Is America More of an Acts 17 than Acts 2 Environment?

By: Kirby Holmes

What is the cultural context the early church started in?

The Acts 2 environment is very different from the Acts 17 environment. I believe America has become an Acts 17 environment in many places around our country. But unfortunately the church is still operating like it is an Acts 2 world out there.

In Acts two (2) we see the church gathered in Jerusalem. This is the religious center of the world for Jews. Most people knew about God, the Hebrew theistic history, the community of Hebrew tribes, and the commandments. In this environment the disciples taught how Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and the continuation of the Jewish history into a new church age. It was a religiously educated and informed environment for them to communicate in. People in Jerusalem were given a chance to decide if they believed in Jesus as their Messiah and if they would follow his expanded/explained teachings on the Jewish traditions.

In Acts seventeen (17) we see Paul on a missionary excursion into a new cultural context. No longer is there any clear religious connection between Jesus and the people of Athens, Greece. In fact Paul walks the city streets looking at clues about the spiritual condition of the people. He sees a statue, or idol, to an ‘unknown’ god. There was a rich intellectual environment with prestigious universities where people engaged publicly in debates with the philosophical influences of Plato and Aristotle. There is a highly sexualized culture in Athens where temple prostitution was legal and sexual deviance was available to all. People in Athens not only needed to understand Jesus but how he intersects with their lives, history and traditions, which were very different from life in Jerusalem.

In Acts 2 it appears the mission of the church is to use the commonly understand religious language and history to inform and invite people to believe and follow Jesus as the Messiah. In Acts 17 it appears the mission of the church is to understand culture, inform people in that culture using their own cultural language of poets and philosophers about the person of Jesus and then call them out to explore this new idea and reality of God.

I read a blog post over the weekend about a pastor who had been in a ministry context of Acts two (2) for most of his professional ministry life. He recently left the church to plant a new church with an Acts seventeen (17) perspective. Here is the blog post if you want to follow up on Ron Mackay’s decision to plant Harbor Community Church in St. Louis, Missouri.

In a growing Acts 17 cultural environment in America I am afraid too many churches are operating like it is still an Acts 2 world. The reality is people no longer have strong traditions and roots in a Christian family, with knowledge of the Scriptures, and an accurate understanding of the person of Jesus. People are from broken homes (many are ‘Christian’ homes), a product marketing saturated mindset and a long list of potential god’s to worship.

How does the cultural context of your city inform the way you live and speak in it as a Christ follower? Are you in an Acts 2 or Acts 17 American culture? Does your church or ministry reflect this difference?

Kirby Holmes is the Director of Group life at Gateway Church in Austin. You can follow him on his blog and on twitter @kirbyholmes.

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