At the end of the day, the church needs no defense. We are not a self-justifying institution like a bowling alley, a shopping center, or a restaurant. Commercial institutions must justify themselves with sales. If they do not sell stuff (goods or services) then they have no reason to exist. But the church exists because Jesus is Lord. Our existence is precipitated by past events and not based on some future goods provided or services rendered.
The church is the gathering of those who have experienced the love of Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, and have come to love Him because they now trust Him as their mediator. In this sense, the church exists wherever followers of Jesus gather together.
And he told us to gather together.
I preface this blog in this way, because it may be tempting for some to misunderstand and think that the five things below are justification for the church. As if the church exists solely to do these things. But the church exists because people love Jesus and follow Him. He has a purpose in gathering us, but what we do doesn’t define us. Who we follow defines us. With that caveat, let me suggest that we consider these five fundamental callings on every church that gathers in the name of Christ.
Acts 2:42 has come to my attention twice in the past 24 hours and is in part the reason I am writing this blog. In a class on ecclesiology this passage was read, and then I encountered it this morning in my personal morning study as I am working my way through the Bible this year.
There are four fundamental things that the first church devoted their attention to found in this one verse. And I will add a fifth.
1. The Apostles’ Teaching
The early church didn’t have Amazon Prime so they couldn’t order a copy of the Bible to have on the back of every pew. But they already were committed to reading and studying the teachings of the apostles from that very early age. I suggest that a church ought to have a fundamental commitment to the teaching found in the Bible. The word devoted in this passage in Acts is strong. They had a strong commitment to the sound and confirmed teachings of the apostles. Recently, as we are going through the end of the book of Matthew, Jesus has warned his followers three times in chapter 24 about false teachers. I believe that God calls his people to a robust ministry of the mind. We are those who study to know AND study to live together well.
2. The Fellowship
The early church was devoted to each other. They were committed to the gathered community of Christ followers. With the watering down of the word “church” to mean “a building” or “a Sunday morning program” it becomes increasingly possible to think we are doing church without any commitment to the fellowship. “Attending church” should not be a real thing. ‘Going to church” should be a misnomer. These common phrases (and I understand why they exist in the English language) point away from the devotion to the fellowship and more toward a program. We gather on Sunday morning with our family. We gather together making up part of the fellowship. And we do life together then with people who are not all like us. In the fellowship, we practice love for one another. We bear with one another, we pray for one another, we teach one another, we rebuke one another, we dwell together in unity with one another.
3. The Breaking of Bread
Theologians and Pastors often quickly skip over the common to the spiritual. So this is seen primarily in terms of taking the Lord’s Supper or Communion together. And although I think that Luke, who wrote Acts did have communion in his mind, I think he also had in mind the common love feasts where they would eat together in their gatherings. Who doesn’t love a good potluck? The value of eating together can be understating in many churches today. A lot of laughter, a lot of connection, and a lot of relational goodwill happens around a table.
But I think the theologians also get the double meaning right here. Because Christ commanded his church to break bread to remember his body broken for them, and to take the cup of wine to remember his blood shed for them. And whenever they did this, they were proclaiming his death for their sins. We take communion every week at ReCAST, in part to be sure that this is kept central in our minds. The center of our unity, is that we have all found hope and peace and forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
And I look forward to when we can get back to having potlucks and picnics and even some cookouts at this church as the cloud of COVID lifts.
When people think of the church do they think of prayer? Even as I answer this question for myself I am brought up short. I am not confident that prayer is the first thought people would have when they think of ReCAST Church. I think we have a ways to go on improving our focus on prayer. Is it shocking to you that this was one of the fundamental hallmarks of the early church? They were known as a people dedicated to prayer to God. I know that we as a church have a ways to grow on this one, and I have a hunch that many churches in America should take this on from the book of Acts.
This one doesn’t occur as a direct statement in Acts 2. But Acts 2 does end with the statement that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” They were a contagious people (pardon the metaphor in a pandemic). But there is no question that the early church was out in public sharing the salvation available to all through Jesus Christ. They wanted more to be saved and to meet Jesus Christ. I don’t think it is a stretch to add this to the fundamentals of the early church.
As we look at the landscape of the church things seem to get complicated. There are concerns for programming, there are decorating committees, A/V issues, sound equipment to maintain, volunteer spots to fill, insurance issues, utility bills to pay, announcements and communication questions, and hundreds of opinions about each concern.
But as a pastor, it is refreshing to come back to the fundamentals. Are we teaching the Word? Check. Are we devoted to one another? Check. Are we breaking bread together? Check (ish). Are we a people of prayer? Probably room for improvement here! Are we a people eager to proclaim the truth of salvation in Christ? Room for improvement here as well.
And as I consider these fundamentals, I begin to see a forward calling that has little to do with secondary or even tertiary programming concerns. There is a simplicity to what we need in our walk together. We are the ones who added the smoke machines and laser light shows. But what do we really need, church? Sound teaching, community, common time together (centered on Christ), prayer, and evangelism. All the rest is extra. And if the extra gets in the way of the fundamentals, we might do well to ask, “what do we need to do to get back to the fundamentals?”