Philip Yancy shares this story in his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” “At the height of the Cold War, Billy Graham visited Russia to meet with their political and religious leaders. Many conservatives in the US criticized him for not taking a more prophetic role. One accused him of setting the church back 50 years. Graham responded, “I am deeply ashamed. I have been trying very hard to set the church back 2,000 years.”” (Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? 264).
I long to be a part of that Acts church. It was a young church, with its flaws, but it had something special. In this continuing look at movements and community, we will revisit some of the qualities that made that first church historic.
- The church was unified. (a healthy inward focus) (vv. 42, 44-46)
Once these believers were baptized the 3,000 new converts immediately began devoting themselves to one another. If you want an example of the power of the gospel; the gospel radically transformed them into generous people. People who understood that their possessions, their time, even their identity no longer belonged to them alone. The gospel converted them into a new people (v.41), with a deeper level of devotion (v.42), and a new vibrate community (v.44). All of this transformation was not self-infused but showered on them by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Christ-centered message of the gospel.
- The church unified around a common confession and inspiring worship. (vv. 42-43, 46-47)
What grieves my spirit most is the loss of the church’s one true confession and the ability to gather together in inspiring worship. Our fighting and discord have hindered our ability to truly experience God deeply as an authentic community. I can hear some of you now yelling at me again. “Worship is not about experiencing God!!” Really then, where did the sense of awe come from in the early church’s worship? Granted the Greek word Phobas means more fear in a literal translation, but fear with a sense of reverence. I often told my congregation that we Christians today come into the house of God with very little fear and awe. If we did we might kick off our shoes in the house of God for we are standing on Holy ground. The people in the Acts community got the sense of awe, that we take for granted.
As one pastor put it. “Churches should protect their posture toward God. A church may move through an entire year of sermons, services, and Bible studies and never really experience God. Peter says, ‘Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk’ (1 Pet. 2:2). Many interpret Peter as saying something like ‘Long for the Word of God the way an infant longs for milk.’”
- The church was united in mission. (a healthy outward focus) (v. 47)
The issue of conversion numbers has caused so many churches and pastors guilty consciences. Let me clear up something here. You cannot control your congregation’s growth, that is the work solely of the Holy Spirit. I had a congregation ask me in an interview, “How I was going to grow their congregation’s Sunday morning attendance?” I told them, “I was not. I can’t control what God does in the human heart.” This community in Acts grew because as the verse above says “the Lord added to their number.” Not the pastor, not some new fancy packaged evangelism program, nor some dynamic new praise band, or the most talented organists on the planet. It is all God. This community was united to each other, around a common confession, sent out with a common mission and God blessed their ministry. God redeems His people to send them out and engage the non-believing world with the gospel.
How do you do this? As a community, eat with non-Christians, have conversations with the unconnected, do life with those outside the body of Christ. This is how Jesus accomplished His mission.
I will leave you with this question to ponder this week: Do you have a burden for non-Christians?
To answer the opening question are we setting the church back 2,000 years, Lord I pray so!
Next Tuesday, “How Christian Community Can Have A Transformational Impact.”
Other posts in this series:
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 2:44). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 2:42). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 2:47). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.