A new community blossomed after that first Christian Pentecost. Not only did 3,000 get baptized into the Body of Christ after Peter’s first sermon. They found an effective way to live the faith together — a way so appealing to outsiders that
day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47, NRSV)
Those of us in shrinking congregations or declining denominations may well wonder,
How can we get that going here?
My suggestion: Invest in infrastructure.
Tall buildings need strong foundations. Cities by rivers need bridges.
To my eye that is what they did back in the second chapter of Acts. What led to that constant daily growth?
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42, NRSV)
Four simple priorities.
They spent their time working on four specific areas. Simple, but not easy. I promised I would look at each of them in coming weeks.
Priority One: “The Apostles’ Teaching.”
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. That was maybe easier then, since the apostles were right there in the community.
But we aren’t at a terrible disadvantage: The Church has carried the apostles’ teaching down through the ages for us. You probably have it on your bedside table in a nice leather cover.
I want to suggest two ways churches today can do what they did in Acts, where
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42)
First approach: teach the Bible, bite by bite.
The New Testament contains what the Church clearly saw as the apostles’ most important teachings. And from Matthew to Revelation they teach us the value of the Old Testament: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.
Devotion to the Apostles’ teachings was one of the strokes of genius in Calvin’s Geneva and other 16th century Reformed communities. They tossed out the lectionaries and began to preach their way through whole books of Scripture, explaining each passage in turn.
Passage by passage, book by book, the Reformers helped their congregations understand and live the biblical faith.
Disagreement with the city authorities drove Calvin into exile. Later they begged him to come back. Stepping into the pulpit, he started with the next passage from the book he had left off preaching several years before.
Pastors can do that today too.
- Imagine preaching through a book from beginning to end.
- Imagine an adult forum to discuss the text preached each week.
- Imagine providing questions for study and reflection so every small group and committee could be discussing the book while it is being preached.
- Imagine reminding everyone to read and pray the book on their own.
- Imagine getting and recommending good resources on the book for the church library.
If the leaders worked out a full court press for every book they preached through, what do you think might happen?
- Do you think people might understand each book of the Bible better?
- Would they begin to think about their own lives in terms of that book’s teaching?
- Would it maybe come up in conversation throughout the church?
When a congregation really devotes themselves to the apostles’ teaching, it has a way of reshaping their lives.
Second approach: teach the Bible, fully digested
In the Reformation era, they didn’t figure their devotion to the apostles’ teaching was complete because they taught individual books. Knowing individual passages and individual books leads naturally to bigger questions.
How do all these passages and books fit together? How can I make sense of the whole of the biblical faith?
The Reformers were not just convinced that the Bible was important. They were convinced that behind all Scripture’s diverse voices, literary forms, and cultural sources, the Bible taught a faith that actually makes sense.
So they wrote catechisms. Usually in question and answer format, the catechisms of early Protestantism led kids and grown ups through the basics.
What should a Christian actually believe? Catechisms presented the Apostles’ Creed, with line by line explanation, as a synthesis of biblical faith.
How should a Christian behave? Catechisms presented the Ten Commandments, with line by line explanation, as a synthesis of biblical ethics and morals.
How should a Christian relate to God? Catechisms presented the Lord’s Prayer, with line by line explanation, as a synthesis of how Jesus taught us to grow in intimate communion with God.
We too can teach a coherent biblical faith. If you want to know what it cam mean to engage with these core basics today, check out some of my posts on the Heidelberg Catechism.
It doesn’t have to be simplistic or legalistic. If it is, it isn’t the faith taught by the Apostles.
In fact, the fully digested biblical faith in Reformed and Lutheran catechisms is intellectually rich and aims to bring us to spiritual freedom.
We certainly need a better understanding of our faith in our Christian communities today. It isn’t just that we need it to be able to share the faith–though that is true too.
We need a solid grounding in the apostles’ teaching so that if someone does try to cross the bridge and join us, there is actually a community of people there who know how to live it.
Do you know a good example of a community devoting itself to the apostles’ teaching? What might your community do to move forward on this?
This post is the second installment in a series. To go to the beginning, click here.