will determine the breadth and scope of how God’s Spirit will be able to work among us.
Let’s look at principles in Acts 15 that helped the early church avert a detour from the destiny God had for them.
First, they didn’t allow a small group of people to hijack the vision of the church. It happens all the time—in a church, in the marketplace or in a neighborhood association a small, highly organized, vocal group can dictate the direction of the movement.
Seacoast Church began with three distinct groups of people with three very different views of how God should move in the life of the church. One view involved the music, one involved the gifts of the Spirit, one involved liturgy.
Each group was made up of well-meaning people who had experienced God’s power and presence in a unique way at a previous church. They were hoping their experiences would be duplicated at Seacoast. I told each of them as graciously as I could what the vision for our church was—and felt hollow as I watched many of them exit our church, not to return.
In Acts 15, the group consisted of some well-meaning men from Judea. In effect, they were saying: “Hey, it’s great that seekers are being saved, but this is the way we’ve always seen God work. You need to do it that way too.”
The early church averted the detour by not allowing a few vocal critics to hijack the vision of the church.
Second, they weren’t afraid of a healthy debate. The apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue (see Acts 15:6-21). Sometimes we can short-circuit a healthy process simply because we are afraid of the questions. Questions aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They can help give clarity to the issue and shape the future.
Recently, I was asked to participate in a meeting with some denominational officials who were trying to determine why younger ministers were leaving their fellowship. During the discussion, I asked what I thought would be a clarifying question. I realized by the looks on the faces of those at the table I had raised a “we can’t go there” topic. As long as there are such issues, you can never make progress toward a healthy future.
In the charismatic-Pentecostal practice, what are the sacred cows? What are the issues that need to be talked about but can’t be because ... well, just because?
Maybe it’s the initial evidence of Spirit baptism (i.e., how do you know you are Spirit-filled?). Maybe it’s how the gifts are demonstrated in public gatherings. (At Seacoast we decided we don’t have to do everything we know how to do every time we get together. Just because something didn’t happen or wasn’t expected doesn’t mean God wasn’t among us.) Or maybe it’s how we do altar calls, what really constitutes revival, or anything else we’re nervous talking about.
People want the power and presence of God—that’s a constant. What most people think they want are the practices, which are fluid and secondary. When we can’t debate the practices, we may be destined to die with them. Never forget, the best thing to do with a dead horse is dismount.
Third, the early church decided to keep the “tent” big. After a lively discussion in which some Christian Pharisees pleaded to make gentiles toe the Jewish line, Paul and Barnabas shared their testimonies, and Peter told of a vision he had before the Spirit was poured out on a gentile family, James (Jesus’ brother) gave the definitive word: “I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God” (v. 19).
Enjoying the Result
“Easy” is not a dirty word. Why do we think it’s more spiritual to make it difficult for seekers? To quote Albert Einstein, “When the solutions are simple, God is at work.”
James continued: “[Instead] we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (vv. 20-21).
Essentially, James said: “Let’s not allow a small group of vocal critics to erect artificial barriers, making it hard for seekers to experience God. And let’s be unafraid to ask the tough questions that help shape the vision. And let’s keep the ‘essential list’ short, so as many people as possible can enjoy what we have come to treasure.”
What was the result? “So when [Paul and Barnabas] were sent off, they came down to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement” (vv. 30-31).
These were crucial decisions because they allowed a fledgling movement to move beyond the constraints of a uniquely Jewish culture. They ultimately made an impact on the gentile world with a gospel that made its way down through the centuries to a small town in Oklahoma where it changed the destiny of my family. And for that I will forever be ever grateful.
Greg Surrat is the founding pastor of Seacoast Church, which is recognized for its innovation in church growth and development, and which combines a highly participatory worship with a heart for missional evangelism. Seacoast currently holds 29 weekend worship experiences in 13 separate locations.
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