The Book Of Acts by William R. Cannon
Before his election to the episcopacy in 1968 United Methodist Bishop William R. Cannon served as Professor of Church History and then Dean of Chandler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. Other books by Bishop Cannon include The Gospel Of John, Jesus The Servant, and The Book Of Acts. The Book Of Acts, Copyright 1989 by W.R. Cannon, published by Upper Room Books. This material prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Chapter 4: Evangelism in Samaria and Syria
It seems that it took persecution rather than the impetus of the Spirit to shake the Christians loose from their base in Jerusalem and make them carry the gospel to other places and peoples. No doubt God used persecution to accomplish sublime ends. Are we not assured that even the wrath of men shall praise God (Psalm 76:10)? What had happened to Stephen, they assumed, was about to happen to all of them, so they made their way to safety outside the reach of the Sanhedrin. The trauma of Stephen's martyrdom recalled to the apostles our Lord's commission and led to a concerted effort on the part of the leaders in Jerusalem to begin the evangelization of the regions outside Jewish territory. The first places to receive the gospel from the mother church were Samaria and Syria.
Philip the Evangelist (8:4-40)
The first evangelist to proclaim the gospel outside Jerusalem was Philip, who was not one of the apostles. He was only a deacon, one of the seven chosen to relieve the apostles of menial chores. His primary responsibility was to wait on tables. Yet this humble household servant is the first foreign missionary in Christian history. God's ways are mysterious. Both the first martyr and the first missionary come from the diaconate, not the apostolate.
Philip's first theater of operation as an evangelist was the city of Samaria. It had been the capital of the Northern Kingdom in the heyday of Israel's greatness. It was still the largest city in the territory of the same name Though Samaria was adjacent to Judea and populated by people of Israelite lineage, the Jews despised the Samaritans and had no dealings with them. Unlike the Jews, the Samaritans had not preserved their racial purity, but had intermingled with the foreigners whom conquerors had sent into the land at the time of the Exile. Their version of the scripture was different from that of the Jews; and their center of worship was Mount Gerizim, not the Temple in Jerusalem. Philip was a Hellenized Jew, but Samaritans proved most receptive to his message, and men and women alike accepted baptism at his hands.
The way had been prepared for Philip by a magician named Simon. He had bewitched the people with sorcery so that they thought of him as "the great power of God" (8:10). Evidently he had by his magic convinced them that he was performing miracles. But Simon's magic conveyed no message, and magic will not heal diseases, expel unclean spirits, overcome palsy, and cure lameness. What Philip did had practical effects on the lives of the people. They benefited physically and mentally from his work. At the same time his miracles carried with them a message, for he talked to the people about the kingdom of God. Even Simon saw the difference, and he, too, accepted baptism. So enthusiastic was he about Philip's ministry that he followed the evangelist about wherever he went. The whole city of Samaria received Philip with joy.
The news of what had happened reached the apostles in Jerusalem, and Peter and John were sent by the mother church to Samaria to confirm the converts in the faith. The Samaritans had received baptism for the remission of their sins, but they had not received the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter and John supplied this deficiency, for the apostles laid their hands on them, and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. They had received their first great blessing at the hands of Philip; what they got through the apostles was a second blessing. Outwardly it signified their union with the mother church.
Those who had been ostracized by the Jews were now welcomed by Christ through two of his apostles who were Jews. Philip was a Hellenized Jew; he might even have been a Greek proselyte. But Peter and John were native Jews. Their action in behalf of the Samaritans signalized the passing away of the old Israel with its rites and ceremonies and especially its exclusiveness. The new Israel was coming into being with its inclusiveness; there would be neither Jew nor Samaritan but just brothers and sisters in Christ.
Unfortunately for Simon, the lucrative trade of the magician took precedence over the duties of a disciple of Christ. Though only a convert, he immediately aspired to the honors and privileges of an apostle. He told Peter and John that if they would give him the power to confer the Holy Spirit through the imposition of his hands on whomsoever he chose, he would be more than glad to pay them for it. He knew that by charging people for the gift, he would soon accumulate a fortune.
By making the two apostles that offer, Simon projected his name into the vocabulary of infamy. Simony means "the purchase of an eccelesiastical office with money." In J. B. Phillips's literal translation of the Greek text, Peter said to Simon, "To hell with you and your money!" (8:20). The very thought that a gift of God can be purchased with money is repugnant to any sincere Christian. The very request, Peter asserted, shows that Simon, though baptized, was still in the bonds of iniquity. Whether he meant it or not, Simon feigned penitence and asked Peter to pray that he escape the curse of God.
These few facts are all we know about Simon from the New Testament. However, several of the church fathers provide information about him. According to tradition, he founded a sect of his own as a rival to apostolic Christianity. He ran across Peter again in Rome, where Peter got the better of him in debate. Nonetheless, Simon, claiming to be the earthly personification of God, had his disciples dig a grave and put him in it. He ordered them to cover him with dirt, promising that he would rise again like Jesus Christ. But he never did. Simon was buried alive.
An angel of the Lord directed Philip to take the desert highway to Gaza. It was a most unlikely road on which to encounter prospective converts, but there Philip encountered an Ethiopian eunuch who held the exalted position of treasurer to Queen Candace. The eunuch was in a chariot, presumably drawn by oxen since it was moving so slowly that Philip could walk beside it and converse with its occupant. The man was reading the passage about the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. When he realized Philip was well versed in the scriptures, he invited him to sit beside him in his chariot and interpret the passage. In ancient times people read aloud to themselves. That is how Philip knew the Ethiopian was a devotee of the Hebrew scriptures. He probably was a "God-fearer," one who believed the teachings of the Hebrew religion but could not embrace it as a devotee, and would have been a proselyte had that been possible. The Jewish religion excluded a castrated man from the Temple, so he could not have been formally initiated in the Jewish faith. At most he could receive its blessings only from afar. It would appear that he was interested enough to read its scriptures and even attend its feasts and holy days.
Philip told the eunuch about Jesus, convinced him that Jesus was the fulfillment of the very scripture he was reading, and that no handicap, physical or otherwise, would exclude a person from full fellowship in Christian faith. As soon as they came upon water, the eunuch requested baptism of Philip.
At this period Ethiopia included the Sudan. The eunuch was a black person, so a member of the black race was among the very early recipients of the Christian faith. The inclusion of Africa within the Christian orbit belongs to the very first decade of the Apostolic Age.
Conversion of Saul (9:1-31)
After Luke deposits Philip at Caesarea, which was his home, he shifts attention to Saul, who had witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen and had gone on a personal crusade against the Christians in Jerusalem, invading the privacy of their homes and hauling them away to prison. Now Saul essays to extend his mission of persecution all the way to Damascus, which is 150 miles from Jerusalem and in a different province of the Roman Empire. Indeed, since it belongs to the Decapolis, a league of self-governing cities, it manages its own affairs, though it is in the province of Syria.
Saul secures letters of authorization from the high priest in Jerusalem and intends to bind those Jewish Christians he is able to capture and bring them back to Jerusalem either to languish in prison or perhaps even to suffer the same fate as Stephen. It is hard to understand how he could do this outside the province of Judea unless there was a treaty of extradition between the two communities. Evidently the Syrian Jews were permitted by the government of Damascus to arrest any Jews from Jerusalem who were accused of breaking the law and return them to their native land for trial and punishment. Otherwise, Saul would have had to kidnap them, which would have put him in more jeopardy than they were in. The very fact that he secured letters of authorization indicates that extradition was possible in such cases.
But in this instance, the accuser becomes the accused. Before Saul can reach Damascus, he is struck down by a blinding light and told by a voice from heaven that he is an enemy of God engaged in warfare against God's own people. Saul recognizes the voice as carrying divine authority; there is no uncertainty in his mind about this. And the voice accuses him of persecuting the very One who is speaking to him. When Saul asks for an identification, the speaker identifies himself as Jesus. Saul perceives that the One he has hated and despised as an evil impostor is after all the true Messiah and is now in heaven in the company of God. He realizes with fear and dread that in persecuting the followers of Jesus he is persecuting Jesus and, through him, almighty God.
The story of his conversion is repeated twice in the Acts by Saul, or Paul as he is by then called, first, in defense of himself before the mob in Jerusalem (22:3-16) and, second, in his testimony before Festus and King Agrippa in Caesarea (26:4-18). All three accounts vary as to details. Paul includes certain things in what he says to Festus and Agrippa that he leaves out when he speaks to the mob. But there are no contradictions in either of the subsequent accounts. However, there seems to be a contradiction at one point between them and the first account. They say that those with Saul saw the light but heard no voice (22:9; 26:14); the first account states that the men journeying with Saul did indeed hear a voice (9:7), but it does not say whether they saw the light or not. At least, if they did, the light did not blind them, for they led Saul into the city. This seeming discrepancy is minor, and perhaps is no discrepancy at all. Paul in his personal account probably meant that they did not hear what the heavenly voice was saying to him, and Luke in the first account may mean by the word voice that these companions heard no more than a loud noise.
There was already a Christian community in Damascus when Saul got there. In it no doubt were the converts from Jerusalem he had come to apprehend. That is why Ananias, their leader, was hesitant to go to Saul to help him. But God told him to go, and away he went. He called Saul "brother,"
he said that the same Jesus whom Saul encountered on the road to Damascus had sent him, and he put his hands on Saul's head. Immediately Saul was relieved of his blindness. He accepted baptism at the hands of Ananias and was made a part of the Christian community.
Though Luke does not tell us this in the Acts, Paul says that he went into Arabia, no doubt to be alone with God and meditate on his experience and seek guidance (Gal. 1:17). He returned to Damascus and by his testimony upset the Jews in the city. They planned to kill him, but his friends enabled him to escape at night by letting him down in a basket from the top of the city's wall. Then, he went to Jerusalem for the first time since his conversion.
That was three years after his conversion (Gal. 1:18) Even so, the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem still feared him, remembering how he had persecuted them. They doubted his sincerity, thought his claim to be a Christian was only a pretense, and believed he was really a spy planted by the Jewish authorities in their community.
Only Barnabas was convinced of his sincerity. After Barnabas had marshaled all the facts, he told the Christian leaders about what Saul had gone through since he left Jerusalem and about his boldness in witnessing to Christ in Damascus. At least two of them received him, for Paul himself tells us that he spent fifteen days with Peter and talked with James, the Lord's brother (Gal. 1:18-19). He did, however, preach Christ publicly in Jerusalem and debate with Grecian proselytes, who were so offended by him that they plotted to kill him. To protect him, the Christian community arranged for his passage by ship from Caesarea to Tarsus, which was his home. Only after he left was peace restored to the Christians in Jerusalem and the neighboring regions of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. The Holy Spirit comforted them. They were free to evangelize, and the church continued to grow
Paul thought of his experience on the road to Damascus as a personal encounter with Jesus, comparable to Jesus postresurrection experiences with the disciples. He claims that he met Jesus there and that Jesus made him an apostle. The risen Christ commissioned him to the apostolate just as he had commissioned the twelve disciples during his earthly ministry, and Paul felt that his commission was just as valid as theirs (1 Cor. 15:8-11).
Peter Among the Gentiles (9:32-11:18)
Before Saul made his momentous trip to Jerusalem after his conversion and spent most of his time there with Peter, who was chief among the apostles, the Holy Spirit had prepared Peter to receive him and give him good counsel in the propagation of the gospel. Though Paul is known as the apostle to the gentiles, Peter is the one who initiated the mission to the gentiles. To be sure, the deacon Philip had converted and baptized the first gentile in the person of the Ethiopian eunuch. But that seems to have been an isolated incident in the life of the church. Philip did not follow it up, nor did the apostles send any evangelists into Ethiopia to build on the eunuch's experience.
When Peter, however, proclaimed the gospel to the Roman centurion Cornelius, he incorporated him and as many others as believed into the church and thereby changed the policy of the church. It was no longer a collection of Jews and proselytes who accepted Jewish rites and customs but was open to all races and peoples on equal terms, so long as they accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Peter had been on an apostolic visit to the followers of Jesus outside Jerusalem. At Lydda, he had cured Aeneas, who had been afflicted with palsy for eight years, and at Joppa, he had raised Dorcas, or Tabitha, from the dead. He stayed many days at Joppa, where he was the guest of Simon, a tanner by trade.
Nearby at Caesarea on the seacoast, which was the Roman capital of Judea when it was ruled by a procurator such as Pontius Pilate had been, there were stationed Roman troops. Cornelius was a centurion, a high-ranking noncommissioned officer similar to a sergeant or perhaps a low-ranking commissioned officer like a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Cornelius had been in that part of the empire long enough to become familiar with the Jewish religion, and he was deeply impressed by it and its high standard of morality. He was not, however, a proselyte. He was a "God-fearer," a person who accepted monotheism and aspired to lead a worthy life, and he was known for giving generously to the poor. One afternoon, about three o'clock, he had a vision of an angel, who told him to send to Joppa for a man named Peter and who gave him directions on how to find Peter. The next day he sent two servants and a faithful soldier to Joppa to get Peter.
On the day of their arrival, Peter was praying at noon on the rooftop of the house where he was staying. Suddenly, he became very hungry and fell sound asleep. He had a dream in which a big sheet full of all kinds of animals was let down before him, and a voice out of heaven instructed him to kill and eat. Peter was horrified. Never in his whole life had he violated the dietary prescriptions of Moses. Anything other than kosher was unclean to him. But the voice, which he took to be the voice of God, said that nothing God has made is common and unclean.
After Peter awoke, the arrival of the men from Caesarea was announced. When he learned their mission, he discerned immediately the meaning of his dream. They stayed overnight, and the next day he and some others went with them to the house of Cornelius in Caesarea. Cornelius, anticipating Peter's coming, had collected the members of his family and other friends and acquaintances to meet him. Cornelius ran out ahead to greet Peter and fell at his feet. Peter lifted him up, saying, "Don't do this. I am just a man as you are." He went on to say, "You know that it is not lawful for a Jew to visit in the home of a gentile, but God told me not to look on any person as common and unclean" (10:26-28, AP).
Peter preached to the assembled group. As a result of his sermon, the entire group had an experience of the Holy Spirit similar to that of the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Peter's companions who were Jews were amazed that the Holy Spirit would descend on gentiles. Peter then directed his Jewish companions to baptize them, and he and they stayed in Cornelius’s house.
It is important to note that baptism does not produce regeneration. It is the other way around. The Holy Spirit comes first and brings conversion. Baptism is only the outward sign that the experience has taken place.
The news of what Peter had done was not received very well by the brethren in Jerusalem or in the outlying region throughout Judea. Their attitude was the same as what Peter's had been prior to his vision. They were all circumcised Jews who, like Peter, had kept Moses' dietary laws all their lives.
They were aghast that he, a Jew, would condescend to eat and sleep under the same roof with gentiles. Thus, as soon as he returned to Jerusalem, they took issue with him. Those who in the King James Version of Acts are called "they that were of the circumcision" (11:2) are thereby clearly described. This translation is more accurate than that in the Revised Standard Version, which reads "circumcision party," as if there had been such a party in the early church inopposition to an "uncircumcision party." All the phrase means is Jewish Christians, and these constituted all of them. If parties later arose over this issue, this was the occasion that produced them. There was no thought about this prior to Peter's action.
Peter's response to their criticism was simply to recount in a straightforward manner what had happened, beginning with his vision and going on to Cornelius's vision and the natural correspondence in meaning between them. The result that took place when he and Cornelius acted in compliance with their visions was indisputable proof of the divine authority behind both.
The gentiles received the same gift of the Holy Spirit that the Jewish disciples had received at Pentecost. Thus, gentiles are not second-class citizens in God's kingdom; they have the same first-class citizenship as the Jews. "As I began to speak," said Peter, "the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning" (11:15). Jewish rites and ceremonies and Hebrew blood, race, and ancestry have nothing whatever to do with becoming and being a Christian. All that is required is that one believe on the Lord Jesus Christ by faith and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter stated, "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?" (11:17).
The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem had no reply. Peter's argument was irrefutable. But there is no evidence they did anything about it either. The missionary base of Christianity shifts from Jerusalem to Antioch.
Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, surpassed in population only by Alexandria in Egypt and by Rome itself, the capital and metropolis of the empire. Antioch was the capital of the Roman province of Syria, a thriving commercial center, in fact, the greatest city in Asia Minor. (The Far East and its civilizations were unknown to the Romans.) It was ideally situated to become the center of expanding Christianity.
Christianity first reached Antioch as a result of the persecution in Jerusalem following the stoning of Stephen. Some of the Jews of the Dispersion who had been converted while in Jerusalem but who resided in Antioch returned home. Others, permanent residents in Jerusalem, fled with
them and settled in Antioch. They carried their newfound faith with them and began immediately to convert other Jews residing in the city. Soon there was quite a sizable collection of Jewish Christians in Antioch.
In course of time these Jewish Christians began to win persons who were not Jewish to Christ. Unfortunately, Luke does not tell us how this came about. Two factors must have precipitated this evangelistic action on their part. First, Jews of the Dispersion were a minority in the cities where they resided outside the homeland. In order to make a living they had to deal with the majority of other races and religions. They were therefore much more tolerant and adaptable than the Jews at home. Necessity forced them to give to and take from their gentile neighbors. Since Jesus meant everything to them, they were convinced that he might mean something to their gentile friends as well. Second, they heard of Peter's mission to Cornelius and through it the conversion of gentiles in Caesarea. If Peter had been permitted by God to go to the gentiles, surely it was all right for them to do the same. Therefore, in absentia Peter initiated the gentile mission in Antioch so that the infant church in Antioch was composed of both Jews and gentiles.
News of the evangelistic successes eventually reached Jerusalem. The Jerusalem church sent Barnabas, a Cypriot Jew in the city at the time and a Christian leader, as its emissary to Antioch, indicating its intention as the mother church to supervise the activities of all its children. God evidently had other intentions, for Barnabas, rather than instructing and guiding the Antiochians, joined with them and facilitated their work among the gentiles. He even went to Tarsus and solicited the aid of Saul, whom he had met had introduced to Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. when Saul came from Damascus to Jerusalem and whom he Apparently he had been greatly impressed by Saul and felt he would add much to the evangelistic mission in Antioch.
Both Barnabas and Saul won the confidence of the Christians in Antioch. When a famine was predicted, Barnabas and Saul were sent by the church in Antioch to the mother church in Jerusalem with a handsome relief offering for Christians in need in Judea. This is the reverse of what we are familiar with today, when the founding churches send money to support the missionary churches they have established. In the first century the missionary churches had to help their parent in Jerusalem. The wealthy Christians resided in Antioch.
Luke pays Barnabas the highest compliment he pays anybody about whom he writes in the book of Acts when he applies the adjective good to him. The Christians first got that name in Antioch; the populace called them that after the name of their Savior. Barnabas helped them most to acquire that name, for he himself was most like Christ.
Herod Agrippa I and Peter (12: l-25)
When Barnabas and Saul arrived in Jerusalem with the collection the church in Antioch had raised for the mother church, they found the Christians in the Holy City in a state of disarray bordering on panic. One of the apostles had been executed, and another, Peter, the prince of the apostles and the recognized leader of the entire Christian movement, was in prison. The conditions that existed at the time of the stoning of Stephen were being repeated but in a more effective and virulent form. Previously, the religious authorities had persecuted the Christians; now it was the secular government, which had the means to do a more thorough and extensive job of it. The probability was that the entire Christian movement in Judea would be annihilated.
The first persecution had struck only at the diaconate. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was a deacon. But the second martyr. the victim of persecution by the government, was the Apostle James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John, one of the three on whom Jesus had most depended during his earthly ministry. In fact, Jesus had taken James to the Mount of Transfiguration, and he had asked James to watch and pray while he prayed during those agonizing hours in the Garden of Gethsemane. According to tradition, poor James died within a decade after the resurrection. His brother, John, lived half a century more in order to write his Gospel and preside as bishop over the church in Ephesus. Peter, who shared with James and John this place of preeminence in our Lord's earthly ministry, was targeted for the same fate as James and was languishing in prison awaiting execution.
The person responsible for this disaster was Herod Agrippa I. He was the grandson of Herod the Great, and he, more than anyone else in the Herodian family, had inherited the first Herod's cunning and inordinate gift for amassing power. When Herod the Great died, his kingdom was divided among his three sons, one of whom had been deposed and his tetrarchy put under direct Roman rule through a procurator sent out from the capital.
Herod Agrippa, however, had spent his youth in Rome. There he had become a friend and companion to members of the imperial family, especially Caligula, in whose debaucheries he shared. As a result, Caligula favored him. And even the virtuous Claudius continued that favor; like his grandfather, Agrippa knew how to switch loyalties quickly and make his new superior believe that he had been his admirer and supporter all along. Gradually he acquired the two tetrarchies of Herod Antipas and Philip and even the Roman procuratorship of Judea itself, so at this time he was ruler of all the territory of his grandfather Herod the Great.
In order to curry favor with the Jews and show his devotion to the Temple, Agrippa staged his own persecution of the Judean Christians. He struck at the church's highest leadership, believing that if the heads of the church fell, the whole organization would fall with them. Thus, he executed James and planned to execute Peter as well.
But the Lord had other plans. While the little Christian community prayed fervently for Peter, God sent an angel into the prison at night. The angel miraculously released Peter and deposited him safely in the streets of Jerusalem, where he made his way to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark and sister of Barnabas. The Christians had assembled there to pray. When the servant came running in to say that Peter was standing outside at the door, they thought that the execution had taken place and that it was Peter's ghost the servant had seen.
Peter entered the house and reassured them. Their prayers had been answered, even though they had obviously not believed that would occur. If they had believed, they would have realized that it was Peter knocking at the door. After an evening of testimony and fellowship with them, Peter made his escape from Jerusalem. The unfortunate guards at the prison paid for Peter's escape with their lives.
Herod Agrippa paid with his life for his persecution of the Christians. There was a Roman festival in Caesarea, probably commemorating Claudius's return from the conquest of Britain. These festivals were no doubt held in all the provinces of the empire. On the second day of the festival Agrippa appeared in the theater erected by his grandfather. It was crowded beyond capacity. The king's robe was made of silver threads, and its shining in the sunlight dazzled the crowd. The king seemed too magnificent to be human, and people acknowledged him to be a god. The king was overcome by the flattery of his people, though he knew what the law said: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exod. 20:3). Almost immediately the king fell before the multitude. He was carried to his palace, and within a week he was dead, his body infested with worms as had been that of his grandfather, Herod the Great. Based on these symptoms, he probably died of tertiary syphilis contracted during his licentious youth with Caligula in Rome.
Herod Agrippa I died in A.D. 44. But Peter had already left Jerusalem. God used Herod's tyranny to release Peter for wider service throughout the empire. Nonetheless, Herod paid for his tyranny and corruption with his life.
Secular history helps us establish dates of importance in sacred history. All the events recorded in the first twelve chapters of the Acts of the Apostles took place within a span of only fourteen years, from Pentecost in A.D. 30 to the death of Herod Agrippa and Peter's exodus from Jerusalem in A.D. 44. We know Saul spent one year working with Barnabas in Antioch before going to Jerusalem with the offering for the Christians there (11:26). Three years elapsed between his conversion and his return to Jerusalem from Damascus after he had become a Christian (Gal. 1:18). What we do not know is how long Saul stayed in Tarsus, where he went after this first visit to Jerusalem, when he talked off and on for fifteen days with Peter, and the time Barnabas brought him to Antioch. This could have been anywhere from one to three years. If it was only one year, then Saul was converted in A.D. 39; if three years, then in A.D. 37. The amazing fact is that Saul was converted less than a decade after the death and resurrection of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples at Pentecost.
Questions For Reflection and Study
1. What do you think of the concept that God used persecution to spread the Christian faith?
2. Why do you think Stephen's martyrdom helped initiate evangel ism outside Jewish territory? Might it just as well have taken place anyway?
3. What is the difference between magic and miracles? Do modern people ever confuse the two? In what ways?
4. Are Christians ever guilty of using their influence as Christians to better their positions in life or to further their own ends? What are some of the subtle ways in which they might do this? Have you ever used such influence? What was the result? How do you feel about it now?
5. Luke records a number of events in Acts that underscore the inclusiveness of the early church and the fact that no handicap, physical or otherwise, would exclude a person from full fellowship in the Christian faith. In what ways is that inclusiveness evident in your church? in the church at large? How is it not? What groups of people would feel excluded in your church? Whom might you personally consciously or unconsciously exclude?
6. Philip encountered the Ethiopian eunuch in a most unlikely place and converted him to Christianity. What are some of today's unlikely places in which you may encounter persons and invite them to faith in the risen Christ?
7. Three forms of baptism were likely in the early church: immersion, pouring, and sprinkling. By which method were you baptized? What is the significance of baptism in the life of a Christian, whatever the method?
8. Saul was a devout man and ardent in his faith. Nevertheless, in the name of that faith, he persecuted others. When have Christians been guilty of persecuting others in the name of their faith? Do you feel it is justified? Why or why not? Name several examples of ways in which modern Christians persecute others.
9. How do you resolve the differences in the three accounts of Saul's conversion as related in Acts? Are these differences important?
10. When the believers in Jerusalem doubted the sincerity of Paul's conversion, Barnabas gathered the facts and inter-ceded with them on Paul's behalf. Do you think you would be willing to speak out before a hostile group in favor of a controversial person? Why or why not? What are some instances in which Christians might be called to do so today?
11. Paul believed that Christ called him to be an apostle in the same way in which he called the original twelve disciples. Why do you agree or disagree with him?
12. When Peter proclaimed the gospel to the Roman centurion Cornelius, he effectively changed the policy of the early church, removing all distinctions among persons. Would it be possible, or even right, for a single person today to change the policy of an entire denomination? the church as the body of Christ? the policy in your church? How are policy changes likely to come about now?
13. What or whom do you consider "unclean" in modern society? How is that affected by the statement that nothing God has created is unclean?
14. How do you understand the statement that baptism does not produce regeneration? Why do you agree or disagree?
15. The author says that the prayers of the Christian community for Peter were answered although, judging by their surprise when he appeared at the door, they weren't sure they would be. Do you ever pray for something without really believing that your prayer will be answered? Does this affect the outcome of your prayer?
16. Do the statements that God used Herod 's tyranny to release Peter for wider service and that God used the martyrdom of Stephen to evangelize the world trouble you? Why or why not?