Acts 4 picks up right where Acts 3 left off: Peter and John's sermon at the Temple. At the end of their sermon, they are arrested and brought before the council of "rules, elders, and scribes." Here, they are asked about their preaching and how they were able to cure the man mentioned in chapter 3. Peter gives his response.
Acts 4:8-12 (Click on this link, it will open the scripture in a new window)
In verse 12, Peter tells the elders: "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." I know for many of us, that is a difficult verse. It seems to suggest Christian superiority at the expense of other world traditions. Certainly, it has been used that way for centuries. However, I will admit to you: I believe this verse to be true. For me, as a Christian, there is salvation in no one else but Jesus Christ. Yet, I don't believe that other traditions are "wrong" nor do I believe their adherents are "going to Hell." Call me a true "post-modern" Christian, but I feel completely comfortable holding the exclusivity of salvation through Christ as a Christian and the truth of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other world traditions in the same imperfect hands. As you might have noticed, I'm tempering the universalism of Peter's "no one else" / "no other name" with a bit of relativism that contextualizes it in Christianity. We're so used to thinking of "insider" / "outsider" when it comes to faith, that it can be tough to wrap our minds around what I'm suggesting, but maybe we can give it a shot together? I could go on and on about this topic (why then be a Christian as opposed to a Buddhist? What's the point of evangelism/how do you do it?) but I'll save that for another time. Ask me for coffee sometime and we'll talk about it.
In chapter five we meet the previously unknown Ananias and Sapphira. Unfortunately, chapter five is also the last time we see them.
Acts 5:1-11 (Click on this link, it will open the scripture in a new window)
Well that was an interesting story, huh? What you didn't read (unless you read it on your own) was the end of chapter 4; it gave us a bit of context for this story. In Acts 4:32, Luke tells us that "no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common." To some, that sounds like (what we now call) "socialism." On the other hand, I've heard some go to great lengths to explain why it wasn't socialism. The truth? Probably somewhere in the middle. Regardless, it paints a stunning picture of early Christian life and the ways they were in community together.
Which brings us back to poor Ananias and Sapphira. Seems a harsh punishment for a small crime. I can't explain to you why they are struck down dead for such an act, except to say that there was something so important about the ways in which they were living, that Luke chose to tell this story. As opposed to a lesson on how to run a church in 2018, I wonder if it was a 1st century warning against the power of fear, scarcity, and material possessions.
Jesus tells the disciples that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person to get into heaven. I never read that as a condemnation of "rich people," but rather as a reminder that the more "stuff" we have, the more responsibility we have (and the harder it is) to act faithfully.
One of the things I love about Acts is that it reveals to us some of the ways we developed our customs and practices as the Church. This is notably true in chapter 6.
Acts 6:1-6 (Click on this link, it will open the scripture in a new window)
If you didn't realize it, these seven were the first Deacons! They were chosen to distribute and serve food - one of the reasons Deacons typically serve communion at most churches. Of course, they were men, because 1st century and all that, but the criteria for being chosen certainly isn't reserved only for men. Luke says the first deacons were of "good standing," "full of the Spirit," and wise. Another way to phrase "good standing" is to say "well spoken of" - which I think is different than a popularity contest. I always like to mention that the word "wisdom" is a translation of the Greek word Sophia. While the first deacons were men, Sophia has long been personified as a female - to the point where Sophia is a common women's name.
There is so much to read and cover in Acts 4 - 6, but I've selected just one piece of each chapter to cover together. Feel free to add comments below if you read more!