Tonight, we will be discussing Chapter 5 “Passing on the Story of Jesus” of Dr. Hanna Steele’s book Living His Story. In this chapter, Dr. Steele writes of how the Holy Spirit guides us when we speak. Dr. Stelle ends her chapter with a series of principles that we can draw from Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40) and Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10).
The first thing we should notice in the two stories from Acts and throughout Acts itself is that the Spirit drives the early church towards risk-taking and not comfort-seeking. Think how the gospels end. The disciples are either back in Jerusalem (Luke 24:53) or out fishing (John 21). They are in familiar territory. Going out to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) means taking a risk, it means living behind the familiar, and it means talking to new and different people. Think of the risk that Peter took to enter the house of a Roman centurion to baptize the first Gentiles. The risk did not arise from Cornelius, rather it arose from how other Jesus-followers (who were all Jewish) would react to Peter’s breach of Jewish law and custom. But the Spirit gave them direction and the courage to take the risk.
As we looked at last week, Jesus interacted with a diversity of people in diverse ways because everyone is different. The Spirit is the same – although she works in a myriad of ways. Think about the different ways that we can be open to allowing the Spirit to work. Philip used Scripture to speak to the Ethiopian whereas Paul used Greek philosophy to speak to the Athenians (Acts 17). In Cornelius’ home, Peter simply told his story. Different groups require different ways of speaking.
The evangelism in Acts is the creation and formation of friendships, often with unlikely people in unlikely places. For those of you who have attended Cursillo, one of their principles is “Make a friend, be a friend, bring your friend to Christ!” The statement is not an underhanded recruitment tool – go make a friend just so you can convert them – but is meant to be a call to form real relationships with those outside of the church. When Peter enters Cornelius’ home, he finds a large gathering of people. (Acts 10:27). Peter preaches to a large gathering of Gentiles because Cornelius invited them.
In both the story of the Ethiopian and Cornelius, the Spirit was already at work. To be successful, Philip and Peter did not need to bring God to these individuals, but to recognize God already at work within them. Philip listened to the Ethiopian read from Isaiah. Peter obeyed Cornelius’ summons. Evangelism is not about us and what we are doing, it is about God and what the Spirit is doing. We are required to have the humility to see the difference.
Most of the evangelism in Acts takes place out there – not in a church or a synagogue. Philip meets the Ethiopian on a highway, Peter goes to Cornelius’ house, and Paul meets the Athenians in their community meeting space on the Areopagus. One of the trends in evangelism is third-spaces (neither home nor work nor church) but other places where people naturally congregate. Someone may not want to go to church with you, but inviting someone to Beer and Hymns at Tidal Brewery on May 1 is easier. The purpose of evangelism is not about getting someone into church, but introducing them to Jesus.
Together not Alone:
Dr. Steele’s final principle is that evangelism is about being together and not alone. When Peter goes to Cornelius’ home, he took some of the brethren with him (Acts 10:23). The story is not about Peter and Cornelius, but about an entourage of Christians meeting with a large group of Romans. When Paul goes out on his first missionary journey, Barnabas is his partner. (Acts 13). Neither Paul nor Peter went off by themselves. And, as Dr. Steele points out, our true partner is always the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is beans and greens. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here.
Christianity is the most materialistic of all great religions. The Church exists primarily for the sake of those who are still outside it. It is a mistake to suppose that God is only, or even chiefly, concerned with religion.William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury (1942-44)