Evangelism in the Early Church – Bible Studies in Acts 1-8

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 5:42)

Evangelism, outreach and witnessing are absolutely vital for the life and growth of any church. Acts 5:42 sums up the inspiring example of the Early Church’s approach to evangelism. They just never stopped teaching and preaching, at all times and in all places! These studies look at Acts 1-8 especially focussing on how they first Christians spread the gospel.

You will wish to keep the following questions in mind throughout all of these studies.
• How does God want us to apply historical narratives like Acts to our Christian lives today? Are they patterns which we HAVE to follow? Or are they rather examples which MIGHT inspire us but not constrain us?
• In what ways is the world today different from life in the first century in the Middle East? How might differences in our culture affect the ways in which WE spread the gospel?
• What can we learn from this passage which will help us (as individuals and as a church) to be more effective in sharing our faith with others?

1. They never stopped! Acts 5:27-42
2. Power to be witnesses Acts 1:1-11
3. Empowering by the Holy Spirit Acts 2:1-42
4. Healing and preaching Acts 3:1-26
5. They took note that they had been with Jesus Acts 4:1-37
6. Holiness and miracles Acts 5:1-16
7. Love in action Acts 6:1-7
8. The gospel arrives in Samaria Acts 8:1-25
9. Philip and the Ethiopian Official Acts 8:26-40

These Home Group studies will take us through May, June and July 2011. It may help you to know that our sermons in June will pick up the theme of the work of the Holy Spirit, and there will be a couple of Home Group studies based on those sermons which will probably fit between weeks 5 and 6 or 6 and 7 above.

1. THEY NEVER STOPPED!

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped
teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 5:42)

This remarkable passage Acts 5:27-32 is a good place to start. It sums up the inspiring example of evangelism which the Early Church gives us.

The apostles had been imprisoned because they were preaching the gospel and people were being healed. God miraculously released them and the apostles went back to preach in the Temple again! Read Acts 5:27-42.

1. From time to time we hear the sad news of Christians martyred for Christ around the world. How does such news make you feel? How as Christians should we respond to such murders? N.B. These are two very different questions. (5 minutes)

In Acts 5:29 the apostles tell the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men!”
The Bible and the courageous examples of persecuted Christians around the world even today challenge us to be much more bold in our own preaching and personal witness. The historical events of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ challenge the selfishness of our consumer culture and we have a responsibility to tell people the truth which will set them free.

2. Read again verses 27-28. Have any of the group ever experienced any direct opposition to their Christian witness? What form did that opposition take? How did they cope?
Often we face much more subtle pressures pressure not to share our faith. Discuss the kinds of pressures we experience. What should it mean for us if are to follow the apostles’ example, “We must obey God rather than men!” (10 minutes)

3. Read again verses 33-39. Gamaliel gives us an excellent example of how WE should respond when God is doing new things or things we don’t initially understand. Discuss what we can learn from him, especially in verses 38-39. Can the group suggest any examples they have seen of Christians “fighting against God.” (10 minutes)

We can look at Acts 5:42 like this.
Day after day our discipleship is an ongoing commitment to Jesus Christ;
in the temple courts worked out in corporate church life and worship;
and from house to house and also expressed in weekday activities, small groups and homes;
they never stopped we should be seeking every opportunity to serve others and witness;
teaching and proclaiming exploring and explaining our faith but also boldly declaring it!
the good news } the incarnation, cross and resurrection of Jesus are the
that Jesus is the Christ. } only antidote to the sins of selfishness and consumerism.

4. Invite the group to share what God is saying to THEM from this text. In what ways does Acts 5:42 suggest that our lives and discipleship should be different? (10 minutes)

5. The central thrust of Acts 5:42 is witness, at all times and in all places. Ask the group to suggest ideas of ways in which we could share our faith more, either as individuals or collectively as a Home Group or as a whole church. Discuss how they/you/we could put those ideas into action! (10 minutes)

Finish by spending time praying though these issues, especially praying for individuals as they seek God’s guidance and strength to respond to questions 4 and 5.
2. Power to be witnesses Acts 1:1-11

“Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” We looked last week at Acts 5:42. This week we return to the beginning of the story of the Early Church.

Jesus has been crucified. His disciples have gone into hiding, terrified that they will be next.
Yet only weeks later they are out in public preaching that Jesus is alive! This dramatic and totally unexpected change in the disciples is one of the strongest pieces of evidence we have that their story was true. Something remarkable must have happened to turn their lives around!

1. Read Acts 1:1-11. The disciples were terrified for their lives. Recap from last week, or ask again, what kinds of things make it hard for us to share our faith, or even admit that we are Christians, to our friends and neighbours? (5 minutes)
This passage offers us at least FOUR encouragements to be bold in our witnessing.

2. Read Acts 1:1-3 again. Our first encouragement: Jesus is risen from the dead!
What difference does it (or should it) make to our everyday lives and to our witnessing that Jesus Christ is not dead but alive? (5 minutes)

3. Read Acts 1:4-8. Jesus promised his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit – our second encouragement. Look back also at Luke 24:45-49. What do these passages tell us about the work of the Spirit in believers? (Answer: the emphasis in Luke and Acts is that the gift of the Holy Spirit empowers believers for mission, evangelism and witnessing. We will think more about that in Session 3 as well.)
Is it legitimate for us to claim these promises made first to the apostles for ourselves?
(The answer is definitely YES, IT IS, but why? Essentially because careful examination makes clear that Luke is not only writing Acts as a historical record, but because he believes the apostles and the Early Church set all kinds of examples which he expects all believers and all churches should follow.) (10 minutes)

4. Jesus says “you will be filled with power” and “you will be my witnesses”. These are not commands but promises. How should we expect to be “filled with power”? How should we expect the Holy Spirit to help us in our witnessing? (10 minutes)

5. Read Acts 1:9-11. We Baptists make much less of the Ascension than other denominations who celebrate it with special services. Our third encouragement in our witnessing is that Christ is Ascended and Glorified! What does it mean to us that Jesus Christ has ascended and is now seated at the right hand of God? (5 minutes)

6. The angel promises that Jesus will return – our fourth encouragement. The Early Church lived in the constant expectation that Jesus was about to return. They preached the gospel with great urgency so that as many as possible could be saved before the Second Coming and the Day of Judgment. What impact should the prospect of Christ’s Return have on our life and daily witness? (5 minutes)

7. Invite the group to pray for each other as they seek God’s strength to live out this resolution to witness. (5 minutes)

3. Empowering by the Holy Spirit Acts 2:1-42

Christians often look at Acts 2 to learn about the work of the Holy Spirit. For this series our focus instead is on what we can learn about evangelism.

1. Read Acts 2:1-21. Was the disciples’ experience of coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost a unique historical event? How far should we expect it to be a pattern for all Christians? (5 minutes)

2. Read Acts 2:22-41. This was the first sermon of the Early Church. It sets the pattern for their preaching. Lead the Group to identify the essential points in Peter’s message.
Christ was crucified (22-23)
Christ is risen, fulfilling Old Testament promises (24-32)
Christ is exalted and has sent the Holy Spirit (33)
This proves to everyone that Jesus is the Messiah and is Lord of all (34-36)
So everyone must repent (37-41)
Does anything surprise us about this message (e.g. the lack of focus on the cross)?
(15 minutes)
3. Read Acts 2:38-39. Here was Peter’s “altar call”. What were the ingredients of this appeal? Should every presentation of the gospel involve these elements?
Man’s side of salvation – repentance (as an expression of faith in Christ)
God’s side of salvation – forgiveness, the gift of the Holy Spirit
Baptism as an outward sign of these events.
N.B. We will come back to the important question, “Is believer’s baptism essential to salvation?” in Study 10 on Acts 8 so please do not dwell on it here. (10 minutes)

4. Read Acts 2:42-47. What were the elements of the common life those first Christians shared? In NIV order we read:
devotion; teaching; fellowship; breaking of bread; prayer; awe; signs and wonders; togetherness; “everything in common”; sacrificial generosity; daily meetings in the temple; eating together in homes; gladness; sincere/humble hearts; praise; “favour with all the people”; daily conversions.
What contributions do you think these different factors made to the response of those around, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (v 47)?
What changes could we make to the ways we live out our church life together which might lead to more powerful witnessing and evangelism? (15 minutes)

In your prayer time, do make time to pray for individuals in their personal witness to friends and neighbours and for the church as we seek new ways to share the gospel in the town.

4. Healing and preaching Acts 3:1-26

In the Early Church the preaching of the apostles was often accompanied by “signs and wonders”. Should we expect the same today? Should our evangelism be different? Please note – we will consider questions around miraculous healing and praying for healing again in a few weeks – for this study the focus is on the relationship between miracles and evangelism.

1. Read Acts 3:1-10. Many Christians today have experienced God’s miraculous healing. Ask the Group to share any personal experiences they have had of healing, or recall any acts of healing they know about in our church or other churches over the years. (5 mins)

2. WHY do you think God healed that man sitting at the Beautiful Gate? This question is very important. (10 minutes)
Jesus DID NOT work miracles to prove who He was (the Messiah and the Son of God). NEITHER did Jesus perform miracles to prove that His gospel was true. Jesus explicitly refused to give any “sign” to prove His identity, except “the sign of Jonah”, the resurrection (Matt 12:38-41, Mk 8:11-12). In Luke 4:16-21 Jesus announced that the time had come for God to bring His Kingly Reign in the world. This would include putting right all the wrongs in the world caused by sin. Jesus’s miracles are the out-workings of that Kingly Reign of God, concrete expressions of the truths which Jesus was proclaiming, demonstrating God’s power, love and grace towards fallen mankind (Matt 12:28, 10:6-8). Miracles are the gospel and God’s love in action!

3. Read Acts 3:11-26. What are they key points of the gospel as Peter preaches it here? In particular, how is the preaching linked to the healing miracle? (5 mins)
(Answer: the miracle created the opportunity for the preaching: it is not offered as “proof” of the truth of the message.)

4. There are more than 30 references to healings, deliverance and miracles in Acts. To see their importance Read Acts 5:12-16; 8:4-8; 14:8-10; 19:11-12; 28:7-9 to see briefly who was healed and how the healings gave opportunities for preaching. (5 minutes)
The Early Church continued Jesus work, proclaiming the Kingdom of God in both word and deed. The miracles in Acts weren’t just to authenticate the Apostles’ message or their authority. Miracles in the name of Jesus by the Spirit’s power have continued as part of God’s ongoing Kingly rule. There is no Biblical reason to suppose that such activities of the Spirit would end at any time until Christ returns. As long as there is sickness and suffering, God continues to heal!

5. OPTIONAL QUESTION: Read Mark 16:15-20. Jesus said “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons … they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” … Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Do we believe this pattern for mission applies to us today? If not, why not? (5 mins)
(I believe that we should take this passage much more seriously! For a defence of the authority of Mark 16:9f see my MA dissertation summary at www.pbthomas.com)

6. Read Matthew 5:14-16. Modern Western Christians often rely on “good deeds”, loving our neighbours and serving the community, to back up the preaching of the gospel. In contrast, Pentecostals expecially in the Third World expect God to act in “signs and wonders”. Most Western churches are slowly declining but Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches around the world are growing. Does the Group think there is a connection?
(Note the hunger for “spiritual things” in the world around and the way people turn to the New Age and the Occult for spiritual experiences rather than to the churches.) (10 mins)

7. So how far should we expect preaching the gospel to be accompanied by “signs” such as healing and deliverance today? How does our preaching need to change? (10 mins)

5. They took note that they had been with Jesus Acts 4:1-37

This passage follows on from the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate.
You may wish to set the scene with a brief recap of Acts 3 for any who missed last week.

This study could be approached through these nine short questions. But please consider whether you would prefer to take longer on some questions and leave others out, depending on the needs of your group.

1. Ask the group to share any opportunities they have had for witnessing for Jesus in recent weeks and give thanks to God for these! (5 minutes)

2. Read Acts 4:1-22. What were the key points of the gospel as Peter preached on this occasion? (5 minutes)
(Answer: cross, resurrection, offer of salvation, all authenticated by the healing miracle.)

3. “Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Do we really believe that salvation is impossible except through Jesus Christ? Read also John 14:6. What motivation does this truth give us for evangelism (in theory, and in practice)? (5 minutes)

4. Read verse 13 again. They took note that they had been with Jesus. How is our evangelism affected by the closeness of our relationship with God? (5 minutes)

5. Read verses 18-20 again. “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Why do we find it so easy NOT to speak about Jesus? How should we respond to the challenge of the apostles’ example? Could we become more like them? (5 mins)

6. Read Acts 4:23-31
(a) What part should prayer pray in our evangelism? How could we pray more effectively?
(b) The Early Church prayed not only for great boldness but also for God to work “miraculous signs and wonders.” What part do you think prayers for healing should play in our church life and our evangelism? (5 minutes)
(Since we will visit the subject of signs and wonders at least once more you may prefer to miss out part (b).)

7. Read verse 31 again. The first Christians were, every one of them, equipped for bold witnessing by being “filled with the Holy Spirit”, fulfilling the promise of Acts 1:8 for (at least) a second time. What does this verse teach us about the work of the Holy Spirit in our evangelism? (5 minutes)

8. Read Acts 4:32-37. What does this snapshot of the life of the Early Church teach us about the relationship between our church life and our evangelism? (5 minutes)

9. Again invite the group to pray for each other as they seek God’s strength to live out this resolution to witness. (5 minutes)

6. Holiness and miracles Acts 5:1-16

We come now to one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament. The actions of Ananias and Sapphira stand in sharp contrast to the generosity of Barnabas in Acts 4:32-37.
You may wish to remind the Group of this context.

1. Read Acts 5:1-11. Ask the Group, “What is your immediate reaction to this passage?” Since it records a truly shocking episode in the life of the Early Church, you would not expect intellectual responses but rather emotional reactions such as fear, surprise, or even disbelief. The issue is not “what does this passage SAY to us” but “what does this passage DO to us?” (If it doesn’t leave us scared and in awe of God, it should do!)
“What effect do you think God wants this passage to have on our lives?” (10 minutes)
You may wish to remind the Group of these words of David Watson.
“In many circles it is assumed that the most important thing about the Bible is its “teaching”. However, much of its poetry, its psalms, its parables, its humour and irony, is lost when it is reduced conceptually to “teaching”. It confronts us not just with information, but with verdicts. In one direction the evangelical approach may be criticised for being too cerebral. The question: “What can I learn from all this?” is not always the right one to ask. Some parts of Scripture serve not to speak about joy, but to give joy; some serve not to instruct us about reconciliation but to reconcile us. The Bible not only tells us about Christ, but also brings Christ to us.”

2. “This episode means: pain of death for all who betray communism, Christianity’s indispensable condition.” (J.P.Miranda) Is this idea from Liberation Theology that all Christians are obliged to share all their possessions a valid interpretation of this passage? If so, what does it imply for our lifestyles? If not, why not? (10 minutes)

3. If the greatest sins of Ananias and Sapphira were not greed and materialism, what were they? Why do we find it difficult to believe in a God who strikes sinners dead in such a dramatic fashion?
This passage is very much about God’s holiness. How true is it that the church today emphasises God’s love and neglects God’s holiness? See also Hebrews 12:28f. (5 mins)

4. Read Acts 5:12-16. Here we read once again about the place of miracles in the life of the Early Church. What connections (if any) can the group see between the events of Ananias and Sapphira and the miraculous signs and wonders that continued? (5 minutes)
(Hint: e.g. is there a relationship between fear of God, holy living and power in prayer?)

5. “What do these verses have to say to us about our evangelism today?”
“How do we need to change? ” (15 minutes)
You may wish to focus especially on verses 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. 13-14 No-one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. See also Acts 9:31-42; 19:17.
The theme here (and throughout Acts) is one of supernatural events which demonstrate God’s presence and saving power. This was the foundation for the apostles’ preaching. How much does the Group think WE should expect to SEE and EXPERIENCE God’s presence in our church in these days? How far has our evangelism become merely an invitation to make an intellectual commitment to gospel truths rather than a challenge to a life-changing encounter with the Living God? What should we do differently?

7. Love in action Acts 6:1-7

The most striking word in this passage is in verse 7 and it is “so”. Luke is certain that the spectacular growth of the Early Church was due at least in part to the two factors he has recorded in verses 1-6. The first was the generous love and practical caring of the Christians for each other and the second was spirit-filled leadership.

1. Remind your group of Jesus’ meeting with the Rich Young Ruler. Read Luke 18:22-25. Is selling our possessions and giving to the poor obligatory for all Christians? (5 minutes)

2. Read Acts 6:1. Now read Acts 2:42-47 (from study 3) and Acts 4:32-37 (study 5) again. These are the background to this week’s passage. This sharing of possessions has been a feature of many Christian communities as well as an example of generosity for many individuals over the centuries. But how does God want US to follow this example in our church, and in these days when the welfare state meets many such needs?
The Early Christians gave sacrificially to support other Christians (especially widows). Should our generosity be restricted only to other believers in need – or are Christians morally obliged to care for all poor people inside and outside the church? If giving to the poor is used as a tool of evangelism, how do churches avoid the problems missionaries face of “rice Christians”, people who profess faith for purely material gain? (10 mins)

3. How should our love be expressed in the light of the extremes of poverty in other parts of the world (e.g. Bulgaria, Uganda)? As Christ’s disciples we should be committed to adopting a simple lifestyle. But does God expect us to reduce our lifestyle to the level of simplicity and poverty of the poor in our church community, or to the level of the poor in our society, or to the level of the poor in other parts of the world? (5 minutes)

3. What IN PRACTICE should we be doing to love one another more in the fellowship of the church? A missionary once commented that it was strange how in English churches the “communion fund” (to help those in financial need in the fellowship) was often less than one percent of the church’s expenditure whereas overseas (he spoke about Nepal) more than half of the church’s offerings were used to help the poorer members! (5 mins)

4. Now read Acts 6:1-7. Who are the equivalents of (a) the apostles and (b) the Seven in our church today? Some people see the Seven as the first Deacons but is that valid? What spiritual qualities were required of church leaders and how were they appointed? (5 min)

5. What does this passage teach us about the duties and the priorities for Christian leaders? How significant is it that the apostles focused on prayer, teaching and leading and that different people took responsibility for practical pastoral care. (10 minutes)

6. The whole of Acts illustrates that right patterns of leadership are very important for our evangelism. Are any changes needed in the ways we do things? (e.g. in the Early Church the apostles led and the church followed. Would stronger leadership help?) (5 mins)

8. The gospel arrives in Samaria Acts 8:1-25

For this week we move on to Acts 8 where the gospel arrives in Samaria (to the north of Israel). This is important because the Samaritans are the first people outside mainstream Judaism to become Christians. Although they had Jewish roots, the Samaritan Jews had distinctive beliefs (see John 4:20) and ordinary Jews would not associate with them (John 4:9).

1. Read Acts 8:1-8. “What the church in Britain really needs right now is an experience of persecution.” Does your group agree? In what ways did the persecution of the Early Church contribute to its growth? (5 minutes)

2. The idea of a “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) was a contradiction in terms to any Jew. Here we see that the Samaritans are much more open to the gospel than the Jews in Jerusalem had been. Are there any people that we don’t think of sharing the gospel with, either because of prejudices in us against them or because we think they just won’t be interested? (5 minutes)

3. Read Acts 8:4-13. Once again we see the part that signs and wonders played in the spread of the gospel in Acts. What do the group believe God wants to say to our church at this time through passages like this? (5 minutes)

4. Simon practiced sorcery. Read also Acts 19:17-20. To what extent does the group think witchcraft, magic and other aspects of the occult are a problem in today’s world, and even in North Springfield? Members of the Group may have heard accounts of spiritual warfare from missionaries around the world which it would be good to share together.
Read verse 7 again. How should we expect the church’s mission to bring deliverance from demons to be expressed in our setting? (See also Mark 16:15-17) (15 minutes)

5. Read Acts 8:14-25. As everywhere in Acts, here “receiving the Holy Spirit” was a recognizable personal experience. Often, but as here not always, it led to speaking in tongues. Many people find the “Holy Spirit Day” the most important part of an Alpha Course and many regard Alpha’s focus on experiencing the Spirit as its great strength.
“So what should be the place of experiences of the Holy Spirit in our evangelism?”
Should we encourage seekers and new Christians to expect God to touch their lives in recognizable powerful ways? If not, why not? “Would our evangelism be more effective if the activities of God the Holy Spirit were more visibly present in our lives and in our church?” What does this passage teach us about evangelism? (15 mins)
IF POSSIBLE try to avoid getting sidetracked into debates about Pentecostal versus Traditional interpretations of this passage and the meaning of “receiving the Spirit”. We will be considering the work of the Holy Spirit in future Home Groups. Instead, encourage members to share ways in which the Holy Spirit brought them to Christ.

9. Philip and the Ethiopian Official Acts 8:26-40

This week we touch on a very sensitive question. What part does believer’s baptism play in salvation? We will be exploring our Baptist heritage, but our groups may include Christians who have joined us from other denominations who may have different understandings of baptism. Our aim is to explore the issues from the Bible without causing offence to brothers and sisters who may hold very different views.

1. Read Acts 8:26-40. What did the gospel that Philip preached to the Ethiopian consist of? What response did the Ethiopian make? (5 minutes)
It is important that the ONLY response Luke records is the decision to be baptized. That can be assumed to imply e.g. repentance and faith. But saying `baptism’ was enough.

2. Invite members of the group who have been baptized as believers to share what their baptisms meant to them in their Christian experience and discipleship. (5 minutes)

3. Ask, “What was the relationship between salvation and baptism in the Early Church?”
Read round these references: Acts 2:38; 2:41; 8:12; 8:13; 8:16; 8:36; 8:38; 9:18; 16:15; 16:33; 18:8; 19:3; 19:4; 19:5. (10 minutes)
In discussion, draw out how the different ideas of repentance, forgiveness, cleansing, faith, and the gift of the Holy Spirit are all linked at different times to the act of baptism.
In Acts 2:38, Peter says, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Throughout the New Testament there is the same clear connection between (A) man’s side of becoming a Christian (repentance and faith), (B) God’s side (forgiving sins and giving the Holy Spirit) and (C) the outward act of baptism.

4. Was baptism an optional extra for Christians in the Early Church?
Read Acts 10:47-48 and 22:16. No – baptism was essential for every Christian. (5 mins)

5. Read in our passage Acts 8:36-38 again. In what ways was the Ethiopian’s baptism different from believer’s baptism as we usually practice it today? What does this teach us? (5 minutes) (Answer: here is was a very private action, not a public witness but a sign between that individual believer and God. Even though God who searches all our hearts knew his faith and repentance were genuine, the outward sign was still required.)

6. How does our practice of believer’s baptism differ from the pattern in the Early Church we find in Acts? Why do we do things differently today? Should we? (5 minutes)
(In Acts people were baptized immediately they professed faith in Christ. Following Christians from the second century onwards, we usually insist on a period of Baptism Preparation. This helps make sure that the person really understands the gospel and is truly repentant, but it also separates the act of baptism from the moment of salvation.)

7. Read the two versions of Jesus’s Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-16. Both of these view baptism as an essential part of becoming a disciple.
What emphasis should we put on believer’s baptism in our evangelism? More or less than we do at present? (10 min)

Finish by suggesting that anybody who wants to think more about baptism can talk to Peter 

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