The last note of the final hymn reverberates throughout the building. Church is done for the week. I sit down, look at my friends and head to lunch content with the knowledge that I have gone to Church this week. I have done the bare minimum for my Christian journey, and I can excuse myself for just a while if I forget to do my devotions or say my prayers.
As we go to lunch, there comes the inevitable dissection of the service. Talking about the songs that we did or did not like, what we thought of the sermon and what we thought of the Pastor- pulling apart the service, rating it, deciding how well it had fed us.
This is not me every week, but it has been all too often.
Church has become a commodity, Christianity a paid subscription service.
We confine the idea of Church to a building on the weekend, rather than the Biblical application of the word Church which had many associations which will be explored in this text further on.
We ask what the Church can do for me. We judge how well the Church is feeding me. Often, it becomes all about me. We do not stop to think about what we can do for the Church.
The Church is seen as an institution whose job is to provide us with inspiration once a week inside its walls and to leave us alone if we so choose. We eat up the show- the lights, the ever-louder songs, the atmosphere- and we judge the service on what it has done for us.
This transaction mentality was inevitable, given the consumer-driven culture that has permeated society. The never-ending pursuit of more impacts all of us whether we know it or not. Social media invites us to compare our lives to our closest friends and distant acquaintances. The significant question being ‘do I measure up’? We get excited when we buy new items from certain brands as though they will fill some sort of void within us. We get a buzz from getting more. It makes sense that we would treat Church in the same way.
Fascinatingly, as this materialistic culture has emerged the rates of Christian adherents in Australia have dropped. Indeed, it seems as though humanity has moved towards praying to the “neon gods” and away from authentic connections such as those that Jesus maintained with his followers.
Church must ‘fit me’. The worship style must speak to me. The sermon must have a message specifically fitting to me every week. Church is for me and only me.
This is not to say that you are wrong if you want to get something out of the Church service you attend. Of course, you should! It is more the attitude that we enter the service with. The ‘me’ focus does not fit with the model used by the early Church.
The Early Church
If we are not meant to view Church this way, then what is Church meant to look like? When one considers the Church featured in Acts, it is challenging to see how the Church has grown into what we find today in most Christian denominations.
So, what was the Church like in Acts?
- Full of the Spirit
- he New Testament Church began when they gathered for an event called Pentecost. In Acts 2:4, it says that all in the room were “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
- The New Testament Church was filled with the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Spirit resulted in the presence of many gifts. This was foundational to their work. There are multiple instances throughout Acts where these gifts aided in the spread of the message. The Church was Spirit-filled and directed by Christ.
- Met multiple times a week
- The Church in Acts met more than one times per week. In fact, in Acts 2:46, it says that the Church met daily with “one accord.”
- To the early Church, community was not done in one hour but was a constant reality. We can summise that they interacted many times throughout the week and were very involved in each others lives.
- Missionary trips- preaching the word
- Throughout Acts, several missionary journeys are detailed.
- These early Christian’s did not just meet together and get into the scriptures; they also went and taught others about Jesus. Matthew 28:19 commands us to do the same.
- Helping Others
- The early Christian’s were well known for helping others. In Acts 9:36, it says that Dorcas “was always doing good and helping the poor.” They had a focus on the outside of their congregation.
- They did amazing things in the name of Jesus
- In Acts, there are many amazing stories- of people been raised from the dead, of miraculous conversions, of foreign languages been miraculously understood and of brave stands made by disciples such as Stephen. Their faith was very public and amazing things happened!
- In Acts 2:45, it speaks of the missional intentions of the disciples “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”
The descriptions of the early Church offer a monumental challenge to modern day congregations. This is illustrated best through the following passage:
- “32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” -Acts 4:32-35
The Church was not an institution- the Church was a group of believers acting as the hands and feet of Jesus and growing together while doing it. They were active- they did not have time to consume a service; they made it count, they focused on relationships; they thought about what they could do for the Church. The Church was and still is the people- not the building!
In Romans 12:1, Paul implores his audience to not “conform to the patterns of the world.” Christianity has always been countercultural. In a world where everything else is entertainment and intended to bring pleasure or to make life easier, the message of Christianity which asks listeners to “take up” their cross.
The word used to describe the Church in the New Testament is Ekklesia. The word references the Church as a whole as well as the Church as a people. The etymology of the word talks about been “called out”. From the very beginning, God’s people were meant to be separate, different and unique.
‘Christian; is not a passive title. It is not just sitting in the pews listening to the service. It is a call to make radical connections with others. As society becomes increasingly lonely, Christian’s are called to grow closer.
We are asked to focus not on what we can get from the Church but what we can give to fellow believers and how we can effectively minister to share the message of Jesus. What can we give for the one who gave everything for us?
By: Kira-leigh Josey