What gave the early Christians the desire to leave behind their professions, travel to foreign lands and, in most cases, give their lives? Their minds were transformed and renewed by their relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and God, so that they had what we now call “an apostolic mindset.” This worldview is one that is deeply rooted in the Scriptures (Rom 12:2), which was the lens through which they saw the world.
Because we are now in a post-Christian society, we no longer live in a culture influenced by the faith. We have entered a new era in which the Church must recover and adopt an apostolic mindset to be effective in sharing Jesus Christ with a world that has lost its sense of purpose and believes it can accomplish the impossible task of saving itself. This begs the question: What are the essential characteristics of someone who has an apostolic mindset? There are surely many and the Holy Spirit will undoubtedly give new gifts to people that are specially tailored for our time, but for the purposes of this column, I will focus on five of them.
Unique Calling from the Father
When one looks at apostles and believers of the early Church, one notices that they have an awareness that God the Father has set them apart and uniquely called them to be in relationship with him. We know from his words to the disciples that Jesus reveals the Father to us. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love” (Jn 15:9) and “He who sees me sees the Father” (Jn 14: 9).
God the Father has created us for this time in history and he has a definite plan for us. He loves us and reveals to us that we matter to him. He tells us through the prophet Jeremiah, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jer 29:11). In a world that is desperately confused and searching for meaning, people thirst for the assurance that they are loved and their life has a purpose. The Father provides this.
Costly Imitation of Christ
Contrary to the modern emphasis on avoiding suffering at all costs, Jesus clearly told his followers that their life would be difficult. They first learned this from Jesus calling them to leave everything and follow him and then from traveling with Jesus and being driven out of different towns. At the same time, they learned to recognize the uniqueness of Jesus as their Lord and Savior, as the one who rescued them from sin, the grip of the devil and from death. The Lord reminded them that if they were to be his disciples, they must leave everything, even family. As they grew in faith, hope and love, they became willing to suffer for him and give themselves as he gave himself on the Cross.
The transformation that occurred in the apostles, from encountering Jesus after his resurrection and then the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, strengthened them for embracing suffering for Christ. They knew that they first had to obey God and thus surrender their hearts, minds and wills to him. Because they were formed by the Word of God and not by the world, they were transformed from men who abandoned Jesus in his Passion to men who rejoiced over suffering for his name
Utter Reliance on the Holy Spirit
Throughout the early Church we see how the apostles and first believers counted on the Holy Spirit to guide them. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 16:6), St. Paul speaks about how he was planning to go to modern day Turkey to preach, but when he prayed about it, the Holy Spirit prevented him from going.
How close is your relationship with the Holy Spirit? Do you allow him to change your plans, give direction to your life and seek out his gifts to bless others? The early Church certainly did this, and we should also pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that we are reminded of all Jesus has taught us and spiritually equipped for the mission God gives us.
We can count on Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit and trust in the Holy Spirit’s sound guidance. “When the Spirit of truth comes,” Jesus said, “he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (Jn 16:13).
Conviction of the Power and Primacy of the Gospel
The signs of the Kingdom of God are that the blind can see, the lame are healed, prisoners are set free, and people are delivered from the power of evil spirits. Jesus performing these miracles is a historical fact, but people often ask: “Why aren’t they happening now?”
The reality is that people are being healed, set free from the captivity of sin and delivered from evil spirits through the ministry of the Church. As a Church, we are called to be on mission and convinced of the power of the Gospel and Jesus Christ. But too many of us have accepted the worldly idea that God does not do miracles anymore. We must recapture a biblical worldview that sees everything through the eyes of Scripture and most especially through the eyes of our Father who has created us for himself. The Gospel is powerful, and God works miracles.
Joyful, Countercultural Witness
The final mark of an apostolic mindset is joy in the face of opposition. Jesus reminded his disciples that we will be hated and experience persecution just as he did (Jn 16:18-21). The natural reaction to being persecuted is to question one’s actions and to feel shame. But when the apostles were questioned about preaching the Gospel, they resolutely declared, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The authorities then had them whipped and commanded them to not preach in the name of Jesus before releasing them. Shockingly, their response was to rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41).
With an apostolic mindset we are willing to suffer for the Gospel, and crucially, we receive the grace to suffer with joy because our suffering has meaning and a higher purpose. The post-Christian society, on the other hand, is consumed with stress and worry because it believes there is no God who saves us and that we can save ourselves if we work hard enough.
Being a child of God the Father is freeing, not a sentence of endless work. Those who have experienced his provision know “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7), and this peace and joy are evident when one looks at the radiant faces and lives of the saints. The deep, abiding joy that saints like Gianna Molla or John Paul II exuded comes from being in an intimate relationship with the three persons of the Trinity. This joy also causes people to ask where it comes from and attracts people to the Lord.
As we continue the path of moving toward an apostolic, missionary archdiocese, let us pray for a renewal of an apostolic mindset so that we can serve as a light to those in darkness. May God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit renew our minds and pour out upon us the graces that we need for these times, which he eternally planned for us to live in.