A Look at the Great Commission in Acts

A small cross of twigsFor many Christians, the world seems to be growing darker each day. While the occasional event or ministry sees some some success, the larger trends are a shrinking number of believers, growing divisiveness and conflict, and churches that increasingly mirror the world. Since Christians are to be the light of the world, candles in the darkness, one can’t help but wonder if something is being missed. Many mature and educated Christian leaders have wrestled with these things, but there is no clear consensus or solution.

It’s unlikely that I’m going to add anything to the analyses of our leaders, but being led to seek understanding, have returned many times to Scripture for clues. One thing that has jumped out over and over is while many approaches seek wisdom from individual passages or subtle threads, it often seems that they skip over the biggest themes. I’ve often been struck by the fact that all four Gospels end with a commission for believers to go, that the commission is echoed yet again in the beginning of Acts, and the entire book of Acts is about the church obeying that calling. Although a handful of verses give some insight into church life, the whole theme of the book is the early church’s obedience to Jesus’ commission. For example, while prayer is mentioned throughout Acts, only one is actually recorded that they prayed together. It was for boldness and equipping for obedience, for doing the work of reconciling people to God and making disciples.

Jesus’ final direction for the disciples was given in the beginning of Acts:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:6–8 (ESV)

This familiar passage begins with disciple’s expectation for a natural fulfillment of the Messiah’s victory. They expected it to happen immediately, but Jesus told them that complete fulfillment was yet to come, and that it was not for them to know the times or seasons for establishing the physical kingdom.

The disciples expected a physical victory, but Jesus pointed them to the spiritual battle that lay ahead, since His kingdom is not of this world. Rather than striving against flesh and blood, regarding people according to the flesh, Jesus gave them the ministry of reconciliation. He required that they walk by faith (depending on the Spirit’s leading and empowerment), rather than by sight (depending on the law). In other words, the kingdom would be established through changed hearts rather than the law. The result echoed the Great Commission given in all four of the Gospels. Ultimately, Jesus pointed them towards spiritual means of establishing the kingdom here on Earth, as people’s hearts are changed and they live out lives of discipleship.

Two millennia later, many Christians believe that now is the time and season to establish the kingdom on Earth through natural means. There is a growing urgency as spiritual darkness seems to be growing. Many believe that the kingdom coming is not merely a matter of the heart, not merely something we live out as His disciples, but something to be imposed through the law and other natural influences. The idea is that by using law to change behavior, hearts will hopefully change as a result. Righteousness grows by imposition of the Law.

However, there is still a need to walk as Jesus said, by speaking what we know of Him and making disciples. The challenge is different now because of the growing post-Christian aspect to the world, but the need for a spiritual battle still exists. The idea here is that changed hearts lead to changed lives, and that righteousness grows from increasing intimacy with God.

Whole Reality is a continuation of this focus, led by the Spirit to the ends of the Earth. In this case, the “ends of the Earth” means reaching people in post-Christian culture that is far from Christianity (Jerusalem). The weapons are spiritual, rather than carnal, engaging people’s hearts and minds through witness of Jesus and proclamation of the Gospel, rather than engaging their actions through application of the law. As a result, it strives to work quietly at removing barriers to reconciliation and presenting truth in new languages.

Like Paul at the Areopagus, the approach is to help people encounter the spiritual in ways that are engaging to them, by allowing the spirit to guide us to speak in their language. People are constantly seeking something new, so novel pictures that expand their view of reality captures the interest of those who are spiritually open, yet deeply immersed in today’s science- and technology-based culture. In particular, there is a need to help people punch through barriers that have been built by their previous experiences of the faith in these areas. This is the challenge of reaching the post-Christian culture, of working at the ends of the earth in a spiritual sense, instead of a physical one.

A specific example of this is virtual reality photography, used as a metaphor for seeking spiritual awareness. However, this is just the beginning of many similar possibilities. Whole Reality uses this particular example to explore key spiritual principles so they can then be put into action in other ways — science-based essays, novel sculptures built using cutting-edge technologies, interactive puzzles with surprisingly unexpected complexity, and so on.

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