The Church of the Book of Acts
Read time: 11 minutes
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, sometimes called the pentecostal experience in recent times has been experienced by millions of Catholics around the world primarily through the Life in the Spirit Seminars (LISS). Of course this is not the only way that people can encounter the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts shows us how important this encounter with the Holy Spirit is. It is the absolute foundation of the church of the book of Acts.
Jesus taught the apostles through the Holy Spirit … Acts 1:2. Even Jesus relied on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to give instructions to the Apostles. As a man, Jesus needed the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know what the right message was, at the right time. He did not function as God while he was on the earth, but as a man filed with the fullness of the Holy Spirit. (Phil ch 2) If Jesus needed the leading of the Holy Spirit how much more do we.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you … to be my witnesses … Acts 1:8. Even though the Apostles had already received the Holy Spirit in John 20:22 (he breathed on them and said receive the Holy Spirit – it is catholic teaching that they indeed did receive at this time), however they still needed this Baptism in the Holy Spirit described in Chapter 2 to be effective witness.
Their numbers were about 120 … Acts 1:15. There were more people waiting in the upper room than just the apostles. Too often the laity thinks that only the priest is to evangelize but it was not the case at the birth of the church and is not the case now.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Act 2:4 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Act 2:8. So what started in the upper room with up to 120 people ended up in the street where crowds could hear and be engaged. In one short encounter with the Holy Spirit the disciples went from hiding behind locked doors to acting and speaking boldly in public. It was not that they were changed into different people. It is that the Holy Spirit in them and on them defined their behavior and orchestrated the encounter. This Holy Spirit empowerment is the very thing the church needs daily to fulfill its mission. Every Christian needs his or her own upper room encounter prior to going into mission. Without it we are not fully evangelized and will be lacking power to accomplish all that God wants to accomplish through us.
Peter is a striking example … an uneducated fisherman delivers a powerful inspirational message based on the scriptures that results in one of the biggest RCIA classes in history (3000 were added that day). The man that was constantly messing up becomes the undisputed leader. Peter did not instantly change as a person. He was simply empowered by the Holy Spirit to do things that he would not think to do on his own.
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles … Acts 2:43. In fact we find out after the deacons are chosen to do the ordinary service, that 2 of them also do incredible signs and wonders as well. And as their numbers grow people like Paul and Barnabas are also used by the Holy Spirit to do signs and wonders. We also see the active participation of prophets who hear the Holy Spirits instructions and advise the apostles. This is very different than our current understanding … we think we have to figure everything out by human reasoning and only follow what makes sense to us. This is the way of the world and not the way of the Spirit.
And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:47. Through their spiritual and physical works of mercy people were attracted to the early church. These days we tend to think that it is hospitality and friendship that will bring people in but far more is required. Only the Holy Spirit can really move people to repentance and service.
As Peter and John pass by the “beautiful gate” they see a lame beggar. He always sat by this gate to beg. It is likely then that Peter and John saw him many times. But this day. The Holy Spirit prompts Peter to see the man, and see what God wants to do in his life, and, in obedience to the Holy Spirit he speaks new life into the man who is completely healed. Peter does not speak from power (although it appears that he does). He speaks from love and obedience to the Holy Spirit who is now leading him into all truth. The truth of the Fathers love for his children. Often we tend to think of the miracle of Jesus as a Devine method of spreading the truth of the kingdom instead of realizing that the miracles are the kingdom and the gospel. For they are the love of a Father for his children.
In Acts chapter 4 the disciples encounter persecution in regards to teaching in the temple and claiming that Jesus was raised from the dead and healed the paralytic. When they prayed in the face of threats they asked for boldness to proclaim the gospel and they were baptized again in the Holy Spirit who confirmed his presence by shaking the building. The empowerment of the Spirit is not just a one-time event. We go from faith to faith and from glory to glory.
The last part of the chapter shows the result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and that was the sharing of recourses such that there was no needy people among them. This is often emphasized in teachings but what is often missed in these same teachings is the radical conversion that the baptism in the Holy Spirit brings in the first part of the chapter. Without the Holy Spirit empowerment the sharing described will not happen.
In chapter 5 Ananias and his wife lie to the Holy Spirit and both die immediately. This combined with all the miracles earn the apostles great respect both in the church and out of the church. Notice that they lied to Peter … but Peter says they lied to the Holy Spirit. So intimate Peter was with the Holy Spirit that he considered the Holy Spirit to be the true leader and the one in charge … not himself.
By the end of the 5th chapter the faith level of the people was so high that they would bring the sick so that if the shadow of Peter would fall on them they would be healed. It was the presence of the Holy Spirit in Peter that healed the sick according to the faith of the people. Peter’s shadow and in fact Peter himself had little to do with it.
In chapter 5 they are imprisoned for teaching that Jesus is the Messiah. Then an Angel breaks them out and then instead of making a break for freedom they go back in the temple and resume teaching again … which was the reason they were imprisoned in the first place. Of course to human wisdom this makes no sense. Once again they are lead and not using their own reasoning to determine their path.
The church today does not look anything like the church of the book of Acts. Not that it should since we are in a different time and circumstance. However we could really benefit if we could walk in that same relationship that the early church had with the Holy Spirit.
Our Parish is hosting a bible study about the book of Acts. Dr. Mary Healy is the leader of the study. She is passionate about the Holy Spirit. It is the hope of the organizers that the participants will experience the Holy Spirit in an empowering way and begin to walk in His power to become more effective witnesses. I for one am going to take advantage of this opportunity and seek diligently the Holy Spirit. Care to join me?