Acts 16:9-15: Every Home a Church
Conversion to the gospel results in lifestyle of discipleship. Fight for your faith by embracing lifestyle discipleship over decision-oriented faith.
Why do so many leave the church? Especially young people?
- crisis hits, people bail
- young people leaving in droves--some because of hypocrisy they see; others without explanation
- churches struggle with stagnation, there appears to be no life--churches have become museums obsessed with the past and not looking ahead to the future
- when these troublesome times hit, we become concerned with numbers and budgets, things we can look at objectively, things we think we can solve objectively
- why do these things happen?
Perhaps one reason is that we focus too much, or even exclusively, on the decision-point of faith, and we neglect the "weightier" matters of how the gospel converts us and calls us to a whole-life transformation.
For example, we see the pattern of salvation in Acts. In Acts 2, Peter preaches, many "obey the gospel." The same happens with the Samaritans and the eunuch in Acts 8 (with Philip). It happens again with Cornelius in Acts 10. This becomes the pattern for Paul's ministry in his journeys. He most often began by entering a city, seeking out a synagogue, and preaching. As a result, many would obey the gospel, believe and be baptized. Thus, we draw a conclusion that faith is about a decision-point. Conversion is not seen as a process, but as a moment of turning from wrong to right. Rightly, we argue that baptism is instantaneous--when one realizes their sin before God they ought to turn to him and be washed from sin in baptism. But this pattern can lead to abruptness, where we often believe that he preaches an isolated sermon, leading to a decision point, where people respond. Further teaching then takes on the role of strengthening doctrinal understanding about the church while largely ignoring ethical issues about how we should live. We point to some of the big sins, the taboo ones that every Christian should "know" to avoid, but we don't address how ongoing conversion and transformation happens. As a result, many are never fully converted. They live a life hoping that their sins will be forgiven while never growing into the fullness of discipleship in Christ.
Maybe the problem is that we haven't really been converted. Maybe the problem is the gospel has not led to the conversions of our lives.
Back in the 1980s, John MacArthur wrote a book called The Gospel According to Jesus. In this book he detailed a doctrinal argument that was making the rounds among conservative churches. The argument was known as "The Lordship Controversy" and it sought to define the question of salvation of faith through grace. Because, in these churches, the acknowledgment that a person had been saved was that they had received Jesus as Lord and Savior, the question arose about what this meant. In an effort to protect the doctrine of salvation by grace, the idea made headway that this reception was not a gift, and that to acknowledge Jesus as Lord was merely to acknowledge his position over you. Works that would result from a transformed life could not be trusted as evidence of salvation because we cannot earn our salvation. So the pendulum swung too far in one direction. In an effort to uphold doctrine, and to protect salvation by grace, works were overlooked and the Lordship of Jesus over our lives, and discipleship was underemphasized.
We find these same issues in our tradition, though not the same questions. We have followed Paul's paradigm to a "T", but almost to a fault. Though we emphasize a "sixth step of salvation" (faithfulness to the end), we realize from our history that this step was added much later as a necessary corrective to an earlier oversight.
Our efforts to distinguish ourselves from others have left us with an anemic faith. Churches have struggled to have anything left to give younger generations. These folks, many of whom are our own children and grandchildren, are not looking for entertainment, as we often criticize them for, but for authenticity in faith. They recognize that faith is more, MUCH more, than simply making a decision, trying to live morally as culture defines it, and attending worship services and Bible studies. And when they do not see the Spirit of Jesus alive in the church, they look elsewhere. Beyond seeing Jesus as Savior alone, they see him as both Savior...AND Lord.
Which takes us back to the Bible. An emphasis only on Paul's evangelistic approach misses the bigger pattern. The real pattern is seen when we combine the pattern of apostolic preaching and Paul's missionary preaching with the pattern of the reception of the gospel in the life of the hearers.
- in Acts 2, the preaching led to baptism, which led to follow as seen in the devotion to ongoing teaching, breaking of bread, prayer, and house to house fellowship. There was conversion beyond the point of decision.
- in Acts 8 and 10, we see special cases where salvation is given to non-Jews, first to Samaritans and "God-fearers" (who were converts to Judaism), then to the Gentiles themselves. But in Acts 8, we see the Jerusalem leadership sending Peter and John to the Samaritans for follow up teaching (8:25). In Acts 10:48, we see Peter staying on for several days, likely to include follow up teaching as the Gentiles needed to learn how to integrate the gospel with their lives. There was conversion beyond the point of decision.
- we see this clearly laid out in Paul's example in Acts 16. Here, Paul follows his usual pattern of going to a city and looking first for Jews. He typically begins in a synagogue, but in Philippi, there evidently was not one. So they look for a place of prayer, which is possibly like a non-commissioned synagogue, where women met because there were not enough men to commission a synagogue. Here, Paul meets with several women. He speaks with them, which we should understand to mean he preaches the gospel to them. Lydia They are converted. And there is conversion beyond a point-of-decision. There is conversion beyond there initial response. There is ongoing, lifestyle discipleship as a result of their conversion.
Conversion beyond the point of decision sounds obvious. But have we experienced this? Let's note one thing about Lydia's conversion--it was a work of the Lord. And Lydia's conversion was defined by a changed lifestyle. Far from seeing Jesus only as a Savior who took her sins away, she recognized that she was entering into a new kingdom, with a new Lord, the Lord Jesus, and that her life would be forever changed as a result. No more would meeting quietly with the women at the riverside suffice for her religion, but her relationship with Christ required more drastic transformation. She invited the apostles to stay with her, to use her house as a base of operations for their work, which they did for some time.
Note this: Rather than simply "go to church," Lydia became the church. Now, I don't say this to discourage us from showing up here, but rather to encourage us to seek to grow daily in our faith. Previously to her conversion, Lydia no doubt had an active faith, but it was based around observance of the law and in particular the worship requirements of the synagogue. But after her conversion, her faith was more active, it grew, because she saw herself as a part of God's kingdom, a part of God's mission, to redeem and save the world through his people. The gospel changed her life and she experienced a whole life conversion as a result. She began to live a lifestyle of discipleship that went beyond a decision-point faith.
And this is seen in two different ways: the conversion of her household, and her commitment to hospitality. Lydia was either single or had an unbelieving husband. But the context of the passage indicates she was likely a wealthy woman, and as the leader of her household, she had property enough to invite Paul and Silas to stay in her household, to allow it to become a beachhead for ministry and mission. Her household was probably also a place of business, and as such would have had servants, and their families and even children. And it was through Lydia that the entire household found faith. Part of Lydia's whole life conversion through the gospel to discipleship as a follower of her Lord was to take responsibility for the faith of her household.
One of the more troubling aspects of religious culture today is the idea of "church shopping," where folks will attend churches that "meet their needs" and once a church supposedly no longer does so, they begin looking around for a new one. Folks, let's draw a line in the sand and grow up on this one. No church will ever be perfect, and the church is not responsible to single-handedly raise your children, or mine, in the faith, or to serve you the programs, lessons, and activities that you want. Instead, biblically, the church is to nurture the faith of each one, to minister to one another in love and grace, to do the gospel follow up that we read about earlier in Acts where disciples went house to house and listened to the follow up teaching of the apostles. But if you are not here, you are not able to be nurtured...or to nurture.
And the faith that is needed begins in the household. How often do you talk about your faith in your own home? How often is the gospel mentioned or taught? Is the Bible opened and read from regularly, or is it a relic, relegated to the shelf until Sunday, if someone remembers to grab it on the way out the door? Is prayer a part of family unity, or is it an add-on so that God will sanctify a meal? Is worship with the church seen as a regular and normal part of your family life together, or is it something that you get to if everyone wakes up in time and feels like it?
I don't say any of this to chastise anyone or make anyone feel bad. I raise questions to help us think through the idea of gospel conversion. If we understand our baptisms, that we have died to an old life and been raised into a new life, that we have left behind an old kingdom and entered into a new kingdom, then what could be more important than serving and loving our own families into gospel growth?
We can start small. For parents, share a Bible story or passage at the dinner table before prayer. Pray with the children before bedtime. Read the Bible together in the evenings. Find a church member you can get to know better and begin to spend time with that member or family as a family. For married couples without kids in the home, you can do the same--except perhaps add to it this: find a younger couple you can help mentor in the faith. For children in the home, witness about your growing faith to your parents and siblings by being the example God calls you to be through the gospel. For those who have not-yet-Christian spouses, or not-yet-Christian members of your family, be diligent in both prayer for your family members and in your example to them. Pray fervently and expectantly for the conversion. Let God lead through prayer to draw your family closer to him. But most of all, let the gospel convert your whole life. Let your home function as a small church, nurturing one another in gospel growth.
The second aspect of gospel conversion we see in Lydia's life is the opening of her home to hospitality. Hospitality is a gift to others, because we truly open ourselves and make ourselves available, and even vulnerable, to have others in, to feed them, to care for them, and to serve them spiritually while they are among us. Hospitality to others reminds us of the hospitality that God showed to us through Jesus in salvation, and of the hospitality that Jesus reminds us to have as a sign that we know him as Lord (in Matthew 25).
How might we be hospitable? Through the mentoring I've already described, but also through other means. Having people over, for sure, but not only that: feeding them and caring for them might mean going *to* them in their time of need. It might mean hosting Bible teachers in your home. It may mean caring for orphans by becoming foster parents. It may mean going to serve orphans in Haiti. Hospitality is not only opening your house, though certainly it includes that. Hospitality is opening the house of your heart, to let the love of God flow through. This only happens when you have received whole life conversion through the gospel because of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Church, fight for your faith by embracing lifestyle discipleship over point-of-decision faith. A point-of-decision faith never grows beyond what was initially there. It keeps you trapped in a cycle of feeling smug and arrogant while never growing. It holds onto the past and blames others when things are not achieved. It is fearful. Instead, let your life be converted completely by the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Become a disciple in your entire life.
The most dangerous thing in our churches today is not the fight over marriage equality, it is not the threat of atheism, and it is not the supposed rise of the Islamic faith. The biggest threat in our churches is a so-called faith that only claims forgiveness while living a life that has nothing to do with Jesus the Lord. The biggest threat in our churches are people with a dead faith who masquerade as Christians while living as though they are the Lord. Jesus is King, not you. Not me. We may win a cultural battle or lose one, but these things will come and go. But God is eternal. Our faith is forever.
Don't be on the outside looking in. Over and over we see in Acts the same process--preaching followed by conversion. But don't neglect the follow up! Because in the follow up we see that the pattern we need to fold in is our own: hearing, believing, baptism, and gospel growth. Let every home where there are Christians become a church. Let those small churches grow and develop in their faith. Let them become places of hospitality. Let the work of God move outwardly into our neighborhoods, schools, and places of work. Let God's mission to redeem the world happen through. Let a lifestyle of discipleship, gospel growth, and hospitality spring forth, in the Lord Jesus' name.