When one reads through the book of Acts it is quickly discovered that the early church was a unique group of individuals, a group like no other. So moved by the event of the resurrection, these early believers could not withhold the things that their eyes had seen. As Peter proclaimed to the Jewish council, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had changed the early church forever, and they would not stop until the whole world knew of the Gospel (i.e. “the good news of Jesus”).
One particular area of interest concerning the early church is there courageous and fearless proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. A running theme in the book of Acts that seems to sprinkle throughout the narrative, involves the extreme boldness of the early Christians. The word “boldness” (from the Greek “parrēsia”) appears several times in the book of Acts. One lexicon captures the essence of these early Christians by defining “parrēsia” as “the absence of fear in speaking boldly (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Joseph Henry Thayer).” The Christians as described in Acts feared no man. Even in the midst of death itself they stood their ground, boldly proclaiming the message of the Gospel. Their confidence in the resurrection was so real, so alive, and so profoundly true, that they feared nothing!
We see this boldness exemplified in Acts 4 when Peter and John are facing the Jewish council. The Jews, annoyed at their message of the resurrection, threatened them to no longer speak of Jesus. However, Peter and John, with great boldness, looked them in the eye and spoke evermore passionately the resurrection of Jesus. So filled with the Spirit, the educated Sadducees were astonished of how Peter and John, uneducated men, could speak with such authority! We see it again when the seized Stephen stands confidently in front of the high priest and the hostile crowd. Eloquently Stephen articulates the continuity of the Old Testament scriptures with the person of Jesus. Stephen’s message creates such uproar that the hearers begin to grind their teeth at him, unable to accept the convicting message. Nevertheless, Stephen remains bold; so bold and so in tune with the father in fact, that he is able to look into their hate-filled eyes and say “Lord do not hold this sin against them!” We see it in beloved Paul, possibly the boldest of them all. We read time and time again of how Paul would preach and in return be physically mutilated. So much so, that on one occasion in Lystra, Paul was stoned so severely that the people left him for dead (Acts 14:19). But, he kept on preaching, he would not stop boldly proclaiming the story; it was that important.
And then, there is you and me. Decades separated from the time of those faithful early Christians. There work is now simply words on a page and at times it is difficult to recapture the fire that resided within those bold believers. So, we replace confidence with complacency, courageousness with cowardliness, and boldness with fear. We shriek at even the thought of inviting a stranger to church, let alone telling them about Jesus. And our concept of evangelism has shifted from proclaiming the good news of the resurrection to simply being a “silent witness.” Thus, we pass them by, hundreds of people, who need to hear the most profound and life-changing message on the planet.
Why does the boldness described of those early Christians seem to be less evident in today’s Christians? Doesn’t the same Spirit who empowered the early church empower us today? Surely Joel’s prophecy concerning the indwelling of the Spirit for all believers is still true now as it was on Pentecost Day. If so, why the lack of zeal and courage to spread the Gospel to the entire world? Maybe it’s because we have been distracted by an ever growing culture of materialism and consumerism. Desire to reach the lost has been substituted with desire to reach our personal goals. Or maybe the pressure of subjectivism, relevance, and tolerance, that invades our culture, prevents us from proclaiming a message that is counter-cultural; a message claiming to be the only true worldview. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that the boldness for the Gospel as seen in the book of Acts looks much different than contemporary American Christian evangelism. Perhaps it is time to set aside our many reservations and simply proclaim the message of Jesus with boldness!
What do you think about the church’ effort to evangelize? Do you think we have become too complacent in our effort to reach the lost? How is the early church, as described in Acts, different from today’s church?