Tapping Into Our Generative Roots
Last week I mentioned that my congregation is going to be focusing on The Acts of the Apostles in the coming months. I believe that the author of Acts wrote this story because he or she wanted churches in the latter part of the 1st century to reconnect with the “bold and unhindered” (Acts 28:30) mission of the first Apostles. (It is easy to imagine that it didn’t take very long for the earliest church communities to become timid and afraid as they met resistance from without and within.) As these churches listened to a reading of Acts in their Sunday worship, they would have been inspired to once again be fearless—like Peter, Paul, Timothy, Lydia, and the other bold and unhindered actors in this story.
We also read Acts to reconnect with our generative roots. Most of us know only too well that our own church communities are too often a pale reflection of what see in Acts. Therefore, as we ponder the story of the earliest Christians, can we allow this account of the early church to inspire our ongoing life and ministry?
For example: In Acts, the Holy Spirit gives birth to the church on Pentecost and is the generative force throughout the story. As we allow Acts to help us see what a Spirit filled church looks like, we will soon discover that our own assumptions about what it means to be spiritual is a far cry from what it meant in the early church. In the church today, being spiritual is often narrowly defined as personal practices that bring inner peace. Although Acts advocates spiritual disciplines like prayer and worship, the self-fulfillment nature of much contemporary spirituality is foreign to Acts. What we find in Acts is a community whose spirituality isn’t about self-fulfillment, but about the transformation of the very concrete stuff of communal life.
Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that very early on in Acts we see that money and possessions are front and center in the life of the church. According to Acts, a church animated by the Spirit is a church where the lifestyle of the community is transformed. Shortly after the first converts are baptized, we are told that “all who believed were together and had all thing in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (2:44-45). Just before this description of the church’s communal life, we are also told that these early converts “devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Study, prayer, worship, and undoubtedly other spiritual practices, were part of the early church’s life; but Acts is clear that the Spirit encountered in these practices didn’t primarily give birth to inner contentment, but a whole new community.
In light of the fact that Acts tells a story about the Spirit giving birth to a community with a transformed set of relationships, it should probably be no surprise that at last Tuesday’s Bible study on Acts we spent much of our time talking about wealth and economics. As we read Acts in the days ahead, may we allow the Spirit to transform our understanding of what it means to be the church today. And as we discover what God is calling us to be, may we be bold and unhindered in living that out.