Why Can’t We Be More Like The Early Church?
Chapter two is kind of the rah, rah, “yay, church!” chapter of the Book of Acts. The first part of Acts 2 is the story of Pentecost, which we celebrate every year in May or June. It’s the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s wild and colorful and exciting and inspiring. The latter part of the chapter gives us a glimpse into the early church. The people met together daily. They prayed and sold all their goods and shared them in common so that no one was in need. It’s kind of a utopian picture.
There is a desire in some circles to get back to that early community, where people prayed and shared and worshipped together every day. Most of you know that here at First Pres, we’ve started a new vision project to try and discern who we want to be as a church and where we’re going from here. I haven’t mentioned this to the vision team yet, but after studying the latter part of this second chapter of Acts, I think our next move may be for us to clear out all the pews in the sanctuary, bring in some cots and all just move in here. We’ll sell our houses, so there will be plenty of money to add in some showers, which we’d probably need. Maybe an extra bathroom or two. And we could live here and pray together and share together and eat together. And we could be like that early church.
Of course you know the main reason that wouldn’t work…zoning. The City of NLR probably wouldn’t approve such a living arrangement.
But maybe, like those first Christians did, we could meet daily. We can all keep our homes but clear our schedules of soccer practices and dance rehearsals and yoga classes and book clubs and late working hours and dinners out—anything after 5 o’clock will have to stop—and everyone can come here. We can eat together and pray together and serve together. Every. Day.
What are the odds of that happening? About the same as the odds as one of us winning the next Powerball? In a world where the average person who claims to attend church regularly only makes it about twice a month. It’s probably not going to work.
But let’s not idealize this passage from Acts 2. It’s a wonderful picture, and I don’t think it’s an untrue picture. I don’t think that Luke was lying when he wrote it. He is painting a picture of that early church at its best. Just imagine if you were trying to start a brand new belief system. A brand new religion. A system that wasn’t familiar with people. A belief that would likely cause you to be persecuted and possibly even killed. You would need to meet every day. To learn and to pray and to seek encouragement and comfort as you embark on this brand new way of life. So this picture of the church we read about in the second part of the second chapter of Acts is a lovely one, and I think it’s a true picture, but it’s not the whole picture.
If you read on in the Book of Acts—maybe take some time later to day and skim through a few chapters—you don’t have to go far to read about the conflicts and the troubles of the early church. It’s not all standing around holding hands and singing Kum ba yah.
There are some characteristics of the early church that we’d like to recapture—certainly that sense of community that must have existed between people who met and prayed together regularly. Part of our new vision process is trying to figure out how we can connect with each other and pray for and with one another even if we’re only making it to worship about two days out of the month. We don’t have to do things exactly the way the early church did in order to experience some of the things that they did.
We’d love to have the diversity of the ancient church. It has been said many times that the most segregated hour in America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning, but that was not the case way back in the day. The new movement drew in people from every class and race, which often irritated the class conscious Romans. One Bishop of the early church was a former slave who was converted and called to ministry. And given the location of the start of Christianity, we know the early church wasn’t full of a bunch of white people.
There is a lot that we can learn from the early church, and there are many ways in which we would like to model the early church, but let’s not idealize those first communities and believe that if we aren’t willing to sell everything we own and gather together everyday that we can’t be the church. This passage in Acts is a picture of the church at its best in that time and in that place. Our call today and tomorrow and in the weeks and months and years to come is discern how to be at our best in this time and in this place.
When someone writes the Acts of First Pres Argenta, and there is a passage that describes the church at its best, what do we want it to say? Years from now, when people look back at how we were the church in 2016 in downtown North Little Rock, what is it we want them to read?
Think about that.
Pray about that.
Because over the next few months, we are going to write that passage together.