Recently I got into a discussion with someone about Mosaic Edinburgh and half way through our conversation in a slightly exasperated voice my conversation partner asked “But are you a church?” Leaving aside my slightly long winded inability to get to the point at times, I guess that is an inevitable question when people hear about us and look at what we are doing. In so many ways we don’t have and don’t do what people usually associate with being church. We don’t own a building, we don’t have a service on Sunday mornings, we don’t at the moment when we worship regularly use a worship group or pipe organ, we are not big on titles and we don’t sit in rows on hard wooden pews. So ARE we a church? There are a variety of ways of answering that question but I want to attempt an answer by looking at the first detailed description we have of the church after the Day of Pentecost in the book of Acts. There is a sense in which Luke is giving us an insight into the church in its original, pristine position, this is the church as the Holy Spirit originally created it. If ever there was a community which was without doubt a church its the one we encounter in the second chapter of the book of Acts
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.Acts 2:42-47
So what are the marks of the church here, in this, the original church ?
I would say we can see clearly several characteristics:
* Interaction with Apostolic Teaching ( which of course would be God’s Word for us today)
* Use of Spiritual Gifts (presumably the Apostles had the gift of teaching)
* Sharing of the Sacraments
* Authentic Community (including hospitality)
All of this we can see from the context is focused on Jesus, empowered by the Spirit and glorifying to the Father, so it was a Trinitarian experiencing and shaped community.
So how do we measure up? Would Luke recognise us as an expression of the Body of Christ?
Well we have meaningful discussions and interactions around scripture. This involves times of teaching, discussion, Lectio Divina and of course our recent blog through the Gospel of Mark = “Being Devoted to the Apostle’s Teaching”
Throughout Lent Sunday by Sunday and regularly at other times we have gathered round the bread and wine shared the Lord’s Supper, we have baptised one person this year, so sacraments are part of our DNA. = “breaking of Bread and prayer”
We worship, including praise to God and prayer for one another = “Breaking bread, prayer, praising God, meeting in the Temple courts”
We experience authentic community, through prayers, discussion and also through meeting each other’s need. I believe sharing food is an important part of that. There is a long history of Christian hospitality and Christians eating together stretching back to this text and into the idea of Passover. The Lord’s Supper originally like the Last Supper was part of a communal meal, you can read about some of the problems this created in 1 Corinthians. = “prayer, in their homes, ate together, glad and sincere hearts (no masks), gave to anyone who had need”
We are attempting to live missional lives, collectively and individually we embody, serve and proclaim the Kingdom of God in word and deed… “enjoying the favour of all the people, the Lord added daily those who were being saved, gave to anyone who had need”
We try to make space to allow people to exercise their spiritual gifts and try to see that these gifts are exercised outside of christian community as well as when we get together. I think we can also see the exercise of pastoral care and concern and I see that in our community too = “the Apostle’s teaching”
So back to my original question are we are church? ….. I guess my answer is our little group meeting mainly in homes (did you notice that in Acts) might not look like your usual church with a building, pulpit, organ, services at 11am and 6:30pm and a midweek on Wednesday. But I would humbly say we are a church. Certainly we have a long way to go but I have pastored 2 “traditional” churches, I have helped audit lots of congregations and I would say that we perhaps experience church more authentically than many groups with buildings, pews, organs and committee meetings yet are still strangers to one another and have little care for the community and refuse to change to connect with their surrounding culture.
I guess if we read on Acts we could add some marks to my list like, church discipline and appointment of leadership but overall I am happy that we are experiencing what Luke regarded as the essence of the church.