Church: Alive or Dead: Part I

Now awe came upon every person, because many miracles and signs were accomplished through the ministry of the apostles. 44All the believers were in unity and had there possessions in common. 45They sold their possessions and assets and divided among all those who needed them. 46Every day they went faithfully to the temple, they broke bread in their various houses, receiving their food with rejoicing and simplicity of heart, 47praising God and being gracious to all the people. And the Lord added daily those who were being saved           (Acts 2:43-47 TFBV)

– Henry Neufeld

When Paul says, “You are the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27) he introduces a powerful metaphor for use all around the Church.  One of these applications is the question of life.  A live body has breath, blood flow, and most importantly doesn’t have substantial dead pieces falling off of it.  (I’m aware of dead skin and hair cells.)  Visitors to a church will often say something like, “This congregation is really alive,” or “This congregation is totally dead.”  They don’t mean, of course, that the members of the one are physically alive and of the other physically dead.  They mean that there is a spiritual life of the whole body, collectively, that can be seen, felt, and experienced.

So what makes a church alive?

I find the definition in the passage from Acts that I quoted above.  I’m not one of those people who want us to closely imitate the early church in every detail.  I believe that there can be a wide variety of ways in which a church can work in a community.  I live in Pensacola, FL, and I don’t expect every little detail of the church in 1st century Jerusalem to be the same as it is for my church in 21st century Florida.  But I do think the principles will be the same.

From this passage about the early church, I see several principles:

1.    Continuing “power” ministry
2.    Unity and mutual support
3.    Faithful common worship
4.    Worship that extends beyond the worship center (homes, small groups)
5.    Continuing “God-powered” outreach

I believe I can summarize these points with the word “discipleship.”  It’s important to note that discipleship is closely related to mission.  In fact, one cannot exist without the other.  A church may have different specific missions, and various emphases, but at some point in all churches there must be the two elements of following Jesus (discipleship) and mission (reaching out to others).  Try operating without the element of mission, and you get an ethical club.  Without the element of discipleship, you have a simple social service organization.  (Either option may be alright under appropriate circumstances, but they do not constitute a church.)

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