PENTECOST: Pristine Church & Pioneer Community

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Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

One of my favourite words is “pristine” I love the way it sounds. I also like it because it means something significant, it means something along the lines of being unspoiled and its original condition. We often talk about some area of wilderness being “pristine” in the sense that human activity hasn’t changed it, the landscape, plants, birds and animals are what developed naturally. A pristine landscape is a landscape created by nature, an environment created when nature does is unhindered and unaltered.

Reading through Acts its struck me that Luke right after the momentous events of the Day of Pentecost introduces us to “pristine church.” What we have here in Acts 2 is the church in its original form, unaltered by damaging human traditions or perverted by human sin. Luke is saying to us in essence, here is what church looks like when the Holy Spirit has a free hand. We would have to say that in one sense this church is unique, we can’t ever return to the church as it was then, and we shouldn’t try to, this church was created for 2nd Century Jerusalem. No matter what we hear about the need to return to the NT church, we simply cannot “restore” this church today in all its details. Think about it, you’d be hard pressed to attend the 2nd century Temple for worship in 21st century anywhere. On the other hand, as well as being unique surely we must also see this church as “exemplary” and inspirational. What we read about in Acts 2 is the most profound example of what the Church should be like because its the first example of the church. This is “an” example of what church should be like, it is the original example of what Church is like when it is as God intends it to be. Its pristine church.

For those reasons I believe its difficult to over estimate the importance of this little window into the life of the very church. Luke places his description here I believe for very significant reasons. He is reminding us that the Holy Spirit unleashed creates community. The primary result of the Holy Spirit being poured out on God’s people in the new powerful and universal way promised through the Old Testament is the creation of a community, the church. Let’s be clear about what that means, we say it time and time again because we have to we seems to constantly forget this fundamental truth, the church is people, people in community.

Right after the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit did not inspire anyone to go and build a stone building, complete with pews and pipe organ or stage, PA and audio visual system. That doesn’t mean those things are wrong or can’t be tools for the church but it does mean that church cannot be reduced to buildings or the events that happen in them. Church can’t even just be reduced to being people. The sad truth is that just because a group of people meet under the same roof for a religious event that doesn’t mean they are a church. Church is composed of people connected in community through their communal experience of God’s saving work through the Holy Spirit. Take a look at Luke’s (boom boom) description of this community and you’ll soon see that its about so much more than sharing a pew or singing together led by a worship group. This community is characterised by “fellowship” and if ever a word has been devalued its “fellowship,” “times of fellowship over coffee,” “fellowship halls and meals” all conspire to diminish the meaning and “mundaneise” (another new Petticrew word, you read it first here) this concept and experience that is fundamental to what it means to being christian and being church. Fellowship is about shared lives. John Stott puts it like this “Koinonia is a Trinitarian experience; its our common sharing in God, Father, Son and Holy. Secondly, koinonia expresses what we share out together, what we give as well as receive.” Fellowship is about the deepest sharing of life with God and God’s people.

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch however have reminded us that Church is more than just community, and in fact if we pursue “community” as an end in itself it can subvert what it means to be church. They have coined the word “communitas” to describe a community which is shaped, energised, committed to and inspired by a common task. The nearest thing I can think of they are getting at was being part of a rugby team, we were a community, but a community with a purpose, to win games. The church is a community but a community which serves a purpose greater than itself, the Missio Dei, the mission of God. Stanley Grenz captures this idea by saying “The Church is “people” But not just any people. The Church is a special people, a people the Spirit is forming together into a community. And the purpose of this community is to live, as we continue to emphasise, in fellowship with God, each other and creation, thereby pointing to the direction that the Lord is taking all history. In short, the church is the “pioneer community.” It is that people who are seeking to point toward the future God has in store for creation. Under the guidance of the Spirit, this people desires to live out in the present the glorious community for which God created us.”

So as Mosaic Edinburgh or whatever church you belong to, we can’t be the “pristine church” We can’t return to the Day of Pentecost and we don’t live in 2nd Century Judea thats not our calling but should be our inspiration. In Grenz’s word we should aspire to be the community, the communitas of God which “desires to live out in the present the glorious community for which God created us.” Our mission as the community of God’s people is to be a foretaste of God’s future for creation.

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