When we look at when the Church was first introduced to the world we see the following…
Acts 2:42-47 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
If the world is looking for a solid description of the Church, here it is. But instead of just listening to the description, let’s imagine what it was really like there in those first days. Let’s imagine that you are on assignment as a beat writer for the Jerusalem Times with the task of observing and reporting about this new community of people who are beginning to create significant buzz around the city.
Three thousand people have come to faith in one day, (Acts 2:41) and more are being added daily (Acts 2:47). People are meeting every single day – not just one day a week – in the temple and in their homes. They are selling their stuff and sharing the profits.
These people are shaking things up and rocking the status quo.
Now imagine you have a friend who is a part of this new community. You ask him to meet you in the local cafe just to get the scoop. After catching up on small talk and niceties, you get right at it.
“What in the world has happened to you?”
“Well, I am hanging out with a new group of friends.”
“Anywhere really. It is not really a place but a group of people.”
“What is not a place?”
“The Church. Isn’t that what you are asking me about?”
“Church? What’s church? I have never heard of that before.”
“Well, it’s a community of people who, by God’s kindness, have seen Jesus and gather together to love one another and follow in His steps.”
“Jesus? Isn’t that the guy whom everyone loved but the religious establishment hated? And isn’t He dead? Look, I got sent over here to interview you because word on the street is that something very different – very alive – is happening with you people. And again, what is a church?”
At this point, your friend’s explanation will not include any mention of a denomination, since those do not even exist yet.
“Well, I guess you could say it’s called the First Church of …Ever!”
It is also doubtful he will offer up a specific address or location. After all, everyone knows where the southern steps of the temple are and beyond that, the Church is meeting all over the community. “Walk down any street in Jerusalem, take a left, and then turn…well, anywhere.”
And though Peter did stand up and do the talking on the Day of Pentecost, your friend will not mention a specific individual as the leader. There is a broad leadership in the movement led by eleven men, original followers of this said-to-be-dead Jesus guy. That’s a whole mess of chiefs, except that they are all letting the personality fall on one Chief – Christ Himself.
Their church then would not be described using the same adjectives as most people who attend churches today. You ask your friend to describe what is going on, and based on what we know was happening from the passage we just read, we can imagine he would say something like this:
“We are alive.” Makes sense – their whole way of living had changed.
“There are awe-inspiring things happening in our midst.” Since signs and wonders were being done through the apostles, that seems like a fair description.
“We are attractive.” God was drawing many new people to their community – and they were actually coming.
“We are aligned.” They were stedfast under leadership and in service, gathered with one mind in the temple and in homes.
“We are acts-oriented.” It’s hard to accuse them of being lazy or passive.
“Okay, that’s pretty impressive,” you say, feeling confident that you have more than enough to submit your article by the deadline. But before you can express your gratitude for his help, he interrupts and keeps going – and in rapid-fire succession this time.
“And we are biblical, blessed, bonded, caring, Christ-exalting, committed, compassionate, connected, consistent, and creative, dedicated, devoted, discerning, disciplined, driven, effective, encouraging, energized, evangelistic, exciting, engaging, faithful, focused, friendly, fun, fired up, generous, godly, growing…
“Uh, I think that’s plenty. And, besides, I’m kind of running out of papyrus sheets, so…”
But he doesn’t catch your drift or miss a beat.
“We are humble, hungry, hospitable, intentional. Inspiring, intimate, intense, joyful, like-minded, loving, magnetic, miraculous, motivated, neighbourly, obedient, ordained, others-minded, passionate, powerful, praising, prayerful, proactive, productive, progressive, pure, purposeful, redeeming, radical, real, relational minded, relevant, respected, sacrificial, safe, scary, selfless, Scripture-loving, servant-hearted, single-minded, sold out, Spirit-filled, sincere, submissive, tenacious, teachable, transformed, trustworthy, thankful, unified, unselfish, unspoiled, unwavering, wholehearted, and wise. We are a people full of wonder who worship God – you should come and join us!”
By this point the coffee is long gone – and you know you’ve obliterated your editor’s word count. But be honest: If the Church were really all these things – as Scripture says it is – you would definitely be checking it out, wouldn’t you?
How could you not?”
So what happened? Something has gone terribly wrong; that’s what happened. The description of the first church is suppose to be the description of all churches today because the Leader of the first church is suppose to be the Leader of them all.
The problem isn’t that God has stopped being in the business of changing the world by changing lives. The problem is that we have gotten into the business of doing His business our way, not being “people of His way” (Acts 9:2).
If church, as you think of it today, was truly a reflection of the adjectives we just used to describe it in Acts 2:42-47, my bet is that you would feel differently about it. A lot differently. You wouldn’t be alone.
You might be thinking, That is the exact kind of community of people I have been looking for. That is the purposeful life I really want to live, but I didn’t know it actually existed. What you are describing is what I have been searching for my whole life. In relationships. Clubs. Teams. Work. You name it. So don’t mess with me – just tell me: Where does something like this exist? Even though I am not sure I can believe, just out of curiosity, I’m going to come and check it out.
That is exactly what God had in mind – that in this lost, dark, broken world where there are only shadows of hope, a light would enter in. That people would begin to live in real relationships with a real God. That they would be that alive, awe-inspiring, authentic … a worshipful kingdom-of-God-on-earth community.
The Church is supposed to provide others a picture of God’s kingdom – a glimpse of heaven on earth. It is not a place you are suppose to go; it is a people who are suppose to be … and you can still experience what God intends for His Church to be.
When you see life change, grace, compassion, mercy, sharing, provision, warmth, and hope – with a diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit in a bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3) – aren’t these at least small descriptions of heaven? Yes, they are. And instead of growing dimmer over the years, the Church is supposed to be growing brighter day by day as we yield more and more to the Spirit’s grace, power, and direction. Less of us: more of Him.
From the very beginning, this is what God intended church to be. God wants you to experience a community that is alive, awe-inspiring, attractive, aligned … well, you can go back and reread the rest. God created you for this. Your heart longs for it – even if you have only seen a glimpse of it from a distance. But, once you experience this true Church you will want to do more than attend at a church building – you will want to find others who are committed to joining you in being the Church that Jesus has always wanted to build.
Do any exist? Is that possible? Yes, they do, and yes, it is!