Making the Church Great Again
More often than not when people long for the earliest church they have in mind an ideal that never existed. Almost from the beginning, it was tested with schisms, false teaching, infighting, jealousy, greed and celebrities with fans. I say almost because there actually was a short time – a matter of days – when things went smoothly. It’s likely those few days that people have in their minds when saying they want to restore the church to its original purity.
It was the same with the disciples as Jesus was leaving them after forty days. What was their expectant question? “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” It would have been natural to see the connection between his resurrection and the restoration of David’s kingdom. After all, Pentecost was the same day the people traditionally observed not only the giving of the Law to Moses but the anniversary of the death of David. It was the day they longed most for the glory and good times of the past.
They still had no idea what Jesus had in mind. For them, like us, we live in hope of restoring kingdoms – of making things the way they used to be. We want to live again in a world no longer there and likely never had been. It’s not just restoring good times, is it? It is restoring a kingdom when we were in charge and the majority. No one wants kingdoms restored but those who reigned in the old kingdom. No one wanted the exile of Babylon or the bondage of Egypt restored. They wanted the return of the days of heroes and victories. They wanted what they thought had been promised -making the kingdom great again. I suspect they might not have stayed had they known what life was going to be like for them in the future. It certainly was not a restored kingdom. It was something else entirely.
But they did wait for the ten days between his leaving and Pentecost. What was the church like in the interim? In some ways, in those brief ten days, it was the ideal church. It was a church that might well be the envy of any church today.
- It was a praying church. All of them prayed. There was no Wednesday night prayer meeting. There were no prayer warriors. The whole meeting was prayer and the prayer room was the only room. They were all together all the time and in prayer.
- The church was of one mind. They were first-rate examples of Paul’s command to the Corinthians, “Be of one mind.” They were held together by a single purpose and a fellowship that overcame their differences. Rich and poor, skeptics and believers, men and women, dreamers and dogmatics, were all in one accord. They cared about and valued the same things.
- The church gathered together frequently. Their attendance was not just out of loyalty or responsibility but a necessity. Many of them had no other community. They had left everything. Some, like the disciples, had left their livings completely and were supported by the church.
- The church had the benefit of the purest form of theological training, sound doctrine, and Biblical interpretation. There were no heresies or denominations. They could still remember all the words of Jesus as he spoke them.
- The church was well-organized. They had an active personnel committee which immediately filled a vacancy. They had members like Barnabas who made sure they had adequate financial support. They had no liabilities, nothing tied up in real estate or debt retirement. Management and member turnover were low.
But, like the rich young ruler, they were lacking one thing. For ten days while the early church functioned almost perfectly as an organization they were missing the one thing necessary to fulfill their purpose: the power to be witnesses. The power to be the church. The power to do what Christ commissioned. All the five characteristics I listed are good but with enough effort, we can do them on our own – but only God can make us witnesses.
The defining work of the church is not prayer, growth, unity, sound doctrine, preaching, or being organized. The defining work of the church is not spotless lives or sacrificial service. It is not changing the culture. These things are good but not adequate. The work of the church – to be witnesses (martyrs in Greek) – only gets done through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, we can do all the other except the thing to which we are called – to be his witnesses.
The perfect church lasted only ten days. But as flawed as it is now I would not want to go back to perfection with no power. It is not a return or restoration we need. It is the power to be witnesses for the Resurrection.