Monday, 19 May 2014

Fruitfulness on the Frontline: The Journey On

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This one is the final part of an eight-part series, written by a team of us at LICC, to coincide with the launch of new resources – Fruitfulness on the Frontline.

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord… The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
Acts 11:19-21, 26

Luke makes it clear that the account he tells in Acts is a continuation of the same story he began in his gospel (Acts 1:1-2). In fact, it’s the next phase of the plan that goes back to God’s promise to Abraham and the vocation of Israel to be a light to the nations. That calling, embodied supremely in Jesus, is now passed on to his followers as they continue God’s mission, bearing fruit and bearing witness – across cultural and racial and geographical boundaries – to ‘the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).

Although Peter, Paul and a few others are the main characters, it’s equally apparent that the work was carried out by ‘ordinary’ believers, who spread the word wherever they went (Acts 8:4). We don’t know the names of those who established the church in Antioch; but we do know that it was this multi-cultural mix of Jewish and Gentile believers who were first given the designation ‘Christian’. And it is this church that became the base for sending out others, launching a mission into the wider Roman world. Rightly the church equips its people to carry out God’s work in their own place, and rightly it keeps in mind that the gospel is for all nations.

Beyond numerical growth, it’s also apparent that the work of the Spirit is embodied in the lives of the new communities formed – in prayer and worship, in distinct patterns of life together, in following teaching, in digging deep into their pockets in response to the needs of others, in nurturing fruitful lives. Such a church is not just one more social organisation within society, but a community which by its very nature is a sign that God’s kingdom is present. Faith, then, is not merely private or interior, but lived on the public stage, engaged in the world.

Above all, throughout the book of Acts, the centre of gravity is God himself – where mission is not what the church does, but what God does through the church. The same gracious God, the same exalted Christ, the same powerful Spirit, and the same amazing plan means we too play a part in the continual unfolding of this story – bearing fruit in every good work, witnessing to a renewed relationship with God and the restoration of the whole of life under the lordship of Christ.

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