Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What Does Acts Say About How to 'Do Church'?

Not much time for details, but if I'm thinking about something I find it helpful to blog about it.

Acts 6 tells us even the early church had fissures in its community. The fissures broke along "language lines": in that time, did you speak Greek or did you speak Aramaic? Some reflection of this is in the "language denominations" and it makes sense: one should be able to hear the gospel in one's native tongue (else what's a Pentecost for?). But today the fissures can be along the lines of personal languages, what "speaks" to you personally: do you listen to the words of the song and the words of the preacher? Or does the music speak to you in a way that neither of those can? I think we have native "music" speakers and native "non-music" speakers, and fissures can ... and have ... formed between those people. One of the things I appreciate about my home church is that there is a strong music ministry that speaks lots of "dialects" of "music-ese" to lots of different people. But for others, music in general, or maybe some music in specific, simply doesn't speak to them. To which I say: that's where fissures can form. We've got to get along with each other, allow for both languages in our love for each other.

Acts 5, Acts 11, and Acts 15 actually combine in a weird sort of way to make a related argument about "what is the church supposed to DO?" In short, the question is wrong: the question should be, "what is God doing?" Peter reframed his experience in God terms: God did this, then God did that, and God's doing this thing so let's stop "testing" him. The church is supposed to look for God, see where God's working, and go along with that. I lose sight of this all the time. I lost sight of it when I was on council. It's always easier to talk about numbers rather than the movement of the spirit. But when the spirit goes, you follow. And the important thing about the spirit (shown in Acts 15 in particular) is that this spirit is consistent over time, which means the spirit works in parallel with the scriptures and old words, and also the spirit prepares you for the work you're called to do. So if you look around you see, hey, I've got this unused basement in my church and this calling to serve the homeless, you open up a homeless shelter. When I said to myself, you know, I'm really interested in the speeches of Acts for some reason and I think the church needs a Sunday School class on this, I went and did it, based on this sense of preparedness, and also, it wasn't really my thing so if it failed miserably it'd be God's fault. Or if you've got staff and people with musical skills, and a mixed congregation that wants to listen to those, you've got yourself a direction for your music ministry. What it does not mean is that you hold an American Idol-like audition to determine the content of that music ministry. You do what you're called to, all of you, staff, congregation, choir, all together listening to each other, being challenged, and deciding where to go as a community.

Deciding where to go involves money. In the New Testament, money is a big deal, not so much in somebody central allocating it according to a budget, but in the churches or groups within churches giving it to each other. Look at Paul's collections, it was one of the main modes of communication from church to church. This is one of the ways you talk, you put your money where your mouth is. If you want to promote unity between groups offer the chance for them to give to each other. God actually works through that. This is one of the reasons why love of money may be the root of all evil, but money in love can be a great good.

Mostly, I want to think about these passages but I have to be careful how I present them to others, lest I use them as a club. I've been known to do so. So I'll throw together these interim thoughts on my blog and let it sit. Let those with ears to hear listen. And I promise I'll blog more about science in the future (although did I tell you how Acts relates to the current science-religion debates? [ducking thrown tomatoes])...

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