Sunday, 3 January 2021

Core Practices - Acts 2:42 - 47

The Spirit is poured out, Peter has just preached a belter of a sermon, and thousands of people have believed in Jesus for their first time. This series looks at what happens next. We see in this passage that they started to follow Jesus together. The verses show what they first did, before there was any church organisation or structure. There had been no time so far for anyone to think 'what is working well, and what is not working'!

Verse 42 tells us that they did 4 basic things: they had the apostles' teaching; fellowship; breaking bread; and prayer.

That's it! Just those 4 things - nothing more complicated, no building, no flashing lights or anything remotely fancy. We are tempted to ask 'Is that enough?'. Verse 43 suggests it was, for they were filled with awe seeing God at work among them!

With such a basic set of things, it is worth us thinking through the basic practices that we have - that we either do individually, as a family, or with others in settings small or larger. It is good to map those out - perhaps using the 4 categories suggested in verse 42 (teaching/learning/exploring faith, fellowship with one another, communion and nourishing deeply in Jesus, and being with God & calling on Him in prayer). What do we best do on our own, and what do we do in our family unit or perhaps in some kind of small group. Finally what do we do along with the whole church family?

At the Countess Free Church we talk of bedrock practices, such as prayer and Bible Reading. We also distil out 4 habits that foster growth: The Discipline of OFF; Sharing the Walk; Ever Closer to Jesus; and Margin for Jesus. It is helpful to 'compare notes' with others to see what they do or resources they find useful - refreshing and tweaking our own practices as we continue our own journey.

In the Acts passage, verse 44, we see that the believers had 'everything in common', sharing together. In other words they didn't just form a loose association or even a club, but became a radical new community, with people there for each other above and beyond the norms. It gives us one of our simplest definitions of 'church': people following Jesus together. They followed together including giving sacrificially for each other (verse 45), suggesting their lives & priorities had been radically changed by Jesus.

Friends and onlookers couldn't help but take notice. So questions we level at our church small groups are "Do you a faith walk worth imitating?' and "Do you have genuine community in your group, and not mere members?'. That cannot be manufactured - it flows from our personal walk with Jesus, hence the key question and challenge:

Key Qn: [UP] Is your walk with God worth imitating?

Challenge: Consider how you connect in partnership, the small, and the wider church

Returning to v46 we see that these followers were able to physically meet. They did this as best they could, using the public meeting area obvious for them, as well as in smaller groups in their homes. It should be the same for us - we will adapt and meet as best we can, and also in smaller groups. Within this are new experimental approaches to meeting, with some using different approaches for all ages together in both zoom and small gatherings. All these are valid, forming expressions of church.

Finally in verse 47 we read that the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. What a great verse! Remember they had no building, no proper organisation, no structures ... but they had their spiritual practices (their following Jesus together), and their meeting together in both large & small settings with genuine community running through it. And so God was a work! Jesus was bringing people to Himself through this new thing called 'church'and so they were growing! This kind of wording '... the Lord added to their number ...' is a common thread that runs through Acts. We will encounter it several times during this series. It is why another question we should level at ourselves and our different kind of groups is 'Do you see fruit?'. Do we see the Lord working among and through us with the result that people are being drawn to Jesus?

The core spiritual practices, stemming from the simplicity of verse 42, were good enough for the first disciples and led to a culture and environment through which Jesus was at work leading to fruit that Luke could document. The challenge for us, as we start this year with restrictions likely to continue for some time, is to revisit our own practices, and the connections we make in partnership, small settings and whole church - for these are the stuff of following Jesus together, realising genuine community, an environment where the Lord will be at work adding to the number those who are being saved.

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