I have been working (struggling) through questions about the purpose and practice of church. Recent blog posts have revealed some of the fruit of that wrestling. As part of my search, I read the opening chapters of Acts to compare the experience of the early church to my own.
I was struck by Acts 2:42 which says, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” There are four points of emphasis here:
- Breaking of Bread
For the church to be healthy, all four of these should part of church life. My experience teaches me that an overemphasis of one does not make up for a lack in the others. A lack of balance between these four lays the foundation for an unhealthy church.
In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul deals with a lack of balance in chapters 12-14. In the case of the Corinthians, they were out of balance by viewing the gift of tongues as the greatest gift. The gift of tongues was over-valued and as a result, overused and abused. At the end of Chapter 12:31, after providing a list of the gifts bestowed on believers, Paul writes, “But earnestly desire the greater gifts.”
We are told to seek the greater gifts. It is no accident that Paul’s statements about love come immediately after his enjoinder to pursue the greater gifts. He tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that the greatest gift is love. Love should be behind all the functions of the church body. It should be the foundation.
It is interesting to me that often when discussions about gifts come up, Chapter 13 is skipped and we go right to Chapter 14 where prophesy is listed as a gift to pursue. In some circles, prophesy is equated to preaching, therefore preaching is the gift to be desired. The danger is that preaching can replace tongues as the out-of-balance gift in the body. When this happens, then there is competition and struggle over teaching opportunities and people end up functioning outside of their gifting. As a result, every church event is seen as a teaching opportunity.
Preaching and teaching have an important place, but as we can see from Acts 2:42, it is only part of function of the church. Great teaching does not make up for a lack of fellowship, community and prayer.
This is especially true in 2012. I could load my iPod with enough material to listen to great preaching 24/7. There is a surplus of teaching because so many good preachers have their sermons readily available on the Internet.
What I have seen is a shortage of the other three aspects of Acts 2:42. We in the Biblically conservative community turn up our noses at the Emergent Church movement. I have my issues with some of the theology in that movement. But what we cannot ignore is that they highlight something that much of the conservative church has missed. It is all about relationship.
It is a great oversimplification but you could say that the Emergent Church is all about relationship and misses on truth. We conservatives are all about truth and often miss relationship.
Can we find a church that incorporates both truth and relationship? Would it be possible for us to be full of grace and truth? Jesus is.