I was reading a magazine article this morning. In it, the writer observed that God gave the Holy spirit to Cornelius and those in his household -- family, slaves and soldiers -- before the were circumcised and before they were baptized. This ought to remind us of whose church it is. It is not our church. It is Jesus'.
On the other had, we are all priests to God. We all have unlimited, unrestricted, instant access to the Father, in Christ.
Hundreds of years ago, men wrestled with a growing church, a constant influx of new ideas (not all of them good, true or helpful) and a conviction that God gave his church them to take care of. So, they chose the most efficient and effective model of governance they new of. The Roman Empire.
As a result, we have not followed either of these fundamental "laws" of the church very well. I am not sure anyone knows how a church should look. Some of us are not involved enough, or in the right way. Some are involved too much, or in the right way. And the effect on people falls way short.
Paul began to travel, taking the message of Jesus with him. He arrived in one city, having been beaten and imprisoned in the city he had just been in, for speaking about Jesus. In this new city, he continued to speak about Jesus. And the tribulation continued. And it did not just affect him, but also those who were influenced by him. They also bore the rejection, ridicule and violence Paul bore.
The citizens listened to Paul's message and observed his way of life. The combination had an impact on them. They were convinced by the message, which had a revolutionary effect in their lives. There were the obvious signs of faith and hope. They became positive examples of love others, more experienced Christians. And they followed Paul's lifestyle and example in more radical areas as well. They reached out to proclaim and incarnate the gospel to other cities. And in many cities, they got there before Paul did, whose calling was to pioneer the work of Jesus in the world.
Today, do we influence people to follow Jesus? Do we influence them so they go beyond us and do more than we do?