Cross-training for Churches, Apr. 13
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. NIV
"Cross-training for Churches," Acts 2:42-47, April 13, 2008
Explosive, dramatic events occur throughout Acts, chapter two - tongues of fire, gusts of wind, astounding displays of language and discernment, Peter's dramatic testimony, and the conversion of thousands. These spectacular events almost leave us breathless: where there had been a handful of hesitant believers before Pentecost, there is suddenly a whole new community of enthusiastic, dedicated witnesses to the reality of Christ's resurrection.
Luke takes care to end his description of the miracles of Pentecost by detailing the greatest, yet quietest, miracle of all. Instead of blazing up then dying out, those individuals who experience the Pentecostal touch of the Holy Spirit are able to come together and quickly form a community of faith.
Verse 42 encapsulates everything that Luke wants to illustrate this infant church.Hedescribes four specific activities, that together, create this body of believers: teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers. In fact, it might be helpful to think of the early church as the first intentional attempt at spiritual "cross-training."
Cross-training is the concept that gets gymnasts lifting weights, football players taking ballet and skiers skating down highways. Professional coaches have long used the principles of cross-training - but it has only recently grown in popularity among casual athletes, largely because sneaker manufacturers discovered this untapped market for a new line of expensive footwear - "cross-trainers."
The early church was practicing spiritual cross-training from its inception. For the benefit of all, present and future generations alike, there was the commitment to teaching. For the benefit of each other, there were the constantly flexed arms of fellowship. For the benefit of bonding the body and spirit, there was the tradition of breaking bread together. For the benefit of strengthening separate souls within a communal family environment, there was prayer.
This vigorous workout did for the early church what arduous cross-training is supposed to do for athletes - get them off to a running start with explosive power. With energy and endurance these new Christians (built a reputation for the church as a community) so spiritually fit that today we still look at it with wistful amazement.
Are the marks of the earliest Christian communities still discernible in our church? Does there remain a commitment to a vital witnessing made possible through biblical teaching, koinonia fellowship, sacramental bread-breaking and sincere prayer? Is our congregation cross-training for effective Christian witness?
1. The first form of cross-training for the church was the commitment to teaching: Didache. While the uninitiated multitudes heard much preaching from the apostles, a slightly different message is presented to those who have already experienced and confessed the power of Christ's Spirit. Before the faithful community, the apostles engage in teaching (didache). While this teaching undoubtedly relies heavily on the continued proclamation of the gospel, it also gives something more.
The apostle's task is to take a community that had witnessed the power of Pentecost and help it understand what that experience demands of the church. The apostles seek to answer the question of where the church must go next. The apostles' teaching, and their listeners' devotion' allows faith to remain ablaze, but controlled, so that others may see it, approach it, be warmed, and hopefully ignited by it.
The second form of cross-training was the constantly flexed arms of fellowship, koinonia, which was for the benefit of each other. This is the church's ability to incarnate the command to "love one another." As Acts implies this kind of love is unique within the Christian community. It is "the love which the Father showed in sending the Son, the love which the Son showed in laying down his life" (Charles H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953],405).
2. Koinonia: Earlier in chapter 2, Luke took pains to establish just how diverse this group actually was (2:5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.) Yet they now find themselves able to form an enduring, cohesive community.
It is the ongoing acceptance and celebration of this koinonia fellowship that makes it possible for them to continue to experience "wonders and signs" (v.43) instead of dissolving into a bickering band of complainers and critics.
The unique nature of this fellowship is evident in verses 44-45. This fellowship binds the people together so tightly that they willingly give up their individual economies in order to support the whole group ("... sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all . they gave to anyone as he had need. .."). ((Not "mine" or "yours" but "ours." )) Indeed, this first example of faith and fellowship gives a special depth of meaning to the term koinonia that will challenge all later generations of Christian communities.
3. Martyria: One of the primary ways these new believers continue to practice community-mindedness is at table - breaking bread together. This is the third form of cross-training for the church.
Charles Van Engen, in his mission-oriented book, God's Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1991) cites a purpose for this third aspect of cross-training, which is foreign to our postmodern faith communities. Very few of us consider our membership in church to be costly in anyway, whether financially or psychologically.
Sure we give up sleeping late on Sunday morning. Sure we give up a certain percentage of our disposable income. But we rarely consider the possibility that our faith may some day demand our life. Yet martyri, breaking bread, is one of the church's distinctive marks.The term martyr has several biblical meanings - nearly all focusing on the act of witnessing (97).
Jesus himself provided a clear model of witnessing martyria through eating and drinking. Many of Jesus' most poignant messages and his sharpest denouncements came while he was at table with one group or another. Jesus not only broke bread with any and all types of people. He usually broke through the protective shells of his table companions at the same time. Meal times with Jesus meant soul food as well as body food.
Unless you are served by a really bad cook, you probably do not normally associate eating with others as a form of martyria. Yet it is as witnesses to Christ's pervasive love that the church breaks bread together.
Jesus was heavily criticized for the sorts of people he sat at table with - either they were too rich or too poor, too sanctimonious or too sinful. But Jesus' example perfectly reflected the kind of community that now found itself gathered together after Pentecost for everyday sustenance, solace and support.
Drawn from diverse lands, with different foods and formats, different dining traditions and customs, meal times could have been one of the most difficult, fracturing events in this new community's life. Instead, we find in verse 46 that they celebrate their meals "with glad and generous hearts." Koinonia fosters martyria.
Being at table with the "other" and "outsider" demonstrates to the world how all humans share the essentials of body and spirit. Both must be fed and nurtured in order to remain healthy.
4. Perhaps the most basic exercise of faith that helped to keep the early church fit for its witnessing mission was its communal commitment to prayer, which is the fourth form of cross-training. In prayer the church could confess the kerygma vital to its identity, "Jesus is Lord."
Van Engen calls this kergymatic confession one of the earliest rallying points of the church as well as its defining creed. The prayers of the post-Pentecost church declared Jesus to be Lord of all people, of all the earth. Prayer, therefore, was not some spiritual retreat from the world, but the church's way of bringing together "confession and commission" (94), or witness.
All those from the Jewish tradition already have been steeped in a daily ritual of devotions. Verse 46 reveals that these new Christians still attend the temple for daily study and prayer. Thus, while so much about their lives and faith is new, these early Christians still continue to abide by some longstanding, traditional modes of reaching for transcendence. Kerygma is both the giving and the receiving of the Word.
It is also interesting to note that there is apparently a significant amount of tolerance for new Christians within the entire Jewish community. Not only do Christians still go to the temple, the temple authorities still let them in to pray and study. The text specifies they spent "much time" in the temple, seems to suggest they were spending more time than would normally be observed fulfilling the traditional Jewish schedule of daily devotions.
"And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved" (v.47) Cross-training for churches includes results in "evangelism." An important by-product, to be sure, but not the primary focus of the early Christians’ concern. They did not “devote” themselves to evangelism (v. 42), but to teaching and fellowship, to worship and to acts of caring. And the growth of the church was generated out of these activities by the Spirit of God (v. 47). There are undoubtedly lessons in this matter for the church to ponder in this and every age.
Luke takes great care to conclude the tremendous Pentecost events with these community-oriented, body-building characteristics. No one is singled out as "leader" in this community - not even Peter. The only "individual" given special attention and held up for honor is the "person" of the Holy Spirit.
When the church's focus is on Christ, the head of the body, and when it cross-trains to keep the body of Christ spiritually fit, the church's witness to the world around it results in evangelism, the sharing of the good news of the gospel by living it. Let us pray: Gracious God, …
Rev. Rosemary Stelz