The Missing Element

Posted: September 24, 2011 in On Being Apostolic
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There’s always something missing, isn’t there?  I mean, either prayer is missing or ‘burden’ is missing…there’s always something we’ve got to ‘rediscover’.  There’s always some ‘old path’ that we’re straying from, some ‘foundational element’ we’ve torn out of the basement and tossed unceremoniously into the back yard.  There’s always another ‘key’, isn’t there?  Be it giving, personal evangelism, fasting for spiritual ‘breakthrough’, prayer walks…there are enough missing ‘keys’ around to make for one full sized, genuine, maintenance man type key ring.  There are enough missing elements floating around out there to create a whole ‘nother spiritual table of’em.

It has been good for the economy, though.  At least, for some people.  If it weren’t for all these missing elements and keys, how would many of the books that clutter our shelves be written?  What would be the reason for all the conferences and seminars people jet around to attend?  I mean, if we were actually in revival how likely would it be that we’d need a conference about revival?  If we were actually praying how necessary would a seminar be on prayer?  (“So you can learn how to prayer more effectively, my brother!”  “What do you mean?  Doesn’t God understand me now?”  “Well…”)  You see what I mean.

So, having written those previous paragraphs with acerbic tongue planted in cheek, I’m afraid that I must add my voice to the cacophony of voices crying out about a missing this or that ‘element’ or ‘key’.  As I see it, something is definitely missing…and has been for a long, long time.  But since it’s not something we’ve ever really paid attention to, we don’t miss it.  Like the old saying goes, “You can’t miss what you’ve never had,” right?  Right.  So, we don’t miss it consciously…but it’s missing none the less.  And I think that at some level, maybe way down deep, we somehow feel the lack.

It’s a Book of Acts thing…Acts 2 in particular.  “Whoa!  Hang on!” you say.  “We’ve got Acts 2 down to a fine science!  After all, we are Pentecostal, aren’t we?  “We’ve spoken in tongues!” (Don’t ask whether it was “as the Spirit gave utterance” or not.)  “We believe in being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ!”  We believe the Holy Spirit is a promise for all generations!  And we certainly believe that thousands can and should receive the Gift in one day…that’s why we have our ‘Holy Ghost Crusades’, after all!  We’ve got Acts 2, brother!  Oh yes we have!  We might be missing signs, wonders, miracles, etc, etc, but we’ve got Acts 2.”

Sure.  We’ve got Acts 2…if we stop reading at verse 41.  But if we read on to verses 42-47 we discover that something is…um…well…missing.  Turns out that we don’t really have Acts 2 solidly in our possession, we just stopped paying attention to what the rest of the chapter said a long time ago.  So, if what’s missing could be summed up in one word, what would it be?  That’s easy.

It’s community.  Our contemporary Pentecostal (Apostolic) movement lacks a sense of community.  While I admittedly haven’t been to every church in North America that identifies itself in some way as Pentecostal (Apostolic), I can  say that those I have been around are very lacking in a sense of community as well.

I know.  I roll my own eyes as I read that paragraph myself.  Community-schmumunity.  The word’s overused while the concept’s under-explained and over-rated.  Everyone and their dog is talking about this or that community.  Everybody’s got their own little ‘community’!  There’s the Shar-Pei lovers’ community, the Boggle community, the minty dental floss users’ community, not to mention the ‘communities’ revolving around race, ethnicity, religion/spiritual practices, and sexual disorientation.  But even though the entire post-modern, post-Christian, Post Toasties world rags on about ‘community’, the value of authentic Christian community can’t be diminished.  In our western society in which people are increasingly personally isolated, there’s a desperate cry for relationships…even among believers.

And here’s why; we’re missing community.  Our very mobile, individualistic, extremely busy and materialistic culture doesn’t even allow time for families to have evening meals together on  a regular basis.  We don’t have time to meet friends and have a leisurely cup of coffee.  We can barely squeeze in an hour or so on Sunday for worship.  It’s no wonder we are missing the experience of authentic, Christian community.

But it’s more than that…we’ve never emphasized community in our movement.  At least not in my lifetime.  We’ve preached about Spirit baptism from Acts.  We’ve preached about water baptism from Acts.  We’ve preached about miracles and signs from Acts.  And we’ve even preached about evangelism from Acts.  But in my entire 46 years of life I don’t recall ever hearing one message preached from Acts in our pulpits about the need for authentic, Apostolic community.  And in our relationship hungry world that searches for authentic connections, I find that unbearably sad.  While some among us shrilly cry for a return to the ‘old paths’, no one is mentioning the thing we’re missing…the thing we’ve always been missing: community.

The only discussions I’ve heard among mainstream Pentecostal (Apostolic) clergy about the subject have been little more than one long theological backflip, trying very hard to explain why the community we read of in Acts isn’t necessary today.  It was for a limited time, and all that.  Only for the Jerusalem church, and such.  Never discussed again in Acts, apparently.  Huh.  I wonder if they realize that the reference works they’ve pulled these rather weak ideas from also dismiss Spirit baptism, the efficacy of water baptism, and explain away why when people are baptized, the name of Jesus Christ isn’t used?

Look, I’m no Luddite.  I’m not a starry eyed idealist.  I know that one of my responsibilities as a minister of the Gospel is to figure out how to apply ancient principles in a contemporary world.  I know that what I read in Scripture must be studied and understood so that it can be applied in the current social context.  But that’s just it.  There’s no seeking understanding of Acts 2:42-47.  There’s no studying of Acts 2:42-47.  There’s no attempt to actually figure out how to apply the principles found there.  By and large in the Pentecostal (Apostolic) movement, Acts 2:42-47 is simply ignored.

(to be continued…)

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