This Sunday the church will celebrate Pentecost — an old festival celebrated in Judaism but repurposed by wind, fire, and, at the end of the day, water. It is powerfully and dramatically described by Luke. Disciples who a few chapters earlier (counting Luke’s gospel) were fleeing, and even at the beginning of Acts 2 were still cowering, move (are moved) from fear to focus, from feeble to forthright.
One trap that we fall into when reading any portion of Acts, but especially the Pentecost account, is to switch into the “wouldn’t it be great” mode of preaching. Wouldn’t it be great if we had the “fire” of the apostles once again in our church. Wouldn’t it be great if three thousand were baptized in one day. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching again (especially the teaching as I read it). Wouldn’t it be great if we had all things in common — well, we don’t go that far, we Americans don’t go in for that semi-communist selling-my-stuff-and-giving-it-to-others idea. Still, there is a good deal more in there that would be great if it were to happen again. And so we preach a “wouldn’t it be great” sermon, even as we, and our people, know that that day will never be repeated again. And next Sunday we go on to more important things than announcing the Good News in city squares — things like the intricacies of the doctrine of the Trinity. As if that had nothing to do with the Good News.
But what if Acts 2 was not really about stuff we should try to copy? What if this Word was not given as a mere model for us to try — and fail — to emulate? What if Luke is writing down Pentecost to show us who we are (have been made) in Christ?
The central theme of Acts 2 is the Spirit gathering his people, his church, into the one body. Say that again: One Body. His Body. The theme that crops up again and again in Acts and in particular Acts 2 is the unity of this one body. As the prophets had longed dreamed, all nations would be gathered to Jerusalem to worship at the one holy mountain (Is 66;20; Jer 3:17). Even old Simeon expects the Gentiles to see the light (Luke 2:31-32). And lo and behold, at Pentecost the nations show up! From Parthians to Arabs(!) and every unpronounceable name in between, the nations hear one message, respond with one voice in confessing One Lord, are baptized with one baptism into One Name, and the result is one church.
And what did this One Church “continue in”? Unity. Luke 2:42-47 is not a new section, as if there is a huge gap between 2:41 and 2:42. The list of activities is a direct and theologically necessary consequence of being baptized into one Body.
One apostolic teaching
One κοινωνία (we need some work on this word)
But it doesn’t stop there. They were “all at the same place” (tight squeeze, apparently) and had all things commonly (κοινᾴ, sort of like κοινωνία).They sold their stuff and gave to those who needed it (because in this one body, when one part suffers, every part suffers). They were devoting themselves (same word as 2:32, incidentally) to the Temple “with one accord,” and then having dinner (parties? Sure sounds like it) at each others homes “with gladness and singleness of heart” (again, don’t trust your NIV or ESV in 2:46; there is nothing “sincere” about them). They praised (worshipped) the one God who had united them. And let’s try 2:47 again: “The Lord added those who were being saved, each day, at that place.” They weren’t independent believers floating around. They were united in every way possible.
One. Holy. Catholic. Apostolic. It is all there, in Acts 2. Actually, the sequence in Acts goes like this: Apostolic. Catholic. Holy. One. The apostolic message of the Good News goes to all the world, the Spirit through that word making all holy and gathering them into One People. One. Church.
I’ve been reading Bo Giertz’ 1939 (but 2010 translation) Christ’s Church. A lot of good stuff from this Swedish Bishop. I’ll try to get some thoughts up from this book at some point. But Giertz has a great chapter on on Una Sancta that puts to shame the weak and watered-down way we tend to talk about–and act like–Church. For now, a couple of quotes:
The split within contemporary Christendom seems therefore all the more severe. It is nothing less than a sin, and a sin of the most fateful kind, a breach of the very own body of Christ. If the apostles were among us today, they would be shocked to see this split manifested in a typical Swedish town. They would accuse us of having torn the body of Christ asunder. [pp. 39-40]
Once the biblical vision has taken hold of us, the full reunification of the Christianity must stand forth for us as a demand from God and as a Christian duty. As long as we are divided, the body of Christ is bleeding, and we do not know when it will bleed to death. We must ask God to forgive our egoism on [the] part of our own “church.” We must pray that at least we should not be guilty of causing more division, so that the body of Christ would not be more broken than it already is. We must also pray God to overcome our weak faith and make us obedient toward any possibility for promoting the unity of the church. [p. 40]
If these words do not cut you to the heart, then you have made up for yourselves a different church than the one gathered by the Spirit through the preached Good News. In this day, when weekly (“daily,” even ) my in-boxes gets stuffed with notices about how this guy or group needs to be purged, how have we reached a point where we so flippantly dismiss one another, and seek to divide even as the Spirit is trying to gather together?
Andrew Grams June 11, 2011
Amen. I really appreciate this site, and you, Prof. Kloha for making sure that things get posted here.
“But what if Acts 2 was not really about stuff we should try to copy? What if this Word was not given as a mere model for us to try — and fail — to emulate? What if Luke is writing down Pentecost to show us who we are (have been made) in Christ?”
These questions identify one of the key issues facing the church today — we are so busy trying to “do” church, reinvent it so that we can “get people saved” that we forget to BE who we “ARE” and who we have been created to be in Christ. In fact, in many cases I do not think that local churches know who we are or are supposed to be. We fall too easily into the trap of measuring success on the basis of objective standards and corporate metrics and are led into a spiritual blindness that cannot see who we are and what we are to be not what example to follow, model to implement or what we are to do. The doing comes from being creatures of the Creator, sons and daughters of the King, unite in the ONE body of Christ.
Damian Snyder June 12, 2011
Some very good points. Sometimes I fear that I may forget the thoroughly NT concept of the Unity that I enjoy with all other Christians because of the fact that we are all, by definition, members of Christ thanks to our baptism and faith.
Of course, I don’t believe that I alone suffer from this ailment. I believe that it is endemic to our Synod and perhaps Christendom in toto.
I am often struck by the free recitation of the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi when we discuss matters of worship or church polity. Often we are told that a specific action must necessarily have a specific, universal meaning. From this foundation we then build a house of assertions that lead to a specific acceptable way off doing things.
To be sure, when God has addressed questions and given His answers, we must simply say, “speak, for your servant listens.”. But at other times, when the voice of God is not so clear, perhaps we would all do well to ponder what semiotic questions are in play in any given situation and then proceed to make our judgments with a heavy dose of the eighth commandment in mind.
Jeff Kloha June 13, 2011
I think you’re right, Damian, that we assume that my own little corner of the kingdom is “church” but have a hard time figuring out how anyone else is part of it. How are we “church” with Rome, Constantinople, Geneva, and Canterbury? How are we “church” with the people down the road? How are we “church” even with others in Lutheranism, or the LCMS? We usually describe this as “invisible,” but there’s nothing in Acts, the rest of the NT, or Giertz that talks that way. What being “one” looks like I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure Giertz is right about the problem. We like to divide (and we should call that what it is, as Giertz does). it is more difficult to unite.