42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
“I want to be an Acts 2 Church” seems to be something most Vicars/Pastors/Church leaders say.
I agree I want to be an Acts 2 Church as well.
Yet what does this actually mean?
Sadly, it often seems to mean playing Hillsong songs from an expensive PA system (a PA system which we wouldn’t share with anyone).
For the Acts 2 Church, Church was a lifestyle relational community, nothing about an hour a week on a Sunday, it’s a daily thing, a whole life ‘all the time’ commitment.
The Acts 2 Church wouldn’t understand the language of “going to Church” instead they were the Church, Church is something we are, not something we go to.
Church is the people and not the buildings, in fact the only buildings mentioned in Acts 2 are the Temple and their homes.
So much of modern day Church is about programmes, about events and special groups. I remember a job interview I went for and they had a group for everyone, but I asked the Youth Worker ‘do people here ever just hang out? Go for a coffee? Have a beer?’ -the unsaid answer was ‘no but we have a lot of groups and do a lot of events, and we are good at hospitality’… I often say “I don’t want us to be a friendly Church, but rather a Church where people can make friends in”.
In our individualistic world we inhabit the strong emphasis on the communal and the corporate is very counter cultural, but also something I believe the world craves. To often as Evangelical Christians we emphasis the personal relationship with God, the vertical relationship, yet we have done this at the expense of the horizontal relationship, the relationship with each other is critical, yet we often sell fellowship short by pretending it is small talk over some mediocre coffee and a partially stale rich tea biscuit.
Bonhoeffer discovered much of what it meant to be Church during the Second World War when the Confessing Church in Germany was illegal, and being Church could cost you your life, suddenly this made the Christians see Church very differently. Bonhoeffer spells this out in his letters from Prison and his masterpiece “life together”, where he talks about Christians having “two fellowships, the fellowship of the righteous and the fellowship of the sinners”. Fellowship of the righteous is superficial and polite but the fellowship of Sinners, is real, authentic and costly, but it is this kind of fellowship that you would want if meeting together will cost you your life. “Iron sharpening Iron as one person sharpens another”.
Words within this passage “devoted”, “daily”, “everything” all sounds pretty fired up and passionate, and yet I find that often Church feels apathetic an lethargic.
I remember hearing a speaker asking us Western Christians “where is our fire”? -Not a question I think you’d ask the Acts 2 guys.
These guys aren’t apathetic or lethargic, nor is their shared life of discipleship together half hearted.
When Albert R. Broccoli (great name!) and Harry Saltzman made the Bond films they formed a company Eon Productions, which stood for “Everything Or Nothing”. In many ways this picture we see of the early Church is an “Everything Or Nothing” community.
This is costly and sacrificial discipleship and Kingdom living, it costs everything, it’s not for the faint of heart.
Yet this echoes the words of Jesus who said “anyone who puts their hand to the plough and keeps looking back is not worthy to be my disciple”, “let the dead bury their own dead”, “pick up your cross and follow me”, “count the cost” and we see Christ looking and loving the Rich Young Ruler but not lowering the bar of discipleship for him.
Yet I think there is something wonderful and beautiful about this community, I think people are wanting something real, costly and authentic.
We see Church trying to be culturally relevant we see people wander away, but when we see people like St. Francis of Assisi,John Wesley and more recently Francis Chan challenge us to a deeper and more sacrificial discipleship we see people respond, the depth resonates with us.
With the Acts 2 Church we see practical help, generosity and sleeves rolled up service alongside the miraculous and supernatural break through too. My experience is that often Churches major on either the social justice to the exclusion of the miraculous or seek the supernatural but struggle with the demeaning service
I look at Church in Acts 2 and look at what we do today in our Churches, so much is more about programme than people, events rather than relationships, attractional rather than incarnational, conference inspired ‘of the peg’ formulas rather than prayerful strategy birthed from prophet revelation.
A picture I have found helpful when thinking about trying to embrace this model of Church, is that sometimes we notice just how clunky and ineffective our old armour is, it is like David in Saul’s armour, which simply didn’t fit him.
Yet maybe we don’t feel like we have yet “become David” we know that the old way doesn’t work, but we haven’t yet mastered how to operate a sling shot.
The image of new wine bursting from old wine-skins is something all of us who work in transition have had the painful experience of, sometimes we think the newer old wine-skins can take it. We hear our people telling us that “old wine is better” but unless New Wine is produced and stored the next generation wont have any wine.
I long for Church to be different, but I find in my attempts to go back to the Biblical basics not only do I feel like I am swimming against about 1’500 years of history (since Constantine’s conversion and Church and State become bed-follows and the birth of Christendom, which sadly often didn’t look much like Jesus).
I long for Church to be different, but I realise that deep within myself I discover my own conditioning about what I think Church is based on my experience of it, rather than my beliefs and convictions of what it should be.
It is easy too to read the book of Acts with a wistful “if only” type sigh, but we only have to flick through the next few pages of the story which features Annas and Sapharia’s embezzlement, a major row between the Hellenistic Widows and the Grecian Widows and persecution causing Christians to flee Jerusalem.
The Church in the book of Acts was once that faced huge challenges, but remained faithful even in the midst of great difficulty, when we think of being an Acts 2 Church, the call is to be faithful to Christ in all we do, whatever obstacles are thrown at us.