Monday, February 04, 2008

Google and the Acts 2 Community (A Reprise)

Try Googling "Acts 2 Community".

If you do, my post dated June 27, 2006 is the first post. I don't know how or why. But twice a day (according to my stats), some soul in the world Googles 'Acts 2 Community' - no doubt looking for how to make their church just like Acts 2 - and all they get is my reflection on why the Acts 2 Community was incomplete in at least three areas. I have new friends, and new readers since Summer '06. So as a reprise, and for new discussion, here is my 2006 post:

"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 honoring; 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. I think 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."

Any thoughts?

Pic in Flickr by Stuck in Customs.


Peter said...

This is really insightful. I've never thought about this or heard anyone else mention it.

Stan said...

Acts also lacks the structure prescribed in later epistles, doesn't it? I don't see room for diakonos or episkopoi (as my pidgin Greek is remembered) in those communities.

byron smith said...

I remember enjoying this post the first time. Thanks for bringing it to our attention again. Nice to be top of Google. At one stage, for a few weeks after it was announced, I was fifth for "northern territory intervention".

However, on to the substance of your post - at what stage is there an adequate model? Is a church without an explicit christology or trinitarian theology adequate? Is a church without a reformation? In fact, is any church prior to the return of Christ and resurrection of the dead complete? No going back.

Shane said...

Hey Justin - its obviously bare boned, but I wonder if there is some DNA about it that structures and shapes how the word of Grace and the Way progresses?

Benjamin Ady said...

I guess Revolution is no longer Mr. Barna's latest book.

danae said...

I haven't read Revolution, but your brief synopsis seems to describe the views of a lot of Wheaton students. I appreciated your argument for going beyond that...your three challenges for "community" are timeless. At the same time, do we have a biblical model for ideal community this side of heaven?

Justin said...

*Late response, I know*

Shane – I think I know what you mean. Like Acts 2 is the DNA from which the church grows. I would concur with that!

Justin said...

*Late response, I know*

Byron – That’s a good question. Is there an adequate model? Does there have to be one? Certainly Acts 2/4 doesn’t say that it is the model, even though it is clearly commended.

I suspect that to settle on one as the model is to anticipate a reality that has yet to take place. That allows, of course, for the Spirit to keep changing, growing and reforming his church?

Justin said...

Danae -- how great to hear from you.

As to the model -- just had a go at that with a response to Bryon.

But I'd like to hear about your Wheaton friends. What are they thinking etc?

Shane said...

Hey justin
2 futher thoughts and I comment

1.whilst it may be inadequate it does helps us to plot an idea of ecclesia which see a trajectory through to the gathering around the throne in Revelation. There is a discernable DNA.

2. I am working through whether there is any discernable links with eccleiology and mission - ACTS 2 is often used as the purpole passage but i just can't see it.

a comment - your yellow links are unreadable on feedreader.

enjoy Grace

byron smith said...

a comment - your yellow links are unreadable on feedreader.
And Shrook.