I invite my unsaved friends to church.
I invite them to
- hear the proclamation of the word of God,
- to learn about a Christian community,
- and to explore for themselves who Jesus is.
While they cannot become members until they place their faith in Christ and can confess that they believe Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord, they are invited to attend our weekly gatherings, get involved in home based small groups, and even volunteer in the community outreach programs to serve along side with us.
In essence, we give non-believers the space and time to explore who we are as Christians, get to know us as the body of Christ, and examine for themselves the claims that following Jesus would place upon their life.
Do we see this pattern in the book of Acts?
- Is it permissible?
- Is it prohibited?
- Is it even possible to draw a conclusion one way or another?
In this series (part 1 covers Acts 1-5, part 2 covers Acts 6-9) I’m reading through Acts to see if there is a pattern of inclusion or exclusion, or if it is even possible to make a conclusion.
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers
Luke uses the word “church” not as a particular meeting of people. I see this use as an identifier of a group, not as a gathering of believers for a meeting to hear the word, worship, or pray.
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.
This gathering is not called a church meeting. It is a mixed gathering of believers and non-believers. Peter and six disciples (11:12) met with Cornelius who had gathered many of his family together to listen to Peter share about the good news of Jesus. Peter preached, the Holy Spirit fell on them, they received baptism.
Peter meets the the disciples in Jerusalem. He had been criticized for mixing with uncircumcised people. Peter shared the story of what happened and persuaded them that the Holy Spirit had come upon the Gentiles.
This gathering of believers is to deal with the issue of the expansion of the gospel. It reflects the tension that is growing over the issue of circumcision. It begins to reveal how the disciples dealt with old barriers that the gospel was crossing.
It is a gathering of leaders in the church who are debating and discerning what God is doing, much like a church leadership board would meet today to discern what God is doing in the local church. This gathering in this passage doesn’t address the question I’m asking.
So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
Luke uses the term church as an identifier for the believers or disciples. For the whole year, they met with the church in Anticoh. Was it one gathering of all the disciples in one place, or where there multiple meeting points throughout the city where individual church gatherings were happening? There is no hint here. Luke simply gives a summary statement of what happened that year.
This verse doesn’t answer the question I’m asking. It simply reveals the pattern of gathering regularly to receive teaching from Barnabas and Paul.
Luke gives us a specific event that provokes the gathering of offerings. A prophet named Agabus prophesies a famine. The disciples decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea, each according to his own ability. (v. 29)
One can assume that the disciples were meeting together as was their custom when Agabus shared that prophesy.
This passage shows the believers meeting together, but doesn’t address the question of the presence of invited non-believers. That’s not the point or pertinent detail for Luke’s story telling. Luke’s desire is to show how the Antioch Christians obeyed the prompting of the Holy Spirit to provide for the believers in Jerusalem.
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For reasons of length, I’m breaking my analysis up into various posts.
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We must remember that Paul in almost of his letters and in some of the verses from Acts refers to the “God-fearers” — Gentiles intrigued by the monotheism and the moral dictates of Judaism, but who usually refused circumcision (males) and would not keep the Jewish dietaryl laws Paul considered them good candidates for the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. It was one of the chief reasons the synagogue leadears wanted to “ride him out of town on a rail” (Yes I know that’s an anachronysm — but it does fit the situation.)
You’ve made a great point.
As I mention in the forthcoming part 4, there is no pattern that is consistent to suggest that we should not invite non-believers. In fact, there is no described order of worship either, so what meetings are considered “church” and what meetings are considered “not church” gets really confusing. . . The church is in development with much later theological reflection in the epistles.
Thanks for your response; looking forward to Part 4. Remember good friend who when hiking with a group of people (even of different faiths) and really enjoying the setting and the people would break out with the statement “Let’s do (not have!)church!” It became a time of sharing, praying, rejoicing, and singing – bound together with friendship and the awesome beauty of God’s creation. I am sure there were always a few “non-believers” among the group — he never asked anyone to show their Christian ID card – but even for the “n-b” group it was a safe experience of what a fellowship of faith looked like and felt like.