Last week William Thornton and J D Greear published articles about the low baptism statistics in the SBC. Between them they mentioned most of the pertinent factors. J D Greear led by lamenting the low level of spiritual fervency in our churches. For sure, he is not the only one to mention that. In the comments on William’s post, Bob Cleveland wrote this:
“When I read the account, in Acts, of the day of Pentecost, which resulted in 3,000 people being saved and baptized, I must ask what they had that we don’t have today. Because, whatever it is, it’s missing now.”
Bob’s comment inspired me to write this post. His question is one I’ve heard many times over the years. As a professor of missions, I’ve taught the Book of Acts many times. Every time I teach it, a student will ask, “Why don’t we see the events of Acts in our churches today?” That’s a great question, and I always give a twofold response. First, we don’t pray like the church in Jerusalem prayed; and, second, we are not filled with the Holy Spirit like the believers at Jerusalem were.
Why do I answer in that way? In regard to prayer, notice these verses in Acts:
“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” (Acts 1:14, NKJV)
Earlier in the chapter Luke tells us that Jesus taught his disciples for forty days. Pentecost followed the Passover by fifty days, so the believers in Jerusalem prayed in the Upper Room for about ten days before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42, NKJV)
This verse tells us the four basic activities of the new church in Jerusalem. Notice that they “continued steadfastly” in prayer. I don’t know about your church; but if our church sponsors a meal, lots of folks come. If we schedule a prayer meeting, only a few attend.
“And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31, NKJV)
Notice again the emphasis on corporate (group) prayer. Praying together in groups was a distinctive characteristic of the Jerusalem church.
Now notice the references to the Spirit’s filling:
“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4, NKJV)
We also see Peter being filled with the Holy Spirit (4:8), and 4:31, quoted above, speaks of the believers praying and being filled with the Spirit. In Acts 2 and again in 4:31, the filling of the Spirit caused the Christians to proclaim God’s word boldly.
I do not contend that the events of Acts would be exactly replicated if we prayed and were filled with the Holy Spirit as were the believers in Jerusalem. However, I do believe that if we prayed as they prayed and were filled as they were, we would witness boldly, just as they did.
My wife and I served for many years in the Philippines with the IMB. The Filipino Christians often said, “Walay pagampo, walay gahum.” This means “no prayer, no power.” That was true in the early church, and it is true today.