As one who has spent all of my life in the Christian Church (also known as the: Restoration Movement, Reformation of the 19th Century, Stone-Campbell Movement), I have spent a lot of time in one particular chapter of the Bible. More than any other, for the churches I have been a part of, the 2nd chapter of Acts has defined what church is and what church is supposed to be.
But here’s the thing: usually, when we focus on Acts 2, we go to the end of the chapter, where it describes the response to Christ (Acts 2.38) and the reality experienced in the very first days of the church (Acts 2.42-47). But before we get to the end, the beginning also gives us some rich insight into being the church.
In the first four verses of Acts 2, we see the Spirit come upon the first followers of Jesus – and that same Spirit then lead the people to immediately begin sharing the story of Jesus with everyone who has gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. There are people there from Asia and Europe, the Middle East and Africa. And the author Luke tells us that all of them hear the message of Jesus in their own language.
So, right out of the gate, as the Church is getting started, we see 2 very important things:
- The Spirit leads;
- The Spirit leads the Church to share Jesus with ALL people.
Of course, we have to note that this early group consisted entirely of Jews and Jewish proselytes. But even as Luke describes what is unfolding in Acts 2, he is clearly pointing forward to a time in the not-to-distant-future when it will become clear to these Jewish followers of Jesus that their tribe will grow to make room for (surprise, surprise): the Gentiles.
A New Testament church, then, must value all of the stuff at the end of Acts 2; but it also must place a high value on what happens at the beginning: where the Church begins with a Spirit-led calling to take the good news to everyone.
I had lunch one time with a guy named Reggie. We had met each other at a ministers meeting, and then decided to get together and get to know each other a little better. He told me that the church where he ministers is a part of the Christian Methodist Episcopal denomination — the CME church, for short.
Now, I don’t know much about them; so Reggie gave me a little history lesson. He told me that when the Civil War ended, the Methodist Episcopal Church decided they would allow African-American folk into the church. But they decided to do that by letting former slaves start their own churches. So, in 1870, the ME church started the CME church – which, at the time, stood for the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.
I’m sure they did that – starting a new branch of their church — because the differences seemed too substantial to have one church for two races. It had to be hard – downright impossible – to imagine how former slaveowners and former slaves could worship and serve as one.
And I think they were right. It had to seem impossible. In many — most — places and settings, it still feels that way. But what seems unattainable is described in Acts 2 as possible; but only if we start where Acts 2 starts: with the Spirit.
Now, not every church is going to be a rainbow color of differences; but each church should strive to reflect its community. If someone lives within, say, ten miles of your church building, your church needs to seek how the Spirit would use you and your congregation to reach out to them and let them know that Jesus is for them. And that there is a place for them in your church.
For some churches, this means that there should be Asians and white folks worshiping together. For others, it might mean making room for folks who speak Spanish. But for some, the variety of folks in your community might be less about skin color and more about economic status, or marital status, or age. If there are a fair number of single people in your church’s community, is your church doing things that aren’t just for families? Does your preacher use illustrations that aren’t always about marriage and family?
But even if most people in your immediate community look a lot like your church people, there are ways to let the Spirit lead you to express unity with those who are of different ethnicities and races. Partner with a church in another part of town. Invite a guest preacher to speak who has a different background. Invite someone to lunch who does church different than you, and just listen.
For, as I read Acts 2, it seems abundantly clear: any church that wants to reflect the earliest church must be Spirit-led. And one of the very first things the Spirit did (and does) is lead the people of Jesus to make the good news of Jesus available to everyone.