Foundations: No.67 Autumn 2014

Following the Way: Mission in Luke’s Gospel and The Book of Acts for Latin America

This article proposes that Luke/Acts can be understood as a “progress of the Way of the Lord” so that “All flesh will see the salvation of the Lord”. Firstly in Jesus’ life and then in the life of the Church, the Way is carried forward, ending in the centre of the Empire. Luke 24:44-49 is proposed as a watershed where streams of teaching from the Gospel are united and thrust out into the book of Acts. These themes form the framework for the reflections upon the Latin American Church’s mission.

Introduction

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us” (Luke 1:1). As with the story of Jesus and the Church, so with Luke’s two-volume work, “many have undertaken to draw up an account” of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Missiologists in particular have considered the writings of Luke to be an important work.[1] According to David Bosch, there are several reasons for this interest. Firstly, some sectors of the church are using Luke 4:16-21 as its most important missionary text. In some traditions this has even replaced the Great Commission. Bosch is clearly right about this in the Ecumenical world, although one may take him to task as to whether this is true for Evangelical or Roman Catholic missiology. Secondly, Bosch says that in Luke’s writings the Gentile mission is clearly a central theme. This is also true of both of the other Synoptics and John. However, in Luke’s case he not only wrote the story of Jesus but also of the beginnings of the church’s mission to Gentiles in Acts. Finally, Luke was probably the only Gentile author of a New Testament book. This perspective is interesting in the light of the way he presents the struggles of the New Testament church in regard to what Gentile Christians have to do to be saved by a Jewish Messiah.[2] Although the Apostle Paul deals with the same issue, Luke’s writings give us the perspective of a first generation Gentile Christian and the radical change the church needed to make in order to accommodate the Gentiles.

Some Preliminary Comments

Before launching into the subject matter before us, I would like to clarify a couple of things. Firstly, I am utilising what Christopher J. H. Wright calls “a Missional Hermeneutic”.[3] The New Testament was written not in the office of a professional theologian as a cold study of God and the church but within the context of the first fires of their mission. To read the New Testament through missional lenses is to read it as it was written. Secondly, I am assuming the priority of Mark and the existence of some sort of document or series of teachings that has been posited as the hypothetical source “Q”.[4] This enlightens the discussion upon what Luke as both theologian and historian wanted to communicate. This leads me to my final presupposition, which is that although I am convinced of the historical reliability of the Gospel, we will be examining Luke’s two-volume work as a work of theology rather than simply a work of history.

We will begin by examining various missionary aspects of Luke’s Gospel and Acts and then reflect upon some of the principle themes in the light of the Latin American reality.

A missiology of Luke
The missiological structure of Luke/Acts
The advance of the way of the Lord

R. C. Tannehill believes that the structure of Luke/Acts is essential to an understanding of the whole book.[5] We can consider this structure as the advance of the “way” (ὁ ὁδός).

Isaiah 40:3-5

Isaiah 61:1-2

Joel 2:28-32

Isaiah 40:5

[Luke 3:4-6]

[Luke 4:18-19]

[Acts 2:17-21]

[Acts 28:28]

 

Luke 24:44-49

 

R. E. Davies argues that Isaiah 40:3-5 can be viewed as “the text” of the whole book.[6] He argues that although both Matthew and Mark also use this quote from Isaiah 40, it is only Luke who continues the quote up to the phrase, “all flesh will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3:6). This highlights, as Navone correctly points out, that Luke “underscores the way of the Lord to the Gentiles”[7] and for this reason it can be understood as the key verse of the text that demonstrates the how the “way” of the Lord will progress.[8]

The understanding of the advance of the way and the mission of Jesus are expanded in the words of the sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19 [Isaiah 61:1-2]). Only Luke has this story in this form, which has been called a “programmatic discourse”.[9] In it Jesus sets out the parameters of his mission. The “way” progresses in the power of the Holy Spirit and all kinds of people are included (Luke 3:6), such as the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed (Luke 4:18).

Some of the clear themes of this Nazareth Manifesto, such as the centrality of the poor and year of the Lord’s favour, are those which run throughout the Gospel. After the incident at Nazareth, the “way” moves on and Jesus is portrayed as going here and there to carry out this ministry. The pace is breathless (Luke 4:1, 14-31, 43-44; 5:1, 12; 6:12, 17; 7:1, 11). “The impression is strongly given of Jesus moving from place to place… bringing God’s salvation to his people.”[10]

There is also a uniquely Lucan part of the Transfiguration story that shows how Jesus is “on the way”. Jesus is talking with Moses and Elijah “about his departure”, (‘ἔξοδος ). Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, are the ones who make sense of Jesus’ mission. Jesus explains his mission using “Moses and all the Prophets” to the Emmaus pair (cf. Luke 24:7). Before commissioning the disciples to their mission, Jesus again explains that his death and resurrection are fulfilling the Law of Moses and the Prophets (Luke 24:44). The Law and the Prophets point to the dynamic nature of the mission of Jesus and the importance of The Way in his ministry.

Immediately after the transfiguration, Jesus is shown to be on his “way” by the manner in which he “resolutely sets out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). These words introduce the so-called “travel narrative” (9:51-19:44). Several times in this travel narrative Jesus repeats that “he must go” to Jerusalem (9:51; 10:22; 14:25; 17:11; 18:35; 19:28) to suffer and die, so fulfilling his ἔξοδος (Luke 19-24).

It is obvious from the Gospel, though, that Jesus’ salvation did not reach “all flein his lifetime; his ministry was mainly to the Jewish people. However, the comment of Acts 1:1 that the preceding book (the Gospel) dealt with “what Jesus beganto do and teach” seems to suggest that Acts is going to deal with what he continued to do through his church.[11] Jesus fulfils his ἔξοδος by “being taken up to heaven” (Acts 1:2) after giving instructions to his disciples.

The third Old Testament quote after Isaiah 40 and 61 is Joel 2:28. This explains the way in which the work of Christ will be carried out (Acts 2:17) that is, through the agency of the Holy Spirit in the church. It is important to note that in addition to his missionary agency, the Spirit links the mission of the Church and of Jesus. The Spirit descended upon Jesus at the beginning of his ministry in Nazareth (Luke 3.22; 4:18 [Isaiah 61:1]) and now the Spirit is poured out on all his people (Acts 2.17 [Joel 2.28]).

The Spirit leads the “way” in taking salvation to the ends of the earth. The message is moving out in ever-increasing concentric circles. Jesus predicted that the disciples would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria; carrying the Way (9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14,22) to the ends of the earth. Some scholars see this as an “agenda” for the story of Acts. The movement this time is from Jerusalem and going to the ends of the earth. At the end of each of the so called “panels” Luke sums up the movement of the gospel (Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20 & 28:31). “The overall picture is: the word spread, the church grew, theWay of the Lord continued to make its triumphal progress.”[12]

The Joel reference ends with “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32), which reminds us of the final phrase of Isaiah 40:5. In this way Luke underlines the universality of the gospel, but widens the argument: “All flesh will see the salvation of the Lord” but only those “who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved”.

Luke also uses the words “ὁ ὁδός” as a euphemism for the gospel. Examples of this would be how Luke tells us that Paul goes to Damascus to persecute those of the “Way” (Acts 9:2) and how Apollos had been “instructed in the way of the Lord” (18:25-26).

Additionally, Luke tells us that some of the synagogue of Ephesus “maligned the Way” (19:9) and how this led to a “disturbance about the Way” (19:23) engineered by Demetrius. Finally, we are told how, when speaking to Felix, Paul refers to the manner in which he serves the God of his ancestors is as a “follower of the Way” (24:14). He does this because Felix was “well acquainted with the Way” (24:22).

To finish this section on the importance of the concept of “way” in Luke/Acts Luke includes a Pauline “travel narrative”. Paul travels from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 21-28) in a similar way in which Jesus travels from the Samaritan village to Jerusalem (Luke 9:52-19:41). This fragment of the story of the of the Lord culminates with the Apostle Paul preaching “boldly and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31) in the central city of the empire. This “way” which began its journey in Nazareth, has finished it in Rome. Paul insists that in spite of the stubbornness of the Jews, nothing will hold back the Way, because God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen (Acts 28:28). In this manner Acts ends in the same way that the Gospel of Luke begins: “all flesh will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3:6).

Missiological Themes in Luke-Acts

If the four Old Testament quotes provide an overall framework to Luke’s mission theology, and Isaiah 40:3-5 is the key, then the commissioning story of Luke 24:44-49can be said to be a watershed. It is the place where various strands come together from the Gospel and disseminate out into Acts. In this passage the nature of the mission is spelled out more fully and “synthesises Luke’s theology of the gospel and propels the reader into the follow-up account of Acts”.[13] For this reason, then, this section is an excellent starting point for our study of the major emphases of the mission theology of Luke-Acts. Additionally, Bosch says that it reflects “...in a nutshell, Luke’s entire understanding of the Christian mission: it is the fulfilmentof scriptural promises; it only becomes possible after the death and resurrection of the Messiahof Israel; its central thrust is the message of repentance and forgiveness; it is intended for ‘all nations’; it is to begin ‘from Jerusalem’ it is to be executed by ‘witnesses’; and will be accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit”.[14]

We will use Bosch’s quote as a framework for the survey of the major themes of Luke’s theology.

Fulfilment

For Luke, the fulfilmentof scriptural promises is vital. The mission of Jesus and the church are rooted in the soil of the Hebrew Bible and provide a framework for it. The constant reference to the fulfilment of scripture is one of the ways Luke uses to emphasise the continuity between Israel and the church.[15] The promises of Luke 24:46-49 regarding the Gentile mission are under the heading this is what is written, therefore the whole of the book of Acts is also portrayed as fulfilment of prophecy. Fulfilment runs through the whole two-volume work. As Darrell Bock rightly points out, “The theme of covenant and realized promise is fundamental to Luke-Acts.”[16]

Luke begins the Gospel by stating that what he is about to write about are “things that have been fulfilled” (Luke 1:1). The birth narratives are directed towards showing that the babe of Bethlehem was the fulfilment of the hopes of Israel (1:54, 70). In Nazareth, Jesus proclaims that he is the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-2 (4:21). On the mount of transfiguration, Moses and Elijah are discussing what will be fulfilled at Jerusalem (9:31b) and Jesus presses on towards Jerusalem that prophecy may be fulfilled in his death (13:33).

Acts also has this prophetic atmosphere. Peter interprets the pouring out of the Spirit as fulfilment of prophecy (2:17ff); the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was seen in the same way (2:25, 35; 3:13, 18; 4:11; 8:32). At the end of Acts, Paul reviews the journey of the Way and concludes that the spectacular turning of Gentiles to Christ (28:28 [Isaiah 40:6]) and the partial rejection by the Jews (28:26,27 [Isaiah 6:9,10]) are both fulfilment of prophecy. For Luke, the whole “Christ event” and the advance of the Wayare a dramatic fulfilment of prophecy.

The missionary relevance of prophecy is not always appreciated. The prophetic message announces that God controls and acts in history. As Roger Hedlund says, the hope of the prophets was placed in the fact that in the end God would intervene in the life of his people and institute his reign of justice and righteousness.[17] Luke says that God has acted and is acting in the missions of Jesus and the Church.

Death and Resurrection of the Messiah

Luke emphasises that the mission of the church can only happen in the light of the death and resurrection of the Messiah of Israel. Luke is in harmony with the rest of the New Testament in seeing the central point of the gospel to be the death and resurrection of Jesus the carpenter. Jesus himself emphasises that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer (9:51; 13:32, 33; 18:31-33). The Greek word δei (must) has the idea of force. The angels seated on the tomb after the resurrection re-emphasise the necessity of Messianic suffering (24:7, 26). It is the “climactic event of Jesus’ history” and the launching pad of the church’s mission.[18]

In this context the general issue of the necessity of suffering in Luke/Acts arises. The suffering of the Messiah as much as the suffering of his servants is important. This again highlights the inextricable link between the mission of Christ and his servants. If Christ suffered then his servants will also suffer.

In the Gospel, Jesus faced opposition from the religious leaders which eventually results in his death. This suffering and opposition continues within the community of the Church. The gospel is spread through the suffering, persecution and martyrdom of the apostles and the believers in general. Some of the apostles were arrested (Acts 4:1ff; 5:1ff);in the case of Stephen, he was stoned (6:8-8:1). The church is consequently scattered when persecution arises again (8:1b-3). This persecution is also seen as the trigger for the church being planted in Antioch (12:19-21). Saul (laterPaul) was told of the sufferings that he would face for Christ (9:16) and on his journeys he encounters innumerable episodes of opposition (13:8, 45, 50; 14:4f, 19; 16:16ff; 17:5f, 13, 32; 18:6; 19:23), and is eventually arrested (21:30) and imprisoned in Rome (28).

So Luke stresses that the message of salvation “will be brought to the nations in and through suffering”[19] both of the Messiah and his followers.

Repentance and Forgiveness of Sins

Salvationis central to the message of Luke-Acts as well as its attendant ideas of repentance and forgiveness of sins. We will look at two aspects in regard to salvation. Firstly, what does salvation mean to Luke?

Jesus sums up the extent of his salvation in the words of Isaiah 61:1-2, the language of which is primarily that of jubilee. Jubilee was essentially the reversal of the fortunes of the poor and the cancellation of all debts (Lev 25; Deut 15). Jesus’ mission was to have radical implications for the fortunes of many.

The poor receive salvation and have a special place in Luke’s thinking. There are a number of exclusively Lucan stories regarding the poor (6:20, 24; 12:16-21; 16:19-31; 19:1-10). Especially significant is Luke’s beatitude on the poor as compared with Matthew’s. Matthew has “blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt 5:3) whereas Luke only has “blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20). Gustavo Gutiérrez says, “...the poor whom he blesses are the opposite of the rich whom he condemns; the poor would be those who lack what they need. In this case the poverty that he speaks of would be material poverty.”[20] Gutiérrez is right [adept1] here, but we would go further by saying that those who are physically poor are more likely to realise their spiritual poverty and turn to Christ. Because of this Jesus can also say that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (18:25) because of their propensity to rely on their riches instead of on Christ. Furthermore, the parables of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) and Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) – both uniquely Lucan parables – demonstrate Luke’s interest in the poor. The poor are not so prominent in Acts but the community do continue to care for the poor and share their goods with one another (Acts 2:44-46; 4:32-35 cf. Deut 15:4).

Other marginalised people are also important to Luke. He emphasises the role of the Samaritans (9:51f; 10:25ff; 17:19) and seems to use them as a starting point for the Gentile mission.[21] A crippled woman is healed by Jesus on the Sabbath (13:10-17) and Zacchaeus, the detestable tax collector, is singled out by Jesus for special visit (19:1-9). In Luke salvation reaches people with whom nobody would want to associate.

Healing and exorcism are also included in salvation in Luke. More than any other of the evangelists, Luke emphasises the healing ministry of Jesus, connecting it with the preaching of the kingdom of God (4:18, 19; 9:6). This is also true in Acts (3:1ff; 5:12-16; 8:7; 10:38; 28:8, 27).

Salvation, in Luke, also has political implications. This is especially true of the birth narratives. They are full of the concept of salvation drawn from the Old Testament: The exaltation of the humble (1:51-53), deliverance of God’s people (1:71-74), light and peace (1:77-79) and revelation and glory (2:30-32) are also dealt with in the context of salvation. The message is that God has wrought salvation for Israel in the past by bringing down the great and raising up the humble and he is just about to do it again in Jesus.

Forgiveness of sin is a major outworking of salvation for Luke. This is often in the context of healing and always in the context of repentance (Luke 1:77; 3:3; 5:20-21; 5:23-24; 6:37; 7:47-49; 11:4; 12:10; 17:3-4; 23:34; 24:47). In Acts salvation is preached by the apostles and includes the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 5:32) physical healing (4:9, 10) and forgiveness of sins (2:38; 8:22; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18).

In conclusion therefore,, salvation, for Luke, is not simply the assurance for the soul of eternal bliss; it is broader and more holistic. “In Jesus’ ministry, those in pain are to be liberated, the poor cared for, the outcasts and rejected brought home, and all sinners offered forgiveness and salvation.”[22]

Secondly, what, according to Luke, are the qualifications for salvation? Repentance and faith are the two requirements for salvation that appear all the way through, from beginning to end in the mission of Jesus.

John the Baptist preaches a baptism of repentance (Luke 3:3). Jesus emphasises that it is the spiritually sick whom he is calling to repentance (5:32). Repentance, though, demands action and Luke gives several examples of the fruits of repentance. For example, John commands fruits of repentance (3:8) Levi demonstrates it (5:27f), as does the centurion (7:9), and the sinful woman (7:36ff), and the lost son (15:21). It is important to note the economic emphasis of John the Baptist’s exhortations to exhibit the “fruits of repentance”. Luke is the only evangelist to include these fruits (cf. Mark 1:1-12; Matt 3:1-12). It is safe to say, therefore, that, for Luke, the proper use of wealth is portrayed as a fruit of repentance. Zacchaeus uses his wealth properly and so salvation comes to his house (19:8ff).

The rich are not to rely on their riches (note the juxtaposition of Luke 12:13-21 and 13:22-34) but to show their repentance by the correct use of their wealth. Some in Luke-Acts did use their money properly (Luke 7:5; 10:35; 19:8; 23:50-54; Acts 2:44; 4:32-37) and others did not (12:13-21; 16:19ff; 18:18ff; Acts 5:1-10; 8:18, 19). In Acts it seems that repentance and faith take on a new emphasis; the Jews must repent of the death of Jesus (Acts 2:23-38; 3:17-23; 13:28-39) and the Gentiles must repent of idol worship (14:15; 17:30, 31).

To conclude our discussion, salvation in Luke-Acts is an extensive term. It deals with “the marks of evil... found embedded in human life: the possessed, the sick, the blind, the lame, the oppressed”[23] and it “includes the total transformation of human life, forgiveness of sin, healing from infirmities and release from any kind of bondage”.[24]

All Nations

The universality of the gospel and its spread to all nationsis also a significant subject for Luke. As we have already remarked, the key concept to understand Luke’s framework was that all flesh is going to see the salvation of the Lord. This, as we have said, is rooted in prophecy and fulfilled in the mission of Jesus and the Church.

The mission of Jesus, though universal in intent, was incomplete in execution.[25] Jesus did not reach many Gentiles but the Gentile mission was strongly foreshadowed in the Gospel. Simeon prophesies that Jesus will take on the role of the servant of the Lord and so be a light to the Gentiles (Luke 2:31). The genealogy in Luke is different from Matthew’s and shows the common heritage of Jesus Christ with all humanity, tracing his “family tree” back, not to Abraham but to God, the universal father of humanity (3:23ff).

The Gentiles are often portrayed in a favourable light in the Gospel. In the Nazareth sermon Jesus points to the fact that in Elijah and Elisha’s day it was two Gentiles who were healed, not Jews. “What he communicated to them inter alia was that God was not only the God of Israel but also and equally God of the Gentiles.”[26] Jesus also heals Gentiles; the centurion’s servant and a Gentile woman’s son (7:1-16). Luke is the only one of the synoptics who record the healing of the ten lepers and the one who returned to thank Jesus; a Samaritan (17:11ff). “The Samaritan mission suggests a fundamental break with Jewish attitudes.”[27] Finally, it is interesting how Luke places the sending out of the seventy (or the seventy-two) next to the woes on the unrepentant cities. Obviously this sending foreshadows the Gentile mission and the juxtaposition of the woes seems to imply that if the Israelite cities did not repent then the gospel would be preached to the Gentiles, represented by the cities of Tyre and Sidon (10:1-23). This is echoed in Acts with the reaction of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:46 (see also verses 47 and 51 of the same chapter) when they turned to the Gentiles(cf. Acts 28:28).

Clearly, in Acts the Gentile mission is more prominent. Many non-Jewish peoples are represented on the day of Pentecost (2:8-11) and three thousand of those became full members of God’s people (2:41). The inclusion of the Gentiles in the church is increased with the conversion of Cornelius and other God-fearers and the subsequent rejoicing (10:1-11:18). The mission to the Gentiles is seen to have reached an important point when Paul reaches Rome and although the task is not finished, God’s work is continuing (Acts 28:28). The gospel’s universal application had been partially fulfilled: both Jew and Gentile, in the centre of the civilised world, were seeing God’s salvation.

From Jerusalem

The story of the progression of the “way”has its locus in Jerusalem. For Luke Jerusalem is “not only the destination of Jesus’ wanderings and the place of his death, but also the location from which the message will go out in concentric circles to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth”.[28]

Jerusalem and all that it represents in the temple and Jewish religion are central to the message of Luke-Acts. The gospel begins (1:5ff) and finishes (24) in Jerusalem. Jesus, in the travel narrative, is making his way to Jerusalem (9:51; etc.). From 19:28 the rest of the gospel takes place in and around Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where the apostles are empowered “from on high” (Luke 24:49) and it is where some of the most spectacular conversions take place (Acts 2:41; 4:4). The apostles in Acts constantly return to Jerusalem (8:25; 9:26; 11:2; 15) and the elders in Jerusalem are obviously the ones with most authority (11:1ff; 15:1ff). Paul feels compelled to return to Jerusalem (20:22) and from there Paul and the gospel reach their furthest point (Acts 28).

So Jerusalem is more than just a geographical location for Luke; it is, as Bosch calls it, “a highly concentrated theological symbol”.[29] It is, for Luke, the sacred centre of the world.

Witness

The apostles form a link between Jesus’ and the church’s history and they are called to be witnessesto what they have seen and experienced (24:48; Acts 1:8).

Even before they receive this call, witnessis a prominent theme. At the beginning of the Gospel Luke affirms that eye-witnesses have provided him with information for his Gospel (1:2). In the birth narratives there are many witnesses to the birth of Jesus. The angels witnessto the shepherds and they, in turn, become witnesses (2:8-20); Simeon and Anna witness to the destiny of the child (2:21ff).

John the Baptist witnessed to the coming of Jesus (3:1-19); the Spirit and the voice from heaven also witnessed to him (3:21ff). Luke gives reports of three appearances of Jesus to various people who subsequently witness to others regarding Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24). “In Acts witness becomes the appropriate term for ‘mission’”.[30] The apostles are to go out and witness to the fact of Jesus’ resurrection because they had seen it as his chosen witnesses (Acts 10:41).

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spiritis the major mover of mission in Luke-Acts. Among the evangelists, Luke has so emphasised the role of the Holy Spirit that he has been called “the theologian of the Spirit”.[31] The Holy Spirit is involved time and again in the birth narratives. John is said to be “filled with Holy Spirit even from birth” (1:15). The Spirit is the agent of the incarnation (1:35);Elizabeth, (1:41) Zechariah (1:67) and Simeon (2:25-27) are moved, filled or revealed to, by the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ ministry the influence of the Spirit continues: Jesus is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit (3:16) and is filled with the Spirit at his baptism (3:22). He returns from the Jordan full of the Spirit, is led immediately into the desert by the Spirit (4:1) and returns triumphant to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (4:14). The Spirit is the Spirit of mission. Jesus’ mission is inaugurated because the Spirit is upon him (4:18) and the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit to empower them for their mission (Acts 2:17-21).

He gives tongues to the apostles (Acts 2). Stephen is full of the Spirit in his work (6:3) and when he is preaching (6:10). The Spirit directs Philip in his conversation with the eunuch (8:8-29) and then transports him elsewhere (8:39). The Spirit makes the preparations and directs the special event in which Cornelius receives the gospel. In another key moment in Acts, the council of Jerusalem, the Gentiles are recognised to be Christians because they have received the same Spirit as the Jewish Christians. Finally, the Spirit directs Paul and his companions (13:2, 4; 16:6).

Navone says, “The gift of the Holy Spirit leads the disciples to missionary work that they had not planned. It is not man’s [sic] design but God’s that will be realised through the agency of the Holy Spirit.”[32] Indeed, it has been correctly noted that Acts should be called The Acts of the Spiritrather than The Acts of the Apostles.

Some Reflections on the Latin American Context

The challenge for the church in Latin America today is not to pull out some verses from the Bible to justify its mission in the world, but rather to understand and take part in the mission of God (missio Dei)in its context in the light of God’s word. Our intention in this section is to begin to outline a missiology of Luke-Acts for Latin America.

Not all the themes mentioned above can be applied to the Latin American context but we will highlight some of them under three headings that seem to me to be pertinent to the situation – the manner of mission, the message of mission and the motivation/motivator of mission.

The Manner of Mission

(i) Suffering

As we have already noted, the suffering of Jesus (and of the church) in the fulfilling of their mission is not only a historical fact but Luke also underlines it as a necessity. For Luke the gospel is always communicated in the context of the suffering of the messenger.

In Latin America, the first messengers of the “gospel” came with military and political power. The first “Christians” that the indigenous peoples saw brought the sword and a gospel of power. The conquistadores were accompanied by their priests and, although we do not want to propagate “the Black Legend”, we know that the vast majority did not defend the human rights of the indigenous but rather consented to their exploitation or even participated in it. The mixture of power and religion left people with the impression that Christianity is the religion of the powerful oppressor.

This same impression was maintained when the first Protestant missionaries arrived in this part of the world. They did not bring with them military power, but often they came with the blessing of the governments that had recently won their battles for independence. President Justo Rufino Barrios of Guatemala, for example, personally accompanied from the United States the first Protestant missionary to his country in 1882. In a continent where often money is synonymous with power, missionaries that come from countries with great economic might, without wishing to, give the impression that Christianity is the religion of the rich. Today, the so-called “theology of prosperity” reaffirms that interpretation.

Jesus, on the other hand, came in weakness and vulnerability. He was not born into a rich palace or privileged position. His birth to a young peasant woman had a hint of scandal and the witnesses to his birth were not the great but the humble. In his life he did not take political office or reach a high social standing but identified himself with the despised, rejected and marginalised. His death was not the honourable death of a hero but the ignoble death of a slave or common criminal.

The community in Acts continued in the same vein. In the early church, there were, without doubt, some of higher rank but mostly it was made up of the common people. The apostles were not able to use the forces of the Roman Empire to spread the gospel but went out in weakness and vulnerability. They suffered from the beginning of their mission to the last page of Acts.

What does all this tell us? Suffering was always a part of the mission of the church. It seems as if God has ordained this type of mission. Even today the Roman Catholic church holds a great deal of political power and the Protestant churches, which are growing very rapidly, are gaining political power in certain countries. In this context we must remember our peacemaking and meek Lord. Meek, of course, does not mean that Jesus did not have power, but rather that he used it in the right way. As servant of the world, which we see in Luke-Acts, the church must identify with the despised, rejected and marginalised.

(ii) Witness

The method practised by the Spanish and Portuguese of spreading the gospel in Latin America was inhuman and denied the very nature of the gospel. Daniel Vidart quotes the discourse of the time called the requerimiento that was always read to the indigenous before going into battle:

If you do not do this [submit]… I will, with the help of God, enter powerfully against you and I will make war in all parts in order to subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and His Majesty and I will take your women and children and make them slaves, and sell them and dispose of them any way His Majesty orders me. I will take all your goods and will do all kinds of evil and hurt that I can.[33]

This is how the gospel reached Latin America.

Even today “the military method” exists in Latin America. Many books speak of “spiritual warfare”. Mainly these come from the United States and, in general, from a school of thought with leaders such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagan and C. Peter Wagner. One stream of this movement declares the presence of “territorial spirits”. The argument, according to a particular interpretation of Daniel 10:13, is that each part of the world is governed by its own demon. Mission, therefore, becomes the task of identifying and binding the spirits of the country, city, area or locality. Power is the most important element. In order to do this task, prayer marches are carried out around cities, entreating God in the streets and avenues in order to take possession of this land. The similarity with the requerimiento is too close to ignore. The emphasis on power, the territorial claim and the use of the word “march”, taken from military language, are all echoes from the 16th century.

The major method of mission in Luke-Acts is witness. Jesus and the disciples did not go out with military power but rather as witnesses, giving testimony to the marvellous works of God. Even though the apostles did liberate demonised people, there is not one verse that presents the apostles trying to cast out the spirit of a city or an area.

In our context the gospel must now be incarnated by a vulnerable, suffering church which identifies with vulnerable, suffering people. In this context it must witness to the full saving power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Message of Mission

(i) Salvation

“Political, economic, cultural, social and spiritual factors seem to conspire as they generate instability, uncontrolled change, violence and chaos.”[34] A wider and deeper reflection on the message of salvation described in Luke-Acts would need a more extensive study than is presented here. Before reflecting on Luke-Acts it would be good to describe, among other things, some of the social, cultural and historical problems that Latin America suffers. For reasons of space we must be content with a brief description of the situation in the hope that it will lead to interest in the reader for a more profound investigation.

Five hundred years after Columbus, Latin America is a continent in crisis. It has a multi-billion-dollars-a-year drugs industry (serving local and international demands) which multiplies the problems of addiction and HIV/AIDS. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund enslave the majority of Latin American governments, forcing them into policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. People feel that there is no real democracy in their countries. Informal sectors of the economy, because of underemployment and unemployment grow at a dizzying pace. Each day there are more people begging in the streets or selling matches, chocolates or city guides in the trains and buses or in the street. There are still armed groups that fight against governments and use violence to carry forward their purposes. The growing threat of AIDS affects the whole population and the numbers of people infected grows with giant steps. Apart from injustice and corruption that are already part of daily life, there are the growing problems of street children, machismo and the exploitation of women. The church must fulfil its mission in this context. Luke’s broad perspective on salvation makes us reflect upon the problems that we have just described. Luke tells us that, in this continent of endemic poverty, oppression and injustice, there is hope (4:18, 19). The people need to hear Luke’s full gospel – the hope of sins forgiven, release from all kinds of prison and a jubilee – the reversal of fortunes for the poor and oppressed. But this continent does not only need to hear this news but also experience it in concrete terms. Salvation in Luke-Acts is not only words but also actions. Solidarity with the vulnerable, the poor and the oppressed is essential. The message of hope belongs to street children, and AIDS sufferers, to those discriminated against and exploited women, and this means that the church must identify, serve and announce the full salvation in Christ to these people.

(ii) All Nations

“Walk through the streets any major city of Latin America and you cannot help but see the polychromatic spectrum of the races. From pure Indigenous – with hints of oriental features – to white European, from ebony black to shades of mulatto, brown and yellow, Latin America presents a racial mosaic.”[35] In this context, the promise of Jesus that the gospel will reach to all nationstakes on a sharper hue. There were a multiplicity of races that heard the gospel on the day of Pentecost and there are multiplicities of races that need to hear and have a right to hear the gospel today in Latin America.

Reflecting on this issue brings to light the problem of racism and discrimination. There is no peace among the races in Latin America. This is demonstrated by the fact that, even in the popular religiosity of the Andes region of Bolivia and Peru, the sanctuaries of the Virgin Mary associated with the Mestizos (mixed indigenous and European blood) are believed to have more power than those associated with Aymara or Quechua (the pure blood indigenous people). In the bigger cities it is easier for a light-skinned person to get work than it is for an indigenous or darker-skinned person.

The gospel is for all nations, and therefore it dignifies. It was not only for the Jews and today it is not the prerogative of the rich or for those of European descent.

The church today must be a model: it must emphasise the universality of the gospel and the fact that the equality that the gospel brings dignifies all people without distinction. The prayers of the white man are not more powerful than those of the indigenous. This represents a huge challenge for white missionaries. They must humble themselves and act in a coherent way, in word and deed in front of their Latin American brothers and sisters.

This equality and universality brings into focus the issue of mono-cultural churches: churches for the Chinese, for blacks or whites all separated according to the “Homogeneous Unit Principle”. The idea of Luke-Acts is that all nations will find their place in the same church. Our evangelisation and discipleship must reflect this doctrine. Our evangelisation and ecclesiology cannot, and should not, be separated.

The Motivation/Motivator of Mission

(i) The Advance of the Way

The mission of the church is not an easy task in any situation, but when thinking of Latin America “… a sense of gloom can sweep in when one contemplates the structural inequities that generate endemic poverty and human tragedy”.[36] The problems seem hopeless, the resources inadequate and the hurdles insuperable.

The same must have been true for the apostles in the New Testament. The Jewish authorities were against them, the Romans were opposed to them, the physical, social and economic dilemmas insurmountable. But one thing which kept them, and can keep us, working is the confidence that The Way of the Lord is unstoppable. The valleys will be filled in, the mountains brought low, the crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth until all flesh will see the salvation of the Lord.

In the church’s mission in Latin America it must be conscious of the ultimate success of that mission. The missiones ecclesiae are only a part of the missio Dei, which ultimately belongs to the Lord, who will fulfil what he started. Our task is to cooperate with him in this.

(ii) The Holy Spirit

The charismatic awakening that the church has experienced in almost every part of the world has corrected an imbalance in the theology of the Holy Spirit. The churches in Latin America have seen the work of the Holy Spirit in several areas and in different ways: its massive growth, the gifts of the Spirit, revival, awakening, healings, etc. Without doubt, the Holy Spirit is active in this continent. In this context, the teaching of the missiology of Luke can help us a great deal. Luke, “the evangelist of the Spirit”, describes in his writings several roles that the Spirit fulfils.

As we have already mentioned, the mission of the church is to cooperate with God in his mission. We can see this in Luke’s missiology. In Luke-Acts the Spirit initiates mission, which would not have been started if it were not for the Spirit’s ministry (Luke 3-4; Acts 2). In our context we can affirm that wherever there is a movement of the Holy Spirit it is not only for the blessing of the church but in order that the church carries out its mission.

The Spirit also guided the missionary task. The Spirit worked in places even before the apostles had arrived. The experience of Philip is a good example: The Spirit took him to the desert to meet the eunuch, who had already been prepared for this meeting and was reading a passage from the sacred Scriptures pertinent to his context (Acts 8:8-29). Another case is that of Cornelius in Acts 10: the Spirit arranged the meeting between Peter and Cornelius, even though God had to persuade the apostle to go.

In the Latin American context the conquistadores, just like many Protestants, didn’t believe that God was in Latin America before their arrival. They believed that they had to “bring Christ”. But without doubt the Spirit was there before the first arrivals, working in the culture and in the people themselves. Many elements within the Incan culture (e.g. the three laws of the Inca, the concept of the Condor as messenger of the gods or Wiracocha [the creator god]) could have been used without any problem to contextualise the gospel so that it would have put down roots in Latin American soil. However, the first “missionaries” believed in tabula raza (one must destroy the receiving culture before evangelising) and for this reason all these elements were left aside. Today, we must be aware of those areas in which the Holy Spirit is working and follow him. In a conference in England Samuel Escobar, the Peruvian theologian, speaking of the Spirit as the wind (John 3), said that a child playing with a kite does not control the wind but rather places the kite in the wind’s direction and adjusts it so that it will catch the wind better. Our task in regard to the Spirit is similar: We do not control the Spirit but rather we follow him and adjust ourselves to him in order to work better in mission. The story of Cornelius teaches us that the Spirit does not always move in the direction we expect.

Conclusion

Luke gives us a model for our mission in all contexts but, as we have seen, we can apply his teaching especially to Latin America in that he provides us with the manner, message and motivation of mission. We must incarnate the gospel of Jesus Christ in our vulnerability and humble witness, announcing the whole gospel, witnessing to all peoples, following The Way of the Lord with the Holy Spirit as our guide.