They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:1-2
There are a lot of non-denominational churches today, and I have participated in the ministry of several of them. Like mainline churches, they all have their strengths and weaknesses, and God somehow manages to further His kingdom through them by His grace and power. None of them are perfect. No church is perfect. I have thought for many years now that if I ever did find a perfect church I would leave immediately lest I taint the place – being a work-in-progress myself. What strikes me about many of these churches, and especially those trying to distance themselves from church traditions, is the emphasis on going back to the book of Acts, and specifically the passage above (Acts 2:42-47) as a blueprint for the way things should be when the people of God gather together.
So what did the church look like in the days and weeks immediately following Pentecost? It says the people devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching (which would largely have been the teachings Jesus gave them and the explanation of how Jesus fulfilled and transformed the Jewish religion by which most of them had been raised. They also spent time in fellowship (visiting and caring for one another), done specifically in having communion together (in common meals) and praying together in groups. That sounds like an excellent way to start ministry together as God’s people. Furthermore, everyone saw this community of several thousand people living together and caring for one another, working together, and putting all their wealth and resources together so that no one was poorer than the rest… and the outsiders looking in were amazed. Not only were there supernatural miracles being performed, but it looked as if there was a place on earth where people lived in peace and harmony with God and with one another – a place where sin was no more. They continued to meet in the temple courts to worship God and give Him praise and they seemed to get along with everyone as the Spirit filled them with peace and joy, and the best part to many young churches: “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Who wouldn’t want this as a blueprint for the way church should be? Everything was going right. Everyone was getting along. Every day they all discovered something new and wonderful about what it meant to be the church. However, this is only the second chapter of a much, much longer story. This was the honeymoon period.
While the foundations that were set here are wonderful things, we need to be careful not to be overly critical of ourselves as congregations when we compare ourselves to this first congregation and realize we look quite different. As in marriage, we want to express the same love, if not more so, for our spouses as time goes on, but the particular forms in which this love is expressed change over time. It is important that they do. We cannot love our spouses on good days the exact same way we love them on bad days. The context is different and our needs change. Likewise, the church cannot act the same in good times as in times that are tough. A mature love and a mature church knows how to alter the form of its love to suit the times it is in. For example, eating meals together as a church family is an excellent form of fellowship, but when we have members sick in the hospital, our first priority is not getting them out of bed and to our church kitchen table. We find more suitable ways to extend the value of fellowship to them, usually by visiting them in the hospital. I do not specifically see “hospital visits” in this passage from Acts, but that does not mean they are not necessary or valuable. We need a mature love that takes the values that the Holy Spirit gave the early church and lives them out in our own time and place.
I think that is what Paul meant by offering our bodies as “living sacrifices”. God wants us to give our bodies and minds, all of ourselves, to Him, so that He may work through us right where we are. When we let God lead us, in all that we do, He can put us in the right place at the right time and work miraculous signs and wonders through us. Perhaps He will give you a healing prayer for a stranger in a waiting room that will open their eyes to God in a brand new way. Maybe you will have just the right word of wisdom for someone crossing your path, struggling with a particular problem. Maybe you will meet someone today who just needs to know that someone cares about them. Or maybe, God will take your “ordinary” life and show someone outside that there is a better way, and that through you, they will see Him.