by Alvin Reid
(Editor’s note: This is the 12th post in a series called “A Journey of Evangelism in Scripture,” where we travel from Genesis through Revelation to look into the intersection of evangelism at various points of time.
In 1998 I faced artificial hip replacement surgery. As I recovered, I wondered whether I would set off metal detectors in airports, but I didn’t. I didn’t, that is, until late September 2011, when I took a team to South Africa. Why did my hip suddenly begin to set off the metal detector? Well, because of 9-11. The terrorist attack on the U.S. changed a lot of lives and at some level has touched the whole world. After terrorists boarded planes with box cutters, the TSA recalibrated the detectors. Why did this happen?
Osama bin Laden convinced a couple dozen men to come to the States to attend flight training schools in order to learn how to fly domestic air carriers. These men unleashed an attack unprecedented in American history, leaving approximately 3,000 people dead.
Osama bin Laden started a movement of the worst kind: a movement of global terrorism.
While many have been involved, one man started the movement. He was not a dictator. Nor was he the leader of a massive, organized army. Using an idea and modern communication tools such as social media, Osama bin Laden impacted the whole world, and not for the better.
Here’s the good news: About two millennia ago a band of 120 believers gathered in a big room in Jerusalem. They had no status in the culture, no financial backing, and no elaborate network. But they had a mission so big that they could only accomplish it by God’s power. Now, 2,000 years later, you are reading this blog post because of the movement they advanced.
How did the Early Church do it? Here are a few principles from the Acts:
- They had clarity: Jesus’ last words in Acts 1:8 gave unambiguous focus to their lives. Whether they faced issues in the church fellowship (Acts 5, 6, 15) or persecution from outside, they continued to advance the gospel (see Acts 4:23-31, for instance).
- They were filled with awe toward God. Notice how often terms like wonder, astonished, awe, or marvelled are used in Acts. These were not professional, religious types with a human agenda; they were Spirit-soaked ambassadors.
- The Spirit was their guide. The dominant person in Acts was not a man, but the Spirit of God. When He filled believers, they shared the gospel. Four times the Spirit speaks in a direct quote in Acts, and in every case He said, “Go:” (see Acts 8:29-35; 10:19-20; 13:2 [where He set apart Saul and Barnabas for formal missionary work]; and 28:25-26).
- Their movement was birthed in prayer. The Church was born in a prayer meeting not a think tank (Acts 1-2). The Church faced persecution with prayer (4:23-31). The leaders of the Church gave focus to prayer (6:4).
- They displayed the gospel in a variety of ways: they proclaimed it with their lips boldly; they witnessed the miraculous work of God; they shared their resources with one another as each had need; they demonstrated a unified, loving community; they stood in the face of persecution, and they were willing to die for their faith. In these ways and others, the early believers both shared verbally and showed practically the reality of the truth of the gospel.
Today, we who follow Christ have the same resources, same calling, and similar opportunities to advance the gospel like the Early Church. May we say like Peter and John, “We cannot help but speak of the things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
This article was adapted from Alvin L. Reid, As You Go (Navpress, 2013), and Alvin L. Reid, Evangelism Handbook (B&H, 2009).
Alvin L. Reid (@alvinreid) is professor of evangelism and student ministry and Bailey Smith chair of evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is author of As You Go: Creating a Missional Culture of Gospel-Centered Students. He loves encouraging the younger generation to live for Jesus. Learn more: www.alvinreid.com