Enlivened by his Spirit, Jesus’ new community launched on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). On that day, Jesus’ disciples preached to the descendants of Israel, Jewish pilgrims from many lands who gathered in the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. What started as a Christian community of 120 men and women, led by Jesus’, was bolstered by 3000 more on that momentous day (Acts 2:41). We call this community the church, and we will see how it creates the new culture of the Kingdom of God.
In the account of the beginning of the church (Acts 2-6), we read the earliest references of the first Christians applying Jesus’ teaching in their community. In Acts 2:42-47, the church quickly became a new culture within an old one, precisely because they were in community with one another. In this passage the writer of Acts describes for us in rich detail what this new culture included. In Acts 2:42-47, we read:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
What we see in this passage is the very beginning of a brand-new culture within an already existing culture. What is this brand-new culture? First, the earliest Christians based their new culture on a theology of togetherness, devoted to the teaching of the apostles, which was based on the teaching of Jesus, as we learned in the previous post. Just as Jesus was so compelling, drawing crowds of thousands to follow him, the new community of the church would do likewise because their lives were filled with his life of love.
Second, the earliest Christians created a new culture of relationship based on Jesus’ teaching. They called it a fellowship, and it involved being together regularly, meeting daily in temple’s courts, and meeting in homes, sharing meals and worshiping together. Here we see the relational aspect required for Christian communities to create culture. They were committed to one another, communicating with one another about how to live the way of Jesus. Creating the new culture could not be accomplished in a solitary way.
Fellowship also affected their weekly calendar. We are accustomed to a work week that begins on Monday, and for many, that work week finishes on Friday or Saturday, leaving Sunday as a day off. Thus worship gatherings most often happen on Sunday. But in the ancient culture of the new community called the church, Sunday was the first day of the week, and thus the first day of work. Because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, the earliest Christians commemorated that crucial event weekly by gathering for worship and fellowship on Sundays. This would require many of them to work during the day Sunday, and then gather in the evening in their house churches. Fellowship, then, was vital to the creation of the new culture, even when they didn’t have a day off from work to make gathering convenient.
Third, the earliest Christians created a new cultural approach to economy, one that undergirds human flourishing, and is consistent with the teaching of Jesus. The historian of Acts tells us that the church believed and lived as though they had everything in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and they used the proceeds to give to anyone as they had need. Previously Jesus taught the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18ff) to sell everything he had and give it to the poor, and now the disciples took Jesus’ teaching to heart. They did not see possessions as owned by the individual, but owned together, for whoever had need.
As the narrative continues in Acts 4:32-37 the writer of Acts gives us additional stories of Christians selling possessions, thus enabling them to support people in need. Also in Acts 6:1-6, we read that the church had a food distribution ministry for widows, who were extremely vulnerable in that culture. This is the church at work creating culture to make sure the vulnerable are cared for. When there is an ethnic breakdown in the food distribution system, the church addresses the injustice by creating a leadership structure to make sure needs continue to be met equitably. The Christian community created a new culture focused on loving sacrifice together to make human flourishing possible for everyone.
Finally, in Acts 2:42-47, the earliest Christians created a new culture of communal worship, gathering regularly in homes around tables for discussion about the apostles’ teaching, for celebrating communion, and for praising God.
These are the marks of the kind of culture Jesus commissioned his followers to create, a culture of togetherness that would lead to flourishing.
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash
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