Thinking Out Loud

July 6, 2014

How to Have a Perfect Church (Acts 2 Style)

Today’s article is jointly-posted with Christianity 201.

I’m currently reading an advance copy of Overrated by Eugene Cho, releasing September 1st from David C. Cook. I am indebted to Eugene for these thoughts.

So how would you like to have the perfect church, at least according to the model given to us in Acts 2? You know the passage,

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (NIV)

So what is the model here?

  • teaching
  • fellowship
  • breaking of bread *
  • prayer

*Tangentially: Is this a reference to communion? Studying the very few translation variants

  • to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] (AMP, also NLT)
  • at the Communion services (the Old Living Bible)
  • the common meal (the Message)

however commentaries seem to feel the phrase “breaking of bread” is self-evident in its reference to the meal instituted by Christ in the upper room with his disciples.

Back to Acts 42, if we include some of the verses that follow we would also include:

  • the favor of the general population (v. 43)
  • shared possessions (v. 44)
  • selling possessions to support the poor (v. 45)
  • daily meetings; house groups specifically mentioned(v.46)
  • praise (v. 47)
  • numeric growth (v. 47)

Many people place the emphasis on verse 42. Here it is again with emphasis added:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)

Anyway…according to Eugene Cho, that would be to totally miss part of what the verse says. Here, with emphasis added is how he would read the verse:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)

A few days ago we spent two days looking at devotion to God. There are eleven times this is used in the NIV, but there are thirty-four uses of devoted. (Here’s a link to do the study on your own.)

Cho writes:

Overrated - Eugene ChoThere are lots of books out there about self-help, self-growth, self-whatever. Here we see there was no secret recipe, no shortcut, just evidence of long-term commitment. They devoted themselves to study, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. Do you know what I think the most important element was? I think the most element was not what they did, rather, devotion itself.

Read verse 42 again.

They devoted themselves.

A lot of people ask how they should change their church to make it grow. They ask “What new strategies should we employ?”

Pretty simple actually.

They were steadfast. They cared. They devoted themselves to each other, to Christ, and to the building of God’s kingdom.

Are we devoted?

(pp. 116-7 in the advance copy)


August 22, 2010

Christianity as Defined to a First Century Pagan

I had this all formatted to go on Christianity 201 later today, but decided I really needed to share it with the larger Thinking Out Loud readership.   Feel free to copy and paste the third paragraph (along with the explanation below it) as an e-mail forward to someone.

“Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric lifestyle….While they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship.

They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are `in the flesh,’ but do not live `according to the flesh.’ They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws.

They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted. They are unknown, yet they are condemned; they are put to death, yet they are brought to life. They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are in need of everything, yet they abound in everything. They are dishonored, yet they are glorified in their dishonor; they are slandered, yet they are vindicated. They are cursed, yet they bless; they are insulted, yet they offer respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when they are punished, they rejoice as though brought to life….Those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility…”

~From The Epistle to Diognetus, a little known piece of early Christian literature written to a high-ranking pagan, Diognetus. You can read the post where I found it at Scott Shirley’s blog, which also links you to a longer article about the Epistle and more excerpts from the text.

September 20, 2009

Coffee Time in the Middle of the Service

Filed under: Church, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:39 pm

coffee time

When I picture the first century Christians meeting together, I don’t picture rigid formality.   For example, I don’t picture the chairs being in rows, even though there’s something about the synagogue seating plan where the women were on one side and the men on the other.   I guess my mental image is more of an “upper room” kind of scene, and I can almost hear the baby crying towards the back.  And we know Eutychus was sitting in the window ledge when Paul spoke, which would greatly concern the insurance companies today.

I also realize that there is a whole history — some would say a whole theology — of fellowship around a meal table.   It’s an Eastern thing to be sure, but it’s also a very Christian thing.   The whole “love feast” concept.   Or the idea that the first communion service was, among other things, a supper.

But I can’t figure out the logic of churches who are taking the former pre-service coffee time, or post-service coffee time, and making it a mid-service coffee time.   We’ve been in a number of churches now where this is done and it hasn’t worked for us.   Today I spoke with a couple who — after three years which included some time in small group leadership — found it wasn’t working for them also.

Here are some reasons:

  1. People are busy.  They make an effort to attend what they mentally budget as a 70-80 minute service and they expect 70-80 minutes of prepared content, usually meaning spoken or sung content.   It can be that the leadership has prepared it, or that individuals have brought gifts to the service that will be shared somewhat spontaneously.    But it’s content nonetheless.   Not ‘break time.’
  2. People are visiting.   There’s nothing like standing on the sidelines when everyone else is catching up on the latest gossip when you’re a visitor and nobody wants to connect with you.   The couple in my above conversation found it hard to move past this point.   We know the feeling.   This ‘fellowship time’ could happen before or after.   Instead,this becomes ‘down time.’
  3. People are literal.   They trust that when you say ‘five minutes’ you mean 300 seconds.   Not ten minutes.   Ten minutes is just too long for a time that is supposed to be dedicated to worship and teaching.   This is not the same as my first point; this has to do with expectations.   You said ‘five’ and you realized — as if for the first time — that you can’t serve that number of people down that much hot coffee that fast.   So as a result it went ‘over time.’

Has your church joined the growing number that have subscribed to this trend?   What are your thoughts on it?    Do some of you reap benefits from this worship order scheduling?  Or do you see other liabilities beyond the ones I listed?

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