If you’ve heard my summary description of Cheers, you may know that we use Acts 2:42-47 as a kind of summary description of what a church is supposed to DO.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking we therefore have a shallow theology of the church.
1) We use Acts 2:42-47 to describe what the church DOES, not the totality of what church IS.
So for example, in John, church is the Branches of the divine Vine. In Paul, we’re the Body of Christ, an Army in a spiritual battle, in Luke a Flock who know the Shepherd’s voice. Luke also tells us about the places where churches start – homes that functioned as larger meeting places where people shared life. In Mark we’re a political force, and in Matthew we’re a community development movement. Indeed in the Old Covenant ecclesia is a gathering of the the people of God, spiritual and political. In fact across the whole Bible we get details and nuances about who and what we are – that’s what the Bible is for!
So of course we know that Acts 2 can’t give us the whole picture. But, with a bit of defining, Acts 2 happens to summarise what the church DOES – its Core Practices.
This passage, then, is not about Core beliefs, not about who we are, nor our state of being (eg Branches in the Vine, Flock, Family, etc.) It’s about our core tasks, practices, what we’re meant to actually DO. And other passages about our tasks can be summarised under the headings of the practices mentioned here. Which brings us to…
2) Acts 2:42-47 as a summary passage to encapsulate the practices mentioned elsewhere.
For example, Acts 2 says we “pray,” so this can encompass songs, contemplation, psalms, lament, celebration, symbols, and so on. Likewise with all the headings I derive from Acts 2.
As we read across the whole Bible, certain themes are repeated. Read it enough times and a pattern begins to emerge – all the different images tie in with these same few practices. For example, we’re meant to be God-centered noticing and participating with God’s action in the world. These practices can be clumped into a few general categories.
And Acts 2:42-47 neatly refers to each of these categories. So if you want to see what a church DOES in general categories, Acts 2 serves as a good summary. Then each category of practices can be unpacked at length, using other passages across the Scriptures.
Plus you can use Church tradition and local Culture to flesh out each practice in ways that have depth and make sense to us.
3) Deconstruct to Reconstruct locally.
Missionaries do this boiling down, this deconstructing into basic categories. Only then, once they’ve done it, can they begin to ask, “so what might this Core Practice look like in this cultural setting.”
For example, one category is that we “pray.” So that could involve singing, symbols, feasting, fasting, contemplating, circling, silence, verbalising, etc. So which ways of praying fit with this culture? And which will perhaps be valuable extensions later?
All kinds of missionaries and churches have done this basic deconstruction and come up with the same three general categories: Worship, Discipleship, Mission. Or, worded differently, God-ward, Inward, Outward. Or Loving God, loving each other, and loving the world. The words may differ, but the three general directions are the same.
Here’s our deconstructed categories of Core Practices, lifted from Acts 2:42-47 (you can see the same three general categories):
- Seeing – noticing God’s action in the world, “signs and wonders.”
- Praying – our response to God’s action, “praise prayer, breaking bread,” baptism included here.
- Learning – from Scripture, “devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching.”
- Friendship – modern way of saying “fellowship,” incorporates the spiritual unity of the Spirit resonating among us, AND also the movement of love outside the gathering. Likewise, “breaking bread in each others homes,” reminds us of Luke 10 practices.
- Serving – give your gift. This is about not only the “common purse” but “sharing as each had need,” including outwards to orphans and widows. We incude here passages about our leavening effect in the world, our saltiness, and the community-development orientation of ecclesia.
- Explaining – verbal explanation must have been a part, because “the Lord added to their number daily.” And going and explaining is what Acts is all about, indeed we see this same sentness across Scripture.
In this way, we use Acts 2:42-47 to summarize the Core Practices of Cheers. But it’s by no means the only passage we have. It’s a summary of all.