Church Structure in the Book of Acts

Does the Book of Acts give a clear pattern for the proper structure of Church government? The book of Acts has a higher purpose than constructing a strict ritualized structure for the church. Its greater theme is theological, not ecclesiological. In the book of Acts, ecclesiology is often the mere byproduct of a theology. “Luke often reveals his theology through the examples of the individuals he discusses” and authority they possess.[1] Therefore, the perceptive pattern is simply a consequence of Luke’s consistent theology; his aim is to reinforce the greater theological principle. It is no moot point that God never sets out to give stringent guidelines or laws for the Spirit’s working in the body of Christ, despite what “early-Catholic” views suggest.[2] Simply put, “the apostles drop from the account after Acts 15 and execute no clear administrative authority other than occasionally to affirm the message’s expansion.” Thus, the hierarchal structure of Acts is simply non-existent in its latter half. This freedom permits the Spirit its relativity in correspondence to different cultures throughout the progress of history. It relieves those of us living in the modern era (retrospective to the history of the book of Acts) from the temptation of instituting a religiosity in the dispensation of grace and the Spirit.

Is it appropriate to use the book of Acts as a guide to establishing and operating a Church today? This question naturally follows from the previous question. Being that Acts is not a strict guideline to ecclesiological structure, it would be narrow and outdated to attempt and mimic the outward structure presented in the book. The church in Acts’ culture and historical background is much different, vastly different, from the culture and situation of the church today. Thus, one must take the theological underpinnings and principles of wisdom – those eternal standards of prayer, dependence on God, empowerment of the Holy Spirit, etc. – and properly redeem them in our time and culture. The message within the preaching, the truth within the teaching, are items that we ought to take and impress into our ministries. Salvation in regards to the historical truth of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension is the foundation for ecclesiological establishment, and this is found in the message of Acts (cf. 2:38; 3:16; 4:12; 11:14; 15:1, 11; 16:30-31; 28:28).

[1] Darrell L. Bock, A Theology of Luke and Acts: Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 371.
[2] Bock, Acts, BECNT, 39-40.

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