For the last ten years I’ve been in a lot of situations where the rhetoric of the Acts 2 church came up again and again. "We want to be an Acts 2 church". I’m not too comfortable with reducing the complexity of the early church to just this one snapshot of what church is. The whole book of Acts gives us a sweeping narrative of what happened in the earliest days of the church. One thing that has always perplexed me is how often people talk about the Acts 2 church and then either just ignore the "they held all things in common" part or rationalize it to something that was a once-off phenomena not worthy of emulation [I’m actually busy with a masters dissertation that looks into the early church’s values concerning wealth and specifically poverty.] This week it struck me that the Acts 2 church, flowed into the Acts 4 church where they once again were "together in heart and mind and no-one claimed that his possessions was his own." Then suddenly this picture is shattered by the story of Annanias and Saphira, two people who made a show out of their piety and we learn with a bang that God is not into theatrics … It then proceeds to become the Acts 6 church where the community becomes divided in two by racial, religious and linguistic lines – suddenly nationalism above Christianity reared its head again.
These early followers enjoyed life together so much that they forgot the whole "Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the world part" and so the holy huddle is shattered through persecution in Acts 8.
In Acts 10 and 11 the newly formed church’s nationalistic and religious box are stretched to breaking point and once again the church finds herself in uncharted waters – ministry to the untouchables. In Acts 13 the church sends people to proclaim the good news to these new groups; they do that and it ticks of a lot of folks – in fact it disturbs some to such an extent that it leads to one of the biggest church fights in history (some people don’t like it when God works outside of their nationalistic, denominational or religious box) – that is Acts 15. Later in that chapter we read that two of the main characters and leaders of this early movement have a huge dispute and so they decide to part ways … a dim picture from where we started in Acts 2! The rest of the narrative shows a stuttering, slow community infiltrating the world with the earth enhancing message of resurrection.
Therefore, idealizing the Acts 2 church without the context of the rest of the church in Acts may be detrimental to actually being the church. Church is a miracle . The ideal is shown again and again through the epistles of the New Testament. All of those communities were challenged to come back to the ideal. Here are some of the thoughts we explored as a community together over the weekend.
– Jesus identifies Himself intensely with the church. (Acts 9:5)
– Jesus builds the church – we are called to seek the kingdom, when we do that the church will follow. When we try to build the church we will in most cases do neither.
– Jesus is the leader of the church – not the senior-pastor or any other leader. Christ is the Head of the body. (Ephesians 5:23, Col 1:18) If people connect to the pastor instead of the Head (Christ) then we’re veering away from church.
– Church is not a building, never in the New Testament is the word church used in reference to a building.
– Church is more than a Sunday. If your definition of church revolves mainly around Sunday then you have some redefining to do. A litmus test of being church (I think) would be if your church will survive when the Sunday service is canceled and if it continues to be.
– Speaking of a church service, it is not called a service because the people are paying the pastor to render a service! It is called a service because every member of the church is supposed to render God service.
– The word church, in Greek "ekklesia" is not a religious word. It is used for an assembly, a group of people coming together. It literally means "called out" and is defined by the reason for the assembly.
– The reason for the church being "called out" is a continuation of the story of Israel. Israel was also called out by God. But not in the sense of "he loves me and hates the rest aren’t-we-special-kind-of -way". The calling is an instrumental one, we are called out to be a blessing to the world.
– The church consists of members who are all full-time ministers. Each and every one is now a priest, not just the paid ministers and staff of the church.
– The church is not a defensive subculture, but a culture creating subversive movement. "The gates of hell will not prevail against her". The gates of hell are not attacking the church, in the picture Jesus uses, the church is the one plundering hell – or to use a different metaphor we are the city on a hill or the salt that seasons.
– The church is a new family. One that even trumps biological family. We become linked together – and this linking is not supposed to just be looking at a different person’s head (or actually the back of it) every Sunday. We are supposed to cry together and celebrate together as we are formed into a new family whose purpose is to bless the world.
– The church is supposed to be diverse. Rich and poor, black and white, different occupations and stations in life, young and old – these are all the differences that are supposed to be present in church.
Now with all of this said I must confess that the Acts church still fascinates me. I just think that we should remember that God uses the church in spite of ourself. The church is not pie-in-the-sky disembodied fantasy. It consists of me and you, sinners being changed daily. So let’s shoot for the Acts 2 picture remembering that even they didn’t stay stuck in Acts 2!