Throughout my years of ministry, I have faced a variety of challenges. I have discovered that the most challenging obstacles to overcome happen when you are opposed by religion within the church.
I have found that religious individuals are the most difficult and challenging people to work with. You know the type, right? The folks that show up for church ready to announce their impeccable righteousness (better yet, self-righteousness) and unwavering devotion to religious traditions. This group never ceases to amaze me. It’s truly remarkable how they manage to critique every little detail, ensuring that everyone conforms to their idea of what Christianity should be. Their attire is impeccable, always dressed in their Sunday best, ready to cast judgment upon anyone who dares to deviate from their rigid dress code. Their selective interpretation of scriptures is truly a marvel, cherry-picking verses to suit their personal agendas while conveniently ignoring the broader messages of loving God and loving others.
I recall a specific incident at a previous church where we made a deliberate decision to focus on reaching out to those who were near to us but far from God. The response was astonishing! There was an undeniable hunger for God’s truth among the people, and they began inviting others to join our services. What unfolded was remarkable. New faces started showing up, individuals who didn’t fit the traditional mold. They were people with tattoos, wearing jeans or shorts, and they had stories to share. I’ll never forget one person who enthusiastically exclaimed in the middle of the lobby that the sermon was “one helluva message,” unaware of the awkwardness of the comment.
However, this did not sit well with everyone. In fact, there was a particular lady (we’ll call her Karen), who vehemently opposed the inclusion of “those people” in our church. I can still picture the moment she stormed into my office, finger-wagging and voice raised, accusing us of ruining “her” church. It was an interesting perspective, considering I always believed the church belonged to Jesus, not any one individual. Curious to understand her concerns, I calmly asked how exactly we were ruining “her” church. And her response, well, it left me speechless. She said we were ruining “her” church because we were letting “those people” in.
This wasn’t my first encounter with religion and its destructive power, and I doubt it will be my last. But it is one that I’ll never forget and will always keep in my memory. It is not out of bitterness or anger that I remember this incident, but rather as a constant reminder to prioritize genuine faith over the trappings of religion. It serves as a reminder to forever be on guard against religion and its intrusion in both my life and the churches I serve.
My experience with Church-lady Karen reminded me of the ongoing struggle between religion and the essence of Christianity, as seen in Acts 4:1-22. Both experiences highlight the clash between religious expectations and authentic Christianity. The confrontation between Peter, John, and the religious authorities in Acts underscores the tension between religious traditions and the transformative power of the Gospel.
The Early Church’s First Great Challenge: They Are Opposed By Religion
Acts 4 unfolds as Peter and John, after the healing of a disabled man, boldly preach about Jesus and the resurrection. This proclamation caught the attention of the religious authorities in the temple, setting the stage for a confrontation between the emerging church and the religious establishment. In facing this challenge, we can draw valuable insights into the clash between religion and true Christianity.
Persecution: An Inevitable Result
When we examine the opposition that Peter and John encountered in Acts 4, it becomes evident that it is not an isolated incident but rather a reflection of the larger reality faced by believers throughout history. Persecution and opposition have always been the inevitable outcomes of genuine Christian faith. Jesus Himself warned His disciples about the hostility they would face in the world. In John 15:18-20, He stated that if the world hates them, it is because they do not belong to the world but have been chosen out of it. This reminder from Jesus highlights the fact that being a follower of Christ often means standing in opposition to the values and systems of the world, and that includes religious systems as well.
The apostle Paul, in his letter to Timothy, further reinforced this truth. In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul wrote that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will face persecution. This statement serves as a sobering reminder that those who seek to live according to the teachings of Christ will inevitably encounter resistance and hostility.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and pastor who lived during the time of Nazi Germany, understood the reality of suffering and persecution all too well. He famously referred to suffering as the badge of a true Christian, recognizing that the faithful followers of Christ would often face trials and tribulations precisely because of their unwavering commitment to Him.
Therefore, as we reflect on the opposition faced by Peter and John, we should not be surprised or discouraged. Instead, we should take heart in the knowledge that our struggles and challenges are not unique to us. They are a part of the larger narrative of faith throughout history. The adversity we encounter should serve as a confirmation that we are on the right path and an opportunity to deepen our reliance on God’s strength and guidance.
Arrested and Confronted
Acts 4:1-4 portrays Peter and John being arrested by the religious authorities, including the priests, the captain of the Temple Guard, and the Sadducees. These leaders were annoyed by the followers of Jesus, teaching in His name and proclaiming His resurrection. The religious elite sought to silence Peter and John, assuming that a night in jail would shake their resolve.
The religious leaders follow a predictable pattern. It starts with intimidation, a tactic employed to strike fear in those who dare challenge the established order. Then comes the appeal to tradition, emphasizing that things have always been done a certain way and must continue as such. And if that doesn’t suffice, coercion enters the scene, aimed at manipulating the behavior and compliance of those who challenge them.
The Disciples’ Boldness
Despite the threat of persecution, Peter and John remained steadfast. Their boldness was rooted not in their own power or wisdom, but in the Holy Spirit working within them.
Peter’s display of fearlessness in the face of opposition is truly remarkable. It’s important to recall the events leading up to this moment. Just a few months before, Peter had found himself cowering in fear before a mere little girl, denying any association with Jesus. However, something significant had transpired since then. The crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus had taken place, and with it came the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Now, as Peter stood before the religious authorities, he was no longer alone. He had been indwelt by the Spirit of God, which filled him with boldness and unwavering conviction.
The key to Peter’s newfound boldness was his surrender to the leading of the Holy Spirit. He simply yielded himself to the Spirit’s guidance, allowing God’s Spirit to empower him in every decision and word he spoke. It was not a result of his own courage or strength, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit within him. This partnership between Peter and the Spirit exemplifies what occurs when we submit ourselves to God’s divine presence and guidance. When we relinquish control and allow the Spirit to work through us, we too can experience a boldness and confidence that surpasses our natural limitations.
The Exclusive Gospel and Unyielding Faith
Acts 4:12 serves as a powerful reminder of the exclusivity of the gospel and why it can be perceived as offensive to some. The verse unequivocally declares that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus. This truth challenges the popular notion of religious pluralism, which suggests that all paths lead to God and that sincere faith in any deity or philosophy will ultimately bring salvation. The gospel, however, presents a different perspective, asserting that salvation is found solely in the person of Jesus Christ.
This exclusive claim can be unsettling and uncomfortable for those who adhere to other religious beliefs or who prefer a more inclusive approach to spirituality. It can seem narrow-minded or even offensive to assert that faith in Jesus is the only way to attain eternal life. However, as followers of Christ, it is our duty to speak this truth in love and share the good news of salvation, even when we may be misunderstood or deemed insensitive.
While the fact that salvation is only found in Jesus may be offensive to some, we must not shy away from proclaiming it. Our responsibility lies in faithfully sharing the truth, trusting in the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts and minds of those who hear. We recognize that our message may face opposition or rejection, but we press on, knowing that it is a message of hope and salvation for all who embrace it.
Religion Gives A Comical Response
The reaction of the highly educated religious leaders to Peter and John’s boldness in Acts 4:13-18 is quite comical. Despite their attempts at intimidation, their tactics had no effect on the two uneducated fishermen-turned-apostles. The religious leaders found themselves in a head-to-head battle with Peter and John, who, despite lacking formal seminary training, had a power and authority that surpassed their own. The religious authorities’ attempt to silence Peter and John had failed.
The religious leaders, despite their knowledge and position, found themselves no match for the Spirit-empowered disciples. The contrast between the educated elite and the uneducated fishermen serves as a reminder that God’s ways often defy human expectations. He chooses the weak to confound the strong and the foolish to shame the wise.
This passage highlights an important truth: God does not require extensive education or a perfect understanding of theology to use individuals for His purposes. Peter and John’s experience demonstrates that it is being in the presence of Jesus and yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit that enables ordinary people to stand boldly for their faith and to proclaim the name of Jesus fearlessly. While education and theological training have their value and place, they are not prerequisites for being used by God. The crucial factor is a personal relationship with Jesus, a yielded heart, and a willingness to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
The religious leaders, realizing that they couldn’t intimidate Peter and John, resorted to issuing a gag order, attempting to control them and silence their preaching in Jesus’ name. However, this last threat only further revealed the unwavering commitment and courage of the disciples. They understood that their allegiance was not to earthly authorities, but to God Himself.
The Gospel Is Unstoppable
In the face of opposition and the threat of consequences, Peter and John had a choice to make. They could have taken the easy way out, remained quiet, and simply resumed their preaching without stirring up further trouble. However, they boldly declared, “We can’t stop talking about Jesus.” Their priority was clear—they sought to please God above all else.
The religious leaders learned that even if you lock up and threaten its messengers, you cannot STOP the Gospel’s message from going forward. Despite threats and a gag order, Peter and John refused to be silenced, asserting their unwavering commitment to speaking about Jesus. Their priority was to please God rather than man, exemplifying the godly courage needed in proclaiming the Gospel.
This principle holds true for us as well. While we are called to obey earthly authorities and live as law-abiding citizens, there is a crucial distinction. We must never contradict or compromise God’s Word in order to conform to the demands of human rulers. Our primary aim should always be to please God, to align our lives and actions with His truth and purposes.
Godly Courage for Today
The boldness of Peter and John serves as an example for believers today. To exhibit godly courage, we need confidence, not arrogance, through the Holy Spirit. We must stand on Christ’s authority rather than our own and yield control to the Holy Spirit to become effective instruments of God’s will. Obedience may come at a cost, but it brings peace, knowing that the Lord understands, approves, and rewards those who remain faithful.
It’s important to remember that following God’s will and standing firm in our faith may not always be easy. As we navigate the tension between religion and true Christianity, it may require us to face opposition, criticism, and even persecution. Yet, in those moments, we must never back down, never fear human opinion or retaliation, and never retreat from the truth of the Gospel.
We are called to be courageous, steadfast, and unwavering in our proclamation of the Good News. Let’s make it our constant prayer for God grant us both wisdom and boldness as we share the message of salvation. May our hearts be so consumed by the desire to please God that we remain resolute in our commitment to His truth, regardless of the challenges we may encounter. May our lives be a testimony of unwavering faith and may we never shy away from proclaiming the life-transforming power of the Gospel.