Unlike the Old Testament narratives, and in some senses, even unlike the gospel narratives, the Acts narratives should be easier to interpret and preach. After all, this is now church history, not ancient Israel history. But there is a challenge:
The challenge of “normativeness” – how are we to understand and apply descriptions of a unique season in history – the founding of the church? Three comments on this:
1. Acts is not “mere history” – Don’t make the mistake of saying we shouldn’t preach from Acts because it is merely a historical account. It is inspired theological Scripture. It is as much theology as the epistles! Acts is history, and it is more than that. However,
2. Acts is not “all history” – some elements of the Acts story are unique and we shouldn’t presume that it is all normative for where we stand in that same history. Possible examples include the following. Should we be concerned that the apostles have died? Should we be looking for qualified replacements? Some sing that we need another Pentecost, but what are we suggesting about the work of the Spirit in the Church? Should we expect Ananias and Sapphira-type church discipline to occur every time there is sin in the church today, or should we be learning from a unique event? What about the “Gentile tongues” at conversion that are presented as a sign to the apostles at a key transition moment in the progress of the gospel? Acts is not totally typical of all church history.
3. Acts is “all applicable” – Just because some of the events may not occur again, this doesn’t mean that the text is irrelevant (think about the crucifixion of Jesus, for instance). All Scripture is useful, applicable, but the challenge is having the wisdom to discern how to apply it. We need to consider Acts in light of the clear teaching of the epistles, as well as the progress seen within the epistles (consider the different emphasis in 1Corinthians as compared to the later Pastoral Epistles – both concerned with health in the local church, but a different emphasis). Let’s be careful not to automatically use “Acts” labels for contemporary experiences that may or may not be the same thing as what occurred back then.
Acts is rich and fertile soil for study and preaching, but whatever your theology, I trust you’ll agree that it is not without its challenges!