This week at QBC we get stuck into the book of Acts so lately I’ve been reading it again and reflecting on it to get my head & heart in the right space to approach it.
I reckon its a grenade just waiting to explode the life of any church that reads it and I’m both genuinely excited and apprehensive about what it could bring.
Of course we could just teach thru it systematically and (re) learn all the same stuff we have done for the last umpteen years or we could lob that grenade in and see what new inspiration come from it… Perhaps ‘grenade’ is the wrong image as its one of destruction and read freshly Acts can be incredibly constructive, but perhaps some deconstruction is required first.
For example as I began reading Acts I found I was placing myself in the disciples shoes and asking ‘so what do we do now?’ Jesus dies, comes back, spends 40 days hanging with us, then ascends and we are left with the commission to ‘go and make disciples of all people groups, baptising and teaching them to obey eveything they had been commanded from Christ.’
‘So how shall we do that?…’ must have been a prime question.
And hopefully they would look back to the time spent with Jesus to see how he went about his mission and how they were involved with that. Hopefully they would immediately be asking questions of establishing the kingdom on earth. Hopefully they would be asking ‘so what really matters?’
What I can’t imagine them doing is immediately figuring out who was responsible for running the weekend gig. What I can’t see them doing is drawing up a roster for music and preaching… Forgive me if I sound cynical, but I am constantly disturbed that the priorities of the church in the 21st C seem so different from those of the first Christians. And I don’t want to stop being disturbed until I see us really grappling with the questions. I understand that we live at a different time in history and I don’t think our goal is to be a first century church. But in the process of reading the book of Acts it seems almost impossible not to read it thru the lens of our 21st C experience.
When we read the classic Acts descriptions of church being both from home to home and in the temple courts its easy to read that as ‘small groups’ and ‘Sunday worship’ because that is our frame of reference. But that wasn’t where they were starting. Jesus didn’t leave them with the church planting manual that explained how to move people from ‘community to core’, in 5 steps.
So when we look at the highly predictable format that the vast majority of 21stC churches take I can’t help but imagine that if Jesus lobbed in, he might say ‘really?… that’s what you thought I wanted you to focus on?…’ I am sure he would be glad that we hold some core DNA, but I think he’d be somewhat mystified that our core DNA had become our denominational / cultural preferences rather than the foundational elements of a church.
I sense that our familiarity with ecclesial processes and procedures of all kinds may have a tendency to stunt our ability to read this book afresh. We may struggle to ‘clear our heads’ and think afresh about what the mission of church is.
As I observe it in the western world the biggest priority for the church is to run the Sunday service and to do that as best we can. Can someone please find that priority for me in the book of Acts?…
Seriously, I’m not for dissing the importance of meeting together, but I can’t help but wonder if our enemy may have created a perfect distraction for us – a seemingly positive distraction – that consumes so much of our time, energy and resources that we find it hard to get on with the other things that matter to the establishment of the kingdom.
Anyway that’s probably incendiary enough to provoke some thinking and to give you a taste of what I see as I start to read this book. I see the danger of both rigid thinking – that reads Acts thru the lens of our own expeirience and lazy thinking that says its all too hard to re-imagine, but I hope to lead us in some creative thinking that will ask questions of ‘what if?’ and see where they lead.