3.26 Acts -- Assessment of Acts
Acts is a depressing book, it is the account of the loss of vision and mission. It begins with tongues of fire, it ends with one man in house arrest in Rome. So far did the Gospel travel in 30 years. For all the thousands of converts in Jerusalem, the main activity in Acts was carried on by a mere handful of believers -- Paul, Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, Luke, and some helpers. Few if any of them had been part of the original 120 in the Upper Room. And while this handful were taking their lives in their hands travelling in leaky boats throughout the eastern Mediterranean, the people back home were trying to work out a synthesis between Moses and Jesus.
It is obvious, looking backwards from 2000 years later, that the gift of the Spirit was not the same as the personal presence of Jesus in the midst of the disciples. Just as the New Testament was a separate entity from its parent, the Old Covenant, so the intermediate period of three years, when Jesus was in active ministry, was a unique historical period, discontinuous with both predecessor and successor. During these three years, there was no debate, no Plan B, no alternatives. Jesus provided the overall direction as well as the daily plan of action. There was also no formal organization. But when he left, men once again took control. The Spirit sometimes showed up, through a vision or prophecy. And sometimes He didn't: "The wind blows wherever it pleases." When He didn't, men debated, discussed, disagreed, organized, and disorganized.
The Book of Acts shows the transition from Jesus' control to that of church leaders. And as we have seen, this was a messy process. The arrival of the Kingdom during Jesus' ministry was single-minded. The spread of the Kingdom, during the apostles' life, was contentious. Theological and racial conflicts occurred, and were not always resolved. In this way, the birth of the church resembled the birth of the nation of Israel during the Exodus. From Passover through the encampment at Sinai and the Ten Commandments, God was in charge, He was the main actor, and the Israelites just followed along. But from the time Israel refused to enter Canaan, God began to withdraw absolute control, and men took (limited) responsibility. In both cases, Israel and the Church, we can see that this was God's will so that men could mature. If Jesus had remained on earth, no believer would ever have had to exercise faith or knowledge or long-suffering -- the Problem-solver was always immediately at hand.
So Acts can be seen as both an impartation of divine power and as a withdrawal of God from the scene. Yes, this is paradoxical, but it is analogous to a parent's role when the child becomes a teenager. There is an empowering (driver's license, later curfew, allowance or part-time job), and a partial letting go. The teenager starts to make his own decisions, some of which are not correct, and goes through numerous crises and questioning of self-identity, in the process of becoming an adult. This is what we see in Acts.