The Loss of the Church, Part 1

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47 (NIV)

When you go into a church, what do you expect to see?

After all, there are so many varieties anymore. From megachurches to country churches, from strict adherence to the Bible to treating it as a “living document”, from traditional worship to modern services, from social separatism to political activism, there are an overwhelming number of choices. Most of these choices have to do with the “how” of church – the “what” is most cases is the same (with some rare exceptions). Regardless of denomination, the vast majority of Protestant and Catholic churches alike stand firmly on Christ crucified, resurrected, and ascended. But from there, the departures are seemingly endless. So what is the churchgoer to do?

Often we just settle somewhere that is comfortable, based on things like whether our friends attend there, if we like the music, or if the minister is dynamic. Many of us come into the building expecting to be given something, that it is the implicit task of the church to make us feel better when we leave than we did when we arrived. When this doesn’t happen (as it often doesn’t, and probably shouldn’t), we become disillusioned and we seek another type of experience. Of course, not all believers take part in this “musical chairs” of churches, but it clearly occurs – where else would all of this church variety come from?

Christ’s church is modeled in Acts 2. When you compare your church against the passage above, how does it fare? My guess is that the answer will probably be “not very well.” But to be sure, let’s look closely at what the church is supposed to be. We will do this over the next few posts. Today, we will focus on the following:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

The word “devoted” in the original language indicates strength. It describes a person that does not waver in any circumstances and believes that persistence has no end or time of rest. In English, it is tempting to read the word as a symbol of love only – devotion might simply mean “adoration.” But it’s more than that. The early church didn’t just passively listen to the apostles. They saw their role as active, and they saw devotion to Christ as something they did, not something they felt. In fact, they did these things in spite of how they felt.

The early church was alone. It was ridiculed. It was persecuted. It was threatened with extinction. These people didn’t pile the family in the car, arguing about where to eat lunch, worried with work or school. They didn’t go into an ornate building with computer screens and jubilant worship without fear or anxiety. They had every reason to abandon the apostles and accept a simpler, more carefree life following the false gods of the Roman Empire. But instead, they followed Christ. They spent time with each other, even though that made them targets. They shared their lives with one another, and they diligently communicated with God.

But perhaps most importantly, they didn’t depend on a dynamic minister, a worship committee, or any other man-made authority to do it for them. They didn’t gather with the believers expecting Peter to make them feel better or come up with new worship programs or service projects. They met because they were convinced, changed, and reborn. This was their family now. This was their identity. They needed each other.

Our fiercely individualistic Western culture tells us we don’t need anyone. So church becomes a gathering of individuals just sharing space, each one expecting church to be what they want. In that sense, it’s become no different than work or school. It’s really little wonder that churches are failing. They’ve become something they were never intended to be. But look at our passage. All of these things were done together.

How many of us feel alone at church in a crowd of people? Does that seem right to you? Then why do we just accept it?

Next time, we will take the next piece of this passage and explore further what church was meant to be.

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