Meditations in Acts : 11 : Spin a Coin
Acts 1:24-26 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
Perhaps we don’t get the significance of these verses until we line them up with say what happened in the church at Damascus a few years on: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2,3) Do you see the difference?
In today’s verses we have prayer plus spinning a coin (well that would almost be the modern equivalent, although of course we do still draw lots). I mean, to be fair to them, this does seem similar to the practice of the Urim & Thummin of the Old Testament period but that is still very different from what we find in the church period, which is after Pentecost. Spinning a coin, drawing cards or whatever other method you use is very impersonal and requires no direct contact with God. It almost forces God to act in its thinking, i.e. we are going to do this so God will you add your bit to this by determining which named card will come up.
This is where this between Christ and the Spirit-interim-period that the disciples are in at the moment, is so different from pre-ascension and post-Pentecost. With Christ they could talk directly to him and get their guidance. Once the Spirit came, they had another Counsellor who could speak to them directly.
Please note that they had what we call the Old Testament Scriptures and indeed they made reference to them (and the Gospels are full of such references) but they could only be used for general guidance. It still needed the Holy Spirit to impress on them the significance of the particular Scripture but that wasn’t so good as the Spirit imparting a prophetic word that directly applied to a specific situation and made clear the intent of God for them. This is the difference between being in the period of the Spirit (post-Pentecost) or before it.
We really do need to emphasise this difference because it is crucial in modern church life. It is the difference between relying upon the written word (in this case in the Old Testament only) or on the word plus the Spirit. It should never be one or the other but always, both! Now the danger here is that some of us who are Christians may feel defensive here and shout, “Sola Scripture,” the word alone, which tends to be our cry when we seek to oppose beliefs in part of the Church that relies upon Tradition plus Scripture, when appealing to matters of authority.
Now we must be quite clear that Scripture IS our ultimate authority and anything that goes contrary to it must be considered error – whether it be preaching or prophecy or words individually received. Anything that leads us to think or live lives that are contrary to the teaching of Scripture is error and is to be rejected.
However, we have only got to study the pages of the Acts of the Apostles to realise that the guidance and direction of the Spirit is essential for some specific guidance situations. First of all, in simple power or boldness cases, in the new era, it is the Spirit who empowers and directs God’s servants, e.g. “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them….” (Acts 4:8) Later on when they prayed, they used the Scriptures as the basis for their praying (see Acts 4:25,26) but it was when the Spirit came on them that they spoke boldly (4:31). So much for empowering, how about guidance?
It was an angel that directed Philip to leave his evangelistic campaign and go south (8:26) and then the Spirit who directed him to the Ethiopian (8:29). It was in a vision that the Lord directed Ananias to go to Saul (Acts 9:10). Similarly it was in a vision that Peter was prepared to meet Gentiles (Acts 10:10-) and it was the Spirit who prompted him to go to speak to them (10:19). It was by the Spirit that Agabus prophesied and warned of a coming famine (Acts 10:29). It was the Spirit that directed the church at Antioch to send out missionaries (Acts13:2). It was the Spirit who directed Paul where not to go (Acts 16:6,7).
Thus we see from these many examples, that the life of the church and its guidance should be a flow of the Spirit. This in no way denigrates the Scriptures, but simply means that we are living in a period of grace where the Spirit has been imparted to every believer and as such, we now have a means of communicating with God where, if we are living in harmony with Him, and are being obedient to Him, God will direct us personally and directly. This is, I believe, THE challenge for the church today. Will we be a church of the Word AND the Spirit?