I am reading I H Marshall’s Tyndale commentary on Acts at the moment, and under the heading of the “Theology of Acts” he discusses the theme of “the continuation of God’s purpose in history”. Underneath that, he makes the fascinating four points (on p24). Interestingly, I feel they reflect an understanding of the church that is very similar to the “Retorationist” outlook.
“First, the events recorded in Acts are seen as being brought about by the will and purpose of God”
This included not just the death and resurrection of Jesus, but even the opposition that the church faced. A robust belief in the sovereignty of God will give a church faith to boldly do what he has called them to, knowing that they need not fear consequences that God will not enable them to handle. We are not just trying to survive, we are actively fulfilling God’s purposes in our day and generation.
“… secondly, … the life of the church was regarded as taking place in fulfillment of Scripture.”
In other words, the second coming is not the only Biblical prophecy yet to be fulfilled, but the very spread of the gospel is to be understood as fulfilling Scripture. How long has it been since you heard prayers pleading for fulfilment of prophecies of a worldwide spread of the gospel? Have hermenutical doubts made us afraid of to ask (“that promise isn’t for us”). And maybe a drift to premillenial or a pessimistic amillenial eschatology has lowered our expectations.
Hab 2:14 “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
Jer 31:34 “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest”
Num 14:21 “But truly, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.”
Isa 9:7 “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end”
“Thirdly, the life of the church was directed by God at crucial stages.
By this Marshall refers to the direction of the Spirit though angels, prophecies and visions. To be sure, the Bible does give every church its mission and values. However, every church must choose between a million possible good works, and potential ventures of faith, and here is where the charismatic element comes in. Supernatural guidance gives us faith that will cause us to attempt things that seem humanly impossible or foolish. Churches that are open to the present-day prophetic leading of God are in a position to be used to accomplish his kingdom purposes in ways that we would not dare to believe otherwise.
“Fourthly, the power of God was seen in signs and wonders …”
Marshall’s point here is that “the work of the Christian mission can be said to be carried out by God”. The signs and wonders thus served as reminders that the growth of the church was not down to human gifting or good strategy, but the favour of God himself. We are God’s co-workers (1 Cor 3:9). What we achieve is done by the working of his mighty power within us. This realisation causes us to value prayer more, as we realise our total dependence on him, calling on him to work in us and through us. Some charismatics have exaggerated the number of miracles in Acts, as though every Christian performed at least one miracle a day. But correcting that should not result in an anti-supernatural attitude, where we our expectation of God working in power drops to zero.