The Future Face of the North American Church, part 1

Posted: March 2, 2010 in On Being Apostolic
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Anyone who gives any thought to the current state of the Apostolic Movement in North America knows that our movement is in a period of great transition.  While it may not be publicly acknowledged by the officialdom of the various apostolic church groups, the transition is nevertheless occurring.

As mentioned in a previous post, we are finding it difficult to maintain growth rates and retain multi-generational apostolic youth.  As well, we are also finding it difficult to attract young people to ministry…enrollment at large in our Bible colleges, long the training grounds for our apostolic ministers, is down across the board.  Couple to these disturbing trends the apostolic movement’s guilty embrace of the materialistic and worldly secular culture, and the picture emerges of a failing, if not failed movement that didn’t live up to her promise.

This isn’t meant to imply that the Apostolic Movement in North America is dead.  Not by a long shot.  It’s only meant to help create the understanding that the current version of the “apostolic” church is likely finished.  We can spend all of our energy and effort trying to resuscitate the current model of the church…something no doubt many will opt to do.  After all, the current model is what they know.  More importantly, it’s what they’re comfortable with.  Or, we can take advantage of this transitional time to seriously examine what we are and what we need to become to effectively present the transforming Gospel to our society.  A great place to begin this transforming, often painful, yet always hopeful process is by re-reading the Book of Acts.

Having been part of the apostolic movement my entire life, I know the emotional appeal that mentioning the Book of Acts has to us.  But I also know how little we actually examine Acts for anything other than confirmation of our particular doctrinal stands and experiential mores.  We embrace Acts for its strong affirmation of water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, for the timeless promise of Holy Spirit, for speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of Spirit baptism, and for the presence of miracles, signs, and wonders in the church.

And that’s about it.

Oh yes, we give a nod to the evangelical strategy of the early church.  After all, the whole process of “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the uttermost part of the world” makes sense to our linear way of thinking.  And, some make forays into what they call ‘apostolic authority’…the results of which are often less than apostolic and more than cultish.  (It seems to me that if those so greatly obsessed with ‘apostolic authority’ only were more authentically apostolic, they’d have fewer concerns about the validity of their ‘authority.’  Less talk, more action.)

But for the purpose of truly examining what we are and what God would have us become, we’ve got to try to read Acts free of our doctrinal and experiential blinders.  That’s hard for us to do, but it’s possible.  And it must be.  We have to realize that the author of Acts communicated more to us than our underlined verses and pet beliefs.  Acts is more than our personal prooftext.   To shamelessly borrow from Merrill C. Tenney, evangelical scholar and former dean of Wheaton College, the book of Acts is less a history of the church…and more a manual of how the Spirit-led church operates.

And that’s a great place to start; reading the Book of Acts with fresh eyes, as if it were a manual…an operational guide…to becoming a church that is truly able to minister to our world.

Stay tuned for part two…

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