A Church That Acts – Counterculture

 

Today we continue with our journey through the book of Acts. Remember, our objective here is to rediscover the origins, history, divine influences and governing principles which drove the first century church and followers of Jesus through the centuries to follow in order to discover some practical lessons which are relevant to our walk of faith today.

Central to what we hope to glean from the book of Acts is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost. Apart from this event the early followers of Jesus would have been committed but powerless. The arrival of the Holy Spirit is THE defining catalyst for the success of these early believers.

Acts, chapter 4, continues the narrative from the third chapter but now the Apostles have rocked the boat. They are a threat to the status quo. And when that happens there are often consequences. We pick up the story in verse 5.

Acts 4:5-12

5 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem.
6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family.
7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: By what power or what name did you do this?
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: Rulers and elders of the people!
9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed,
10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
11 Jesus is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone. (See Psalm 118:22-24)
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

It is instructive to note that the primary opposition to this new movement centered on Jesus, the resurrected Messiah, was coming from the religious sector of the culture. This is not to say that the Roman rulers were indifferent to what was happening. Rather, these rulers depended upon the religious power structure to keep the population contented and submissive to their authority. This allowed the priests to continue their lucrative practices while obligating them to advocate on behalf of their Roman overseers. As we have pointed out before, this new movement was becoming an increasing threat to both the Jewish religious status quo and to Roman secular control. As a result, the religious leaders were expected to quash any deviation from the expected subservience.

However, the teachings of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit was beginning to change the way ordinary people viewed the world. They began to increasingly recognize the value human life, individual responsibility, and compassionate, moral standards. This awakening stood in stark contrast with the abuses being imposed upon them by Rome and their own religious authorities. They no longer felt they could “go along to get along” if it meant compromising these newfound values. They were beginning to hear a different cadence for life and it resonated in their spirits. They were becoming a counterculture.

Counterculture: A subculture whose values and norms of behavior differ substantially from those of mainstream society, often in opposition to mainstream cultural mores.

We should be clear that a counterculture can manifest anywhere along the spectrum of values from upright morality to utter depravity. It also assumes that generally agreed upon values of a culture lie somewhere in the broad middle ground.

This was the case with Rome and Israel even as it is the case with our culture today. The problem is that cultural values shift and evolve over time and forces at the extremes often drive these changes. However, as the extremes incrementally move the culture in one direction or the other our perception of what is extreme also tends to shift. We become accustomed to or at least apathetic toward trends and behaviors we once found offensive.

Between 1096 and 1271 the Latin Crusades, or Holy Wars, were conducted. If you aren’t versed in this aspect of world history, this was a period in which a number of military campaigns were conducted in the name of Christianity. Primarily aimed at recovering the Holy Land from Islamic control these wars were fought in the name of Christ. This was not Christians fighting to defend their faith from aggressors. This was Christians as the aggressors in an attempt to impose Christianity upon others and the murder of resistant factions was considered acceptable and even righteous. The needle had move so far from Christ’s teaching of “love your neighbor as yourself” that murder — once an extreme position — had become justified.

We should be aware and alert that we are not immune to cultural shifts. Many forces conspire to propel cultural shift but the chief and most basic of these forces is the fallen nature of humanity. The inclination to sin, that is, to willfully defy God’s best interest for us is baked into our human condition. We are born in sin and sin, at its root, is self-centered and selfish; it elevates man above God. We want what we want, we want our way, we want autonomy, we want self-determination. However, our selfish inclinations always lead us into conflict with someone else’s selfish inclinations. On and on it goes. Along the way we may discover kindred spirits whose agenda appears to align with our own. But when push comes to shove our own self interest always prevails…unless…

Jesus came to introduce a new and radical way for us to live. He taught us to acknowledge God as supreme and that He, God’s Son, is the remedy for our sin and selfishness.

Peter summed up the Jesus’ role in human history in the passage we read earlier.

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Apart from Jesus, we are lost and we are without hope. But when we place our faith in His perfect sacrifice, purpose and hope are restored.

The culture may shift away from the values we treasure, and it likely will, but our anchor is God’s Word and, specifically, the truth which Jesus taught us. This will necessarily mean that followers of Jesus are a counterculture but we must hold to His truth even in the face of immense cultural forces.

 

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