Summary: The world today sees the church as powerless and irrelevant in our culture and the reason is due in great part because of our failure to live life differently than the world around us.
In the play, My Fair Lady, Eliza is being courted by Freddy, who writes to her daily of his love for her. Eliza’s response to his notes is to cry out in frustration:
Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!...
Don’t talk of stars
If you’re in love,
Don’t talk of love lasting through time.
Make me no undying vow
Show me now!
The world has leveled a similar complaint at the Church for ages. Pronouncements, edicts, overtures, creeds, confessions, statements of belief, rules, constitutions, meetings, discussions, dialogues, and the rest have done little to prove the world wrong. Words are important and as followers of Jesus we’ve said some great things but often we’ve lacked the action, which demonstrated the validity of what we’ve said.
Looking at the Church in Acts we don’t see that problem. Luke describes for us what the Church did not just what Peter said. Grouped together, under the banner of Jesus, these few thousand believers acted on what they believed and made a name for themselves. They distinguished themselves from the other Jewish groups by the way they behaved toward each other.
They were serious and focused on their purpose. Jesus was Messiah and that news had to get out. His instructions and commands were to be obeyed. Luke uses a word to indicate a single-minded fidelity to a certain course of action to describe their devotion to the teaching of the apostles. What was this teaching? The stories that Peter, James, John and others had lived out. Later Jesus’ words and stories are written down till today we have the canon of God’s Word—the Bible. John tells us in 1 John 1:1 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”
This same type of devotion was evident in the way they worshipped together. It was evident as they came to the Temple, as they prayed, and even as they shared what we call “the Lord’s Supper”.
Another distinguishing mark of these believers was their genuine love and like for each other. Luke tells us it they sold what they had and gave it to other sisters and brothers who were in need. Later we know that this distribution was a source of real division too. Acts 6 proves human sin still has a way of even entering into the community of faith. But their love was such that it didn’t stop at the temple it was taken into their homes as they gathered together.
God’s power is seen in the signs and wonders that the apostles performed (v 43) and this caused those outside the church to wonder at this group who had committed themselves to this teacher Jesus. The way these disciples acted toward each other caused others to desire to join them and the Church found themselves blessed by God.
If that is what we do, why we do it is found in our passage in 1 John. It is Christ, who has come to destroy the sin in our life that not only wins our respect but our love, adoration, gratitude, praise and worship. God’s love, lavished on us, invites us to accept Jesus and what he did for ourselves. It starts us on a road toward holiness—that is living according to God’s rules not our worlds.
The world today sees the church as powerless and irrelevant in our culture and the reason is due in great part because of our failure to live life differently than the world around us. Did you know that the rate of premarital sex is about the same for church attending youth as non-attenders as is the percentage of divorce? I believe we don’t see the signs and wonders we read about in the Bible because we’ve stopped acting like the church not because all the apostles have died off. We’ve lost the distinctiveness we read about here in Scripture and that has hamstrung us and left us using words instead of actions. West Wing illustration
The Great Ends of the Church as expressed in our denomination include “are the Shelter, Nurture, and Spiritual Fellowship of the Children of God" and what we’ve seen in Acts 2 is an example what this looks like. When the people of God are “set apart” or “made holy” they look and act different than the world around them.
When those early Presbyterians wrote these great ends they did not have in mind a “quiet sanctuary” a “safe harbor” or a “final resting place”. If so, they wouldn’t have lost their lives on the mission fields of China, Korea and India. They saw the need for us to discover our identity in Christ and they recognized the need for a secure place to for this to happen. Christ’s people needed to be molded into a family. They needed to be focused on a bigger purpose than getting together for an hour on Sunday mornings and a few potlucks a year. Growth, not status quo, is their purpose in these words. Growth based in Christ, the unique Lord of the universe.