I’ve been pondering the widely-held belief that the “Acts 2 Community” is the ideal Christian community: the one to which we should aspire. Here is what that community was like:
- They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching; fellowship; to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
- Everyone was filled with awe.
- Many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
- All the believers were together and had everything in common, and they gave to anyone as he had need. etc.
George Barna in his latest [odd] book Revolution basically uses Acts 2 by which to measure all other churches, past and present, saying: "Who wouldn't want to be a part of this?"
And the challenge, of course is that if the Church could get herself back to that, we’d be better off: we’d be more God honouring; less institutional etc. We need real community. And the 'Acts 2 community' is real community we need.
There is no doubt that the text here is describing a situation that is wonderful. That is clear. It’s also clear in Acts 4:32-35. The truth is -- I do want this kind of community. And I think that Acts 2 functions as a wake up call for our often lazy-consumer-driven church experiences.
But I'm not sure that God wants us to go back to this.
I am wondering whether the 'Acts 2 community' is an adequate model for us. It’s not enough. Here are my three reasons why we need to go beyond the Acts 2 Community.
1. They have yet to include a single non-Jewish person.
The Gentile question doesn’t get hammered out properly until Acts 15. God has to give Peter a bizarre dream to get him to move beyond racial boundaries. The Acts 2 community is a racially Jewish community only. It is yet to be inclusive.
Don’t we want the Jew-Gentile community that gets hammered out after Act 15? With all the difficulties that come with reaching out beyond racial comfort zones? I'm glad, as a Gentile, that the community did not remain the way they were.
2. They have yet to be tested under the fire of persecution.
That doesn’t happen until Acts 4 [a 'nibble'], Acts 5 [a flogging], Acts 6 [Stephen arrested], Acts 7 [Stephen murdered], Acts 8 [A full-scale persecution breaks out]. Up until that point, everyone loves ’em.
Don’t we want a Church refined by the fire? One where ‘convenient faith’ is shown for what it really is? Isn’t the persecution and the testing [post Acts 2] one of the most powerful aspects of Acts?
3. They have yet to feel - and work through - disillusionment.
The first ‘problem’ with the community doesn’t happen until Acts 5:1-11. And a major shock to the system it was.
Don’t we want a community that can deal with disappointment in a gospel way? The Acts 2 community had yet to experience the disappointment. Don't we want to be able to cope, without replacing the gospel with inappropriate idealism? I want a Church that reflects Bonhoeffer’s words:
- "Thus, the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably productive, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by the one Word and Deed which really binds us together--the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship."
I think that I’d prefer the Acts 2 community together with what God does in that community after the ideal is described. God had more blessing for them. And we are the inheritors of that blessing.
There is no going back. Only forward.