The gathering of a hundred and twenty people (Acts 1:15) who witnessed Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and now ascension, have begun to take care of one another, and as they do, word gets around and this group becomes rather large (Acts 2:41). The early disciples voted to replace Judas following his guilt-laden suicide (Acts 1:26).
Peter does most of the leading and teaching, while the others are working to distribute food and resources to those in need. As thousands of people see the work of the Spirit in this body, many are added to the fold who believe Peter’s teaching that there is way more to Jesus. Every growing group reaches a point where organization becomes vital or chaos ensues. Peter and John are back in the temple teaching how their Jewish community and religion ended up killing their promised Messiah (Acts 2:23, 3:17, 4:10). As more people start to connect the dots, the Jewish leaders become very concerned about where this is all going (Acts 4:2, 16). They thought locking Peter and John in prison would quell the momentum, since their threats didn’t work. Instead, an angel of the Lord let them out which only made their message that much more believable.
I mentioned last week how this growing body was selling their possessions in order to buy supplies and resources because they held everything in common (Acts 2:44). This alone is an idea the modern church would do well to explore. The examples I’ve seen of this never work out. In our modern age, it’s almost incomprehensible. Since so many people were wanting to know more about what was happening, the disciples which are now Apostles have to devote more of their time to the larger conversation. Many priests in the temple were even believing this message. In order to free up the apostles, they select seven men to oversee the daily distribution. This is the beginning of church leadership. It’s entirely based upon serving the needs of others according to one’s gifting. It’s not until chapter 14:23, after much foreign travel do the apostles set up Elders for each body.
Since I made a point about “Paid Clergy” in part one, I’ll add a comment here. The gift of the Holy Spirit was surrounding the teaching and preaching of the apostles. Part of the reason it was believed so quickly was the accompanying signs and wonders. Works such as miraculous healings, jail breaks, and prophetic wisdom were behind their need to commit their time to this work. Like all members of the body, they too participated and benefitted from the collective resources. Those who sold their land for money, didn’t do so with the goal of solely supporting the leadership, they did so under the compulsion of the Spirit to support the growing work of body as any had need (Acts 2:45).
There is a nuance here that I believe is vital. When a community desires to pool their resources for the sake of the many, and one of those happens to be the leader of the community who sacrifices his life for the sake of the flock, then I’m not opposed to them receiving care from the generosity of the people. We’ll see Paul ultimately asks for this care in the same way. The difference is when the leader designs the work and ministry in such a way as to turn it primarily into an economic engine for himself and his staff, that is the sad state of our modern church. I’m also taking issue with pastors who say they can’t do the work of the ministry unless they are “full-time.”
When I was an executive pastor, I felt very good about providing resources for our lead pastor. What I struggled with was how our building, electronics, parking, insurance, ect… was consuming resources that could go to serving our city. Some argue that this is the cost of doing ministry in this day and age. This ministry proves that is not the case at all. My other concern is for accompanying signs and wonders. I saw no healings. I saw very few come to believe, but I saw 50% of resources going to building upkeep. Have supernatural gifts stopped? Are we to be cessationists? Many think so.
Back to our examination of the early church. Without news media, the word of mouth is spreading about all that is happening. The apostles begin traveling to neighboring cities and many from outside the region are coming to learn and dispute with them. It’s one thing when two differing opinions meet, but this message became impossible to argue against because the corpus of the church and it’s central and unifying belief (that Jesus was the Christ or Messiah who has already launched his kingdom) has empowered people to care deeply for one another needs, and is lifting many out of poverty and starvation. When that happens, the church is no longer a discussion about ideals, theologies, or philosophies. It’s tangible. Believable.
Today, the church teaches that Jesus’ promised Kingdom is entirely “yet to come.” The consequence is this dispensational teaching is that the modern church sees it’s mission as entirely “spiritual” or as an “evacuation strategy” to get people to the Kingdom “one day,” rather than growing the Kingdom which exists within each one of us as the basis for restoring all things in the world. The early church expanded because they believed and understood, they were the promised Kingdom, and the Spirit accompanied that belief. I believe that as we return to the original framework, the Spirit empowers the Flow. A bad eschatology has crippled the work of the true church.
In today’s marketplace of ideas, there are few who believe in Christ who are able to intelligibly and rationally discuss how their belief could possibly lead to the most liberated and empowered life a human can live in this day and age. This is in part due to the fact that they themselves don’t actually live liberated and empowered. It is also compounded with the fact that Christianity is not differentiated from myth, fiction, or fair tale. In the minds of modern people, a belief in Christ Jesus is viewed as a deficiency and at best only relegated to the arena of “personal preference.” Few believers know how to speak to this, instead they just recoil inward or huddle together. For this reason there are no more debates or discussions on faith any more because they are seen as debates similar to the color of ones interior walls. No one really cares because few cities have seen any real restoration power from the church. Only political, social, racial, and economic power grabs.
The modern church is ill equipped to engage religious, civic, and political leaders with a rational basis for their belief. Instead, they relegate “ministry” to the paid clergy who is supposed to “know this stuff.” The pluriformity of the modern world is vastly different. The early church didn’t suffer this. They were not debating in order to win converts and cause people to believe (that is inserted into the text by modern readers of the text). Remember, the New Testament didn’t exist then. The apostles were revealing how the Jewish faith got lost within it’s political, legalistic, and ritualistic process based religion and as a result missed their own Messiah. Early believers were Jews arguing with other Jews and revealing this movement as “empowered” reforming shift within the system.
The fact that so many are being cared for makes their claims unarguable. The choice was clearly between a big over-powering, oppressive religion which marginalizes and excludes people on one hand, and a growing, powerful movement of faith which is including and healing the marginalized on the other. Only the threatened establishment would even try and denounce it. Those in power always resist a transfer of power. It’s true in every strata of human history, it was true then.
The biggest difference between the church then and the church now is that it wasn’t the establishment, it was an empowered movement. The work of the early church (at this point) was to free people from the establishment of religion in the same way Jesus did. It was a continuation of his work as his collective body. What is amazing to me is that this work is still quite powerful. This work still resonates with our modern world. Whereas the modern church is trying to use its institutional power to compete against other institutions for its own survival, the true work of Christ (the Messiah’s Kingdom) is still freeing people from institutional powers unto a living faith which serves all others in power of love, humility, and mercy.
Therefore, liberation in the whole of life (including this life) is the essence of the True Gospel.