Summary: After the Day of Pentecost the first Church was a Learning, Expectant, Active, Generous, United, Evangelistic Church. We have much to learn!
At the start of the year some of you were worried that I had developed a bit of a fixation with pews. If taken out of context it was possible to think that the new Vicar was calling for a return to pews in the church. Personally, I wondered if my reference to pews had anything to do with my concern that my sermon delivery was a bit too wooden. The reality was that I was using ‘pews’ as an acronym. God was reminding us to Pray, Eat, Worship and Serve together (PEWS).
Today we continue our journey through Acts which tells us about the ongoing works of Jesus through his apostles in the power of the Holy Spirit in the first few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (2:42).
The Church had grown within 24 hours from about 120 (1:15) to about 3,120 (2:41). In the days that followed there was a devotion to learning. The new Christian converts were eager beavers! They were committed and dedicated to learning the teachings and the way of life of Jesus, all of which was faithfully passed on by the apostles, his closest friends.
My question is simple. Are you learning? Are you practicing what you have learnt? Home Groups are one excellent way of learning the ways of Jesus together. If you’d like to know more just ask me. Also, the Course in Christian Studies starts soon (taster evening here 11th July). A 12th century Monk (Hugh of St Victor) said, “Learn everything you can. Later you will discover that none of it was superfluous.”
There was a commitment to fellowship; breaking bread and praying together. They were devoted to learning; and to each other. It was a learning Church.
Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles (2:43).
The authority of the apostles’ teaching was backed up with many wonders and miraculous signs. The words used are meant to remind us of the wonders and miraculous signs which were done by Jesus; a reminder that filled with the Holy Spirit the apostles continued the healing, forgiving and transforming ministry of Jesus. The Church expected great things of God, and the Church attempted great things for God; and we must note that the sense of awe was not directed at the apostles. The Church was not gushing in its praise towards those first disciples of Jesus. The word “awe” has often in the past been translated as “fear” (King James & Revised Standard Versions). “Fear came upon every soul” (2:43 RSV); but its not fear as we usually think of it. It’s a meaning of fear which we rarely use in the English language nowadays. This is holy ‘fear’; reverence for God.
So the awe was not a reverence for the apostles. It was an awesome holy fear; reverence for God. Christians do well to imitate that awe and fear today. It stops us from being amazed by charismatic leaders or clever speakers and it causes us to worship God and to expect great things of God.
It was a learning Church and an expectant Church and also an active Church. They were not sitting around waiting for heaven! In the following years some heresies, wrong teachings popped up (like those nasty pop-ups that try to attract my attention when I’m on the internet) and some groups of Christians stopped working. They stopped doing anything; and when Churches stop doing anything, for whatever reason, the Church ceases to be the Church. Not so with those first Christians and I hope and pray not so with us. Even in the last days of our lives we can be active in prayer and in encouraging others. We don’t retire from being a Christian!
The first Christians became a learning Church, an expectant Church; an active Church. Their faith in Jesus was alive; and genuine, and demonstrated by acts of kindness – wonders and miraculous signs. It’s said that a former Archbishop of Canterbury was once asked, “How many people are there working in the Church of England?” The Archbishop replied, “About half.” The ‘Acts’ Church was an active Church!
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need (2:44-45).
It was a generous Church. St Paul in his second letter to the Corinthian Church would later write that God loves a cheerful giver: “Every man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion” (2 Corinthians 9:7). It was a Church where needs were met. Resources were shared and cash was generated when it was needed.