Nothing infuriates me more than trying to use the Book of Acts to teach people how to live, only to run into some footsoldier of the descriptive-prescriptive battle. These folks love to put the kibosh on one mention after another of how the early Church functioned, particularly when someone asks why today’s Church isn’t functioning that way.
Their mantra goes like this: “Yes, the early Church did ___________, but the Book of Acts is descriptive, not prescriptive. Just because we see ___________ described in Acts doesn’t mean we have to make it a practice for us today.”
I tend to hear from those same people how God is not the author of confusion, but honestly, their position on this battle is one of the most confusing, illogical, anti-intellectual streams of thought that exists in contemporary theology and Bible exegesis.
1. The unconverted did not do ___________.
2. The Holy Spirit comes into the lives of the unconverted and converts them.
3. The converted now do ___________.
I don’t know about you, but if someone goes from NOT doing something to doing it after the Holy Spirit has changed him or her, it would seem to me that ___________ is near and dear to the heart of God.
How, then, is it irrational to think that we should be doing ___________ today? Yet that is what the descriptive-prescriptive battler wants to make into an issue.
Here are two classic examples of descriptive actions in Acts that these folks can’t abide for us to emulate:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts…
Christians who wage war on the descriptions above do so because they can’t stand to consider the implications of meeting together daily in each other’s homes for meals and fellowship, while also giving up their hard-earned stuff so that a brother or sister can have a need met. Where I come from, there is a description for that: hardheartedness.
Doesn’t it seem obvious that a group of people who once did neither of those things suddenly started doing them once they were touched by the Spirit of God? Doesn’t that have any implications for us?
John Piper recently lamented how some Christians seem more pumped up about the latest film in theaters than they do about Jesus. Given the circles I run in, you can substitute electronic gadget for film in theaters, but you get the point. Jesus doesn’t seem to excite people as much as the inconsequential does, even when those people are Christians.
I would contend that the unholy mindset that seeks to diminish the implications of the descriptive portions of the New Testament is partially responsible for the situation Piper decries. Wielded as a club, that mentality beats down the very heart of what Acts is saying to us about what is good, pure, noble, and true. Acts depicts what is normative in the Christian life, and the reason it is so (and should be) is because the Holy Spirit of God is at the heart of the changes we see in the lives of people who once didn’t give a damn about the guy next door, then suddenly they’re meeting in that guy’s house and sharing Jesus together daily. And when they’re doing so, the world’s junk seems far less attractive and Jesus a whole lot more.
Instead, most of us sit passively in church for at most 90 minutes one day a week, listening to a select few people telling us how we’re doing life wrong, and here are some Bible verse pills to make it all better, and you better down them right now or else. But folks, that dead way of living is the fruit of taking the vitality of Acts and wringing the life out of it because we’ve listened far too long to the voices that tell us, “Well, ___________ is descriptive and not prescriptive.”
It’s the sour grapes we now eat and explains why we love Jack and Jill more than Jesus.
(If you truly want to be grieved by this descriptive-prescriptive fruit, see “God-Connections in Church Are Rare, Study Says.”)