Summary: First in a series of 5 sermons on the Core Characteristics of the Church basoed on Acts 2:42-47. In this sermon we explore what it means to be a devoted community.
The Church as a Devoted Community
(Second in the series: The Core Characteristics of the Church)
In Matthew 13 Jesus tells a series of stories (actually, parables) about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. One of them is called the Parable of the Mustard Seed and it goes like this:
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.
Most scholars agree that this parable is about how the church would begin small, with only a few people and with little or no organization, no property, etc, but would grow to be quite large. It would become far-reaching in its scope and complex in its organization.
Looking back over 2000 years of Christian history, we can easily see that this is true.
Some scholars go on to say that birds in this parable represent bad things. (I’m not sure this is the correct interpretation, but it does serve to bring out a point.) They refer to the birds of the air in the earlier parable of the sower (given first in this series of seven parables) where the birds come and eat the seed before it has time to sprout. Jesus says that the birds represent the evil one.
The idea here would be that as the church grows into a large, established, organized institution, there would be the tendency for it to attract people who are insincere, or to adopt ideas that are short of truth, or to begin projects that do not represent its primary mission.
Again, as we look back over 2000 years of Christendom, we can see that this has been true.
Our Forbears—the eight men and women who bravely stepped into the Eder River in Germany 295 years ago and launched the movement that would eventually become the Church of the Brethren—would have understood this parable.
Those eight souls, led by Alexander Mack, were disillusioned with what the church in their time had become. The broke away, never wanting to begin another denomination—they were no doubt wise enough to realize that if they did start another denomination, it would eventually become much like the ones they were leaving.
Instead of founding some new organization, they simply wanted to be obedient to Jesus. They wanted, as much as possible, to rediscover the heart and soul the New Testament Church. They believed that what God placed in the midst of the first believers represented exactly what he desired for his church through out all ages.
For this reason, the Brethren Movement, and others like it, have been referred to as a restoration movement, rather than reformation movement. The great church leader Martin Luther (whom I greatly admire) set out to reform the existing church, thus we call the work that he launched, the Protestant Reformation.
Mack and his seven followers had no intention of reforming the existing church—they desired to restore primitive (that is in the sense of original) Christianity as God first intended it.
Of course they were idealistic.
Of course they made mistakes.
But that original intent—to rid ourselves of the cumbersome structures that hinder us and from the busyness that distracts us—and to return to the basics—this concern, lies at the heart of who we are.
It is this vision—of being a truly New Testament Church—that has kept me Brethren through the years.
Unfortunately, we have largely lost this vision. It is actually carried more authentically today by other groups in the Christian Church. That is one reason why I’m excited about our study of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. The cry of Cymballa’s heart resonates with mine and with the heart of authentic Brethren heritage—lets get back to doing the things God really cares about—the things he has designed his people to be and do. This, and only this, is what brings life in a dying world and vitalization to an institution.
Throughout our Lenten season, I want to address what I believe are some of the core characteristics of the church AS GOD DESIRED IT TO BE.
The best and most concise description of the first generation of Christian believers is given in Acts 2:42-47. In this short though poignant passage, are five key words that serve to describe this community. They are:
Added Daily (2:47)
You might say, but this was so long ago. Surely the world has changed, calling for new innovations.
Absolutely; yet the core of who we are—the spiritual DNA as it were—must remain the same or else we become something other than what we were intended to be.