The Book of Acts is a story about first century Christians who, by today’s popular standards, would be considered brash, judgmental, narrow-minded zealots who were fueled by some sort of spiritual imperialism devoid of any real empathy, care or compassion. That theoretical assessment comes largely from today’s redefinition of “care and compassion”, as well as our monumental misunderstanding of what “biblical missions” is and isn’t.
Today we like to talk about “respectfully reaching out in love” or “extending compassion in the name of Christ”; proclamation has given way to “polite conversation” and “preaching” is considered a bad word. A certain modern “evangelical missionary” sought to help me understand missions when she said, “It doesn’t matter what we say to the people, it’s just being there that counts.” These sentiments may sound “gracious,” but they have nothing to do with the grace we are called to herald regarding a crucified and resurrected King of kings.
The Acts of the Apostles tell us of Christ’s Ambassadors boldly moving from city to city, resolutely calling people to repudiate their gods, their idols and their self-interests, instructing them to repent and turn to Jesus Christ so that they by faith might be graciously exempted from the coming wrath of God. Understandably this did not “go over well” in many cities. The Acts missionary teams were forcefully ejected from several cities – a response that with today’s mindset would require a “modern care extender” to retool her approach, not to mention her message. But much like firefighters attempting to rouse sleeping tenants in a burning building, true love and real compassion isn’t measured by pleasant inter-ethnic dialogue, amiable “moments” and feel-good photo ops, it is biblically measured by the clarity and urgency with which we proclaim our message of eternal life and death.