The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. (Acts 4:26)
Apostolic Christians had no illusions about the task at hand. They knew the rulers of the earth "were gathered together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed" (4:26; cf. 13:27). Everywhere there were "despisers" of Christ (13:41), persons "filled with jealousy" and hatred (13:45), who scorned the things of God. It was indeed a "crooked generation," insatiated with perversion and immorality (2:40), and "evil affected against the brethren" (14:2).
In such a society, not surprisingly, the church was hard pressed. The Romans, though generally tolerant of religious beliefs, looked upon the Christians as a deviant, antisocial cult. Persons who confessed Jesus as Lord would not bow down to pagan gods or take part in the customary imperial worship, which caused them to be commonly branded as atheistic and unpatriotic. Strangely, too, the loving relationships developed among the Christians, together with their secret observance of the Eucharist, led the rabble to charge them with lust and even cannibalism. We may wonder how slanderous accusations could be sustained, but then misguided persons who feel threatened seldom bother to look for facts to correct embittered notions. Making the Christian lifestyle even more challenging was their austere ethic of purity, which stood in judgment upon the immorality of their day. Believers, for example, would not attend the popular gladiatorial games, or take part in the trade-guild feasts, which included the practice of temple prostitution. Such puritans easily were misfits in the sensate culture about them.
What invoked more consternation was the message proclaimed by the disciples. They claimed that a man crucified as a convicted criminal was none other than the eternal God, Creator, and Ruler of the universe. Could anything be more preposterous? Having died for the world, they claimed that He came from the dead and ascended to reign at the throne of heaven, from which He will return to judge the nations. As if this was not enough, these followers of the lowly Nazarene dared to call upright citizens to repentance and faith in their Lord, a mandate that they said must be applied to every class of people on earth. To the idealistic Greeks, no less than to the power-oriented Romans, this message seemed utterly ridiculous. How could learned and sophisticated worldlings show anything but disdain for the Gospel?
Here is the opportunity we have every day for fulfilling the Great Commission. When we pray for God to raise up laborers, we can believe that He will answer. We must look for them. Likely they will be among those persons who feel comfortable with us, perhaps coming from the same background, with similar interests and traits. Affinities in personality and temperament may also be apparent. In some instances, however, there may be no natural ties, and we will have to create an environment of trust. Almost any barrier can be overcome as long as one has a teachable spirit.
This places a special responsibility upon encouraging the spiritual inclinations of our families and friends, as well as those with whom we regularly meet. In a very real sense, we should accept these natural relationships as providentially arranged by God.
In terms of the church outreach, it behooves us to understand the spiritual aspirations of the community. Where do people sense their need of help, including the hunger of the soul for God? Groups that are found more open to the Gospel should receive priority attention. We must not only locate these people, but build bridges of understanding and love with them. The same pertains to the missionary thrust on a global scale.
Even in penetrating unreached peoples the principle applies. Ministry to the larger community will disclose those sensitive to the message of Christ. These persons then can receive more cultivation and teaching, until they embrace the Gospel and become the evangelizers of their people group. Usually it is not the foreign missionary who wins the multitudes of a newly reached tribe. Rather the great harvest is reaped by those persons within the culture having natural identity with the people.
The strategy of evangelizing in any situation hinges upon men and women who will lead their followers to Christ. This places a premium upon reaching persons already with an evident following. However, if such persons are not within our present circle of influence, then let us begin where we are and develop the potential leadership of those few learners God has opened to our instruction. One does not have to be a superstar to impact the world for God. Anyone willing to follow Christ can become an effective leader of others.
But how do these budding disciplers learn the way of the Messiah? Where will they get proper training? To answer this question, we need to focus on another principle in the apostolic church.