This is That
Something significant happened at my Acts of the Apostles Bible Study last Tuesday. After we had spent an hour reflecting on a passage from Acts, we realized that this group of 21st century disciples was doing exactly what the primitive church had done according to Acts: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (2:42). In the words of my teacher, the late James McClendon, professor of theology, Church Divinity School of the Pacific, we experienced “this is that.” That is, we realized that what the primitive church was doing is what we were doing, and what we were doing is what the primitive church was doing.
The more I reflect on Acts the more I believe that it was written to remind the first post-apostolic generation of disciples that they were called to be a continuation of that original apostolic community. Furthermore, Acts goes to great lengths to remind the post-apostolic generation that the first Apostles were a continuation of Christ’s presence in the world and that the same Spirit that animated the first apostles also dwells in subsequent generations of believers. Paul wants the church in Corinth to know the same thing when he writes “You are the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12: 27).
Do we believe that we are a continuation of Christ’s presence in the world, and what difference would it make? If we really believed that we were called to be continuation of the Spirit filled primitive church here and now, as we read Acts we would be asking, “Is this that?” Sometimes we would realize that our experience is far from that of the early church. For example, when we read that All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need (2: 44-45), we would have to confess that our communal life falls short of this vision. Making a financial pledge to the church’s Annual Giving Appeal and making a few donations of food to the local food pantry—important as these are—is a far cry from the radical economic change that took place in the first believers. These early believers took care of one another in an extraordinary way. But I think that we would also find that our experience is very much that of the early church. In Acts 3: 1-10, Peter and John encounter a man lame from birth on their way into the temple and the power of God working through Peter raises him up to a whole new life. Haven’t we seen such resurrection power work through the church in our own day? In my congregation alone, there are a number of people who were disabled by misfortune and then the healing power of Christ’s love through the Church raised them up to a whole new chapter of life.
Acts wants us to know that the primitive church embodies Christ’s life. As we follow the story, we will see a group of very ordinary human beings like us do what Jesus did: Love neighbors—no exceptions; liberate people from what enslaves them; and invite them into an all-inclusive community that models what God intends for the world. And if the primitive church embodied that life, we can too. This can be that!