Summary: The living church community is a learning church - a sharing church - a worshipping church and a witnessing church
The New Society
Acts 2: 42-47
Margaret Thatcher is famously credited with having said ’there is no such thing as society’. And even though we remember the phrase, I think most of us have long forgotten the context in which it was said. No doubt it has been often taken out of context and misquoted. Nevertheless, I think there is an important truth here, which is that society today is becoming more fragmented, people are becoming more isolated, and communities are becoming more fragile. And the general consensus is that this is not a good thing
And although this isolation, fragility and fragmentation is true on a national and social level, it can often be a problem for the church. But I do not believe that this is God’s vision for his people. And to get an understanding of what God’s vision for his church may be, we have a very good starting point in our reading this morning taken from Acts 2. (page 1095 NIV).
Now as we saw last week, at Pentecost, the early church became the spirit filled body of Christ. They were radically and deeply stirred by the Holy Spirit, and this made a significant and outstanding difference to them. It changed them, they became the living church.
And our reading this morning I think gives us four marks of that new Christian community which can help us to understand God’s vision for his people, God’s vision for his new community, his new society.
The church had a teaching relationship with the Apostles
First of all, we see that the Christian community had a relationship, a teaching relationship with the Apostles. That may be a bit surprising. But it is important to understand that a living church is a learning church. The first thing that we read here is that the fellowship of the believers ‘devoted themselves to the apostles teaching’. You might say that the Holy Spirit opened a school in Jerusalem, with three thousand pupils. It is interesting to note that this group of believers, newly filled with the Spirit, were not enjoying some kind of mystical experience which led them to neglect their intellect, or despise theology. Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as the ‘ Spirit of truth’, and here we see that these people, truly filled with the Holy Spirit, were eager to learn. They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. They took it seriously and got stuck in to learn.
And I believe that this is an important thing for us to understand. There are people who wonder why we have sermons in church. There are people who wonder why we need to have study groups, or why the Rector is keen to run the courses he does, such as God’s Big Picture last autumn. But the fact is that the living church is a learning church. It is a church which is devoted to the apostles teaching. It is a church in which there is a relationship of teaching, a community of teaching, and environment of learning. And it has been my experience that when a Christian community learns together, it really does become a community, in which strong and lasting relationships are formed. It becomes a new society. And that is part of God’s vision for his people.
The church had a sharing relationship with each other
Secondly, we see that the Christian community in Jerusalem and a sharing relationship with each other. As well as devoting themselves to the apostles teaching, they also ‘devoted themselves … to the fellowship’ v42. We also read that ‘all the believers were together and had everything in common.’ V44. This word fellowship is the well-known Greek word koinonia, which really expresses the commonality of our Christian life and all that we share as Christian believers.
There are things that we share in together, especially the grace of God. Many things separate us - age, gender, background, wealth, but we are united in having the same heavenly Father, the same saviour and Lord, and the same indwelling Holy Spirit. It is what we share in together in God and his grace that makes us united, makes us one.
There are also things that we share out together. Koinonia is the word that St Paul used when he was organising a collection among the Greek churches to provide support for other poorer churches. The adjective derived from koinonia means generous.
So how did this work out? In v45 we read that they sold their possessions and goods and gave to anyone as he had need. This is a little bit disturbing, and it would be very easy to jump over it. There is a line of thought which suggests that we should all be in some kind of monastic community without any possessions of our own. But that isn’t borne out by the Bible. In v46 we read that ‘they broke bread in their homes’. So clearly they had not sold their houses. And in Acts 5 we see that the sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not that they kept back part of their property, but they kept back part of their property while pretending to give it all. So the issue here is not that we need to give up everything, but that we need to make clear decision before God about how we use our possessions.