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Christianity Is a Social Religion
Reflecting on the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: Two Days after Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 17:1-7, 15
Old Testament: Genesis 32:3-21
Epistle: Acts 2:37-47
Psalter: Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 26:1-15
Epistle: Acts 2:37-47
To fulfill the ancient promise of salvation, O God, you made a covenant with our ancestors and pledged them descendants more numerous than the stars. Grant that all people may share in the blessings of your covenant, accomplished through the death and resurrection of your Son and sealed by the gift of your Spirit. Amen (Revised Common Lectionary).
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 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. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:37-47).
In Acts 2:42, we read that the first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” John Wesley, the founder of Methodism said that Christianity is essentially “a social religion. To turn it into a solitary thing is to destroy it.” In the modern West rampant individualism has infested the church in a way that is not healthy. Jesus and the church go together. There are no Lone Rangers in the Christian faith.
Luke, the author of Acts highlights four characteristics of the early Christian community.
First, they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. Instruction in the faith was absolutely necessary and the authoritative witnesses in the first decades were the apostles. While it is true that knowing about Jesus is not the same thing as knowing Jesus, we must also ask how can one actually know Jesus without knowing about him. Instruction in the faith is necessary.
Second, they gathered together in fellowship. The early Christians spent time together. In calling twelve disciples, Jesus intended to found a community of followers. The church is indeed the body of Christ. As body parts by themselves cannot function, so the individual believer without the body of fellow believers cannot be what Christ intends for his people to be.
Third, they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. This not only meant getting together and eating meals, but it also included the practice of the Lord’s Supper. For the first fifteen centuries of the church, Holy Communion was a weekly practice. I, for one would like to see the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper in all congregations.
Fourth, they devoted themselves to prayers. This does not refer to individual prayer alone, but to corporate prayers. The first century Jewish Christians likely continued the Jewish practice of praying three times a day. They also gathered together to pray for one another. Prayer was an indispensable part of fellowship and worship. One of my favorite quotes on prayer is from the writer, Enda McDonough who said “prayer is the way we got God loose in the world.” Can there be little doubt that God was let loose in the Roman empire by the early church?
These four characteristics of church worship and fellowship should not be viewed as unique to the first century, but rather as indispensable for the body of believers down through the centuries to today.
PRAYER: Hear our prayers, God of power, and through the ministry of your Son free us from the grip of the tomb, that we may desire you as the fullness of life and proclaim your saving deeds to all the world. Amen (Revised Common Lectionary).
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