The Missing Element, 2

Posted: September 26, 2011 in On Being Apostolic
Tags: , , , , ,

Yeah…Acts 2:42-47 is largely ignored.

And it’s too bad, really, because what I see written there is beautifully presented, wonderfully demonstrated first evidence of the way the Holy Spirit desires to work in the Church.  Sure, when they received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, they spoke in other tongues.  Sure, those who ‘gladly received the Word’ were baptized.  But that’s not all!  It’s in those verses recorded at the end of the chapter that we see how profoundly that experience affected them.  While I’m aware that the Church was born into a far more collectivist culture than ours, and that they were accustomed to sharing with each other on High Holy days, and that there were specific and immediate needs that were being addressed, if these verses are inspired Word then I also have to believe that there is something there for us. 

I see principles in those verses.  In the story of how the Holy Spirit moved them to act during the earliest moments of the Church’s existence, I find principles… elements…that should have contemporary application.  And those principles are the markers of authentic, Apostolic community.

Common Belief

“All that believed were together…”  Community can’t exist without common belief…we know that.  But what exactly is common belief?  Well, in this context it’s easier to start by identifying what it isn’t.  ‘Common belief’ is not doctrinaire.  It doesn’t imply that all of us hold the same doctrinal beliefs on every point.  In fact, it doesn’t even imply that we hold the same doctrinal beliefs on many points.  In the context of Acts 2, the principle of common belief simply refers to what those early Christians believed at the point of the writing.  They believed that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, and that he had died, been buried, and had risen again.  The result of this belief is that they obeyed Peter’s command to repent and be baptized in the Messiah’s name.

Simple, isn’t it?  Almost too simple for us.  We have our list of doctrines that one must hold in order to be “in fellowship” with us, and while I fully understand and approve of denominations having articles of faith that describe their doctrinal positions, I’m afraid that most (if not all) of the earliest believers wouldn’t be able to get past our membership boards.  They were all Jewish at this point, for goodness sake.  99.9% of their belief system was Jewish by extension.  The only thing we’d be able to recognize as distinctively “Christian” would be their belief in Jesus…something they themselves would have viewed as being…you guessed it…Jewish.

Book of Acts community simply doesn’t require that we all be on the same page doctrinally.  It just requires that we believe in who Jesus was and his redemptive work.  The implication of the Scriptures is that belief prompts obedience.

Willingness to Share

Whatever you may think of the Spirit inspired and need induced socialism of the Church in Acts 2, the larger principle that I see operating in those verses is the willingness to share.  I know it wasn’t forced.  I know that no one dicated giving.  Yet there it is.  What they had was available to be used to meet the needs of other believers.  I’ve often wondered why so many of my friends and colleagues who read these verses have to strain them through the cheesecloth of laissez faire economics.  It’s almost as if they’re afraid that the dreaded red star will be flown over their assembly, and the commies will come to burn the Bibles if people actually begin to part with their goods to help others.

Now wait…I suppose I should be fair.  This kind of thing is allowed, and even encouraged, if it’s in support of a missionary program.  Hey, sell that third car and give the money to missions!   (Or some other official fund raising program.)  But the very idea that a believer would give away something like a car to someone who needs one…well…that’s practically unheard of.  And generally not encouraged.  You should be willing to share with the organizational programs.  You should be willing to share with the local church corporation.  But what happened in the Book of Acts was neither of those.  In Acts believers shared with other believers.  They did it because they wanted to.  And they wanted to because they were full of the Spirit.

Common Worship Experience

A short one that doesn’t need a lot of explanation.  They worshiped together daily…in the Temple (see above references to Jewishness), and in their homes.  Obviously, this means that only a few gathered at one time.  Call them small groups, call them cells, call them house churches.  Whatever.  Each and every day believers gathered to share a common worship experience.  We know that in these gatherings they prayed and shared whatever the Apostles were teaching.  But it also seems that they ate together at these gatherings, and that they participated in the Lord’s Supper…perhaps as sort of  a benediction.  (Something, by the way, contemporary Pentecostal (Apostolics) don’t do nearly enough.)

So…now what?

These are the major elements that comprised the special sense of community in Acts 2.  The question now is, “Where to from here?”  Do we write a series of lessons to teach these elements in hope that more Biblical education will produce more Biblical behaviour?  Nah.  Won’t help.  I’ve been in pastoral ministry for 20 years, and I can testify that teaching doesn’t produce Christians.  Do we hold a conference, or a seminar?  Write more books?  No.  Waste of time. You know what produces authentic Apostolic community?  The baptism of the Holy Spirit.  That’s where it all begins…with the pouring of the Active Presence of the Eternal into the lives of those who believe.

We need a fresh baptism of the Spirit, but not because we need to talk in tongues more.  Or because we need to be more demonstrative in church service worship.  Or because we need to be ‘holier’.  No.  We need a fresh baptism of the Spirit to birth in us what we’re missing…what we’ve been missing for years.  We need the Spirit to fill us again so that we may be an authentic community.

Next…the challenges of authentic Apostolic community.

  1. mpcole says:

    I just wanted to note that the very first Christian believers not only wouldn’t be able to get past the memberships of the denominations, but they would disagree with much of the doctrines taught by the denominal world today. Thankfully, the Lord has always kept a remnant of people that would not bend their knee to the philosophies and religions of the world, but would study to show themselves approved of God, rightly dividing the word of truth.

    • True, Michael. I guess it’s human nature to develop systems for what are initially simple beliefs…but it’s sad that those systems usually take on a life of their own and become quite distinct from the simple beliefs that birthed them. Thanks for reading!

  2. mpcole says:

    I couldn’t help but read, as I enjoy reading things about the wonderful God I serve and the history of beliefs. Throughout history, many “religious fathers” that most denominations regard highly actually persecuted and killed many that stood for the truth. If you try doing a search on terms such as anabaptists, monarchianism (I think that’s spelled proper), and other terms that I could give you, you would be amazed. Feel free to e-mail me, and I’ll share some historical info.

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