The First Signal Community: Acts 2

6 02 2012

by ANDREW BOLTON

The purpose of Acts is “to tell the story of Christ and his new community in such a way that the values of the founder and his immediate successors might be emulated today.”

—William Willimon1,
Acts (Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching)

Acts of the Apostles?

Perhaps this New Testament book would be better called Luke Part 2, for the writer of Luke’s Gospel also wrote Acts. Or perhaps this book should be called Acts of Peter and Paul, because Peter dominates the first chapters and Paul the later chapters. Or is the book better called Acts of the Community, for the first Christian community is the focus of its story.

However, it might best be called Acts of the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts is about the presence of God breaking into human history in a profound way through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…and his first disciples.

Acts chapter 2 begins with the dramatic, startling coming of the Holy Spirit.2 As the Holy Spirit moved on the face of the waters to begin creation in Genesis 1:2, so the Holy Spirit, in re-creation, comes like a mighty wind, filling the entire house where the first 120 disciples were at prayer.

The Holy Spirit then appears like tongues of fire, resting on each of them. They are filled, then speak in other languages so the outside crowd marvels at hearing God praised in their own languages (Acts 2:1–11).

The Holy Spirit, in birthing the first Christian community, does so through a richly diverse and international crowd.3 God loves and delights in creating variety and is now affirming the human diversity God authored. The later stories of Cornelius (Acts 10:1—11:18) and the decision of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1–32) in support of the inclusion of the Gentiles already is hinted at here.

Explanation of this dramatic Holy Spirit event is now needed for the crowd. A new, bold, Peter stands with the other apostles to bring meaning from the events of this extraordinary prayer meeting.

“They are not drunk,” says Peter to quash one cynical suggestion. What is happening, says Peter, is promised by the prophet Joel, that in the latter days, God will pour out his Spirit on all: young and old, men and women, even slaves (Acts 2:12–18).

We are in the latter days, and our old name still claims us with the promise of this spiritual endowment, even in the middle of our uncertain times. Crises and fears must be “before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day” (Acts 2:20). Yet we are reassured that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).

Peter then fearlessly preaches to the crowd that Jesus was crucified, killed, and then raised up by God. The hope that comes from the power of God to raise Jesus dominates Peter’s message.

Peter quotes David4 to support his argument that the Messiah would be resurrected (Acts 2:22–35). This is fact, of which all the first apostles and many other disciples are witnesses. This fact of resurrection, and now the coming of the Holy Spirit, changes everything for Peter…and for us.

Yet we first must come to terms with our complicity in the violence of the present age. Peter now challenges the crowd with these words:

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified. —Acts 2:36 NRSV

We crucified? Perhaps seven weeks earlier, when Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus (Luke 23:20–23), some of the present crowd had shouted “Crucify him!” Perhaps others had allowed the cruel slaughter of an innocent man by their silence in the same crowd.

Today is no different. Voices raise for war or execution, and those who are uncomfortable remain silent in self protection. Nearly half of our federal taxes in the USA go to military spending.5 I make a bigger contribution to war through taxes than to peace through tithing. Every one of us has a hand in crimes of violence against innocent people, but we do not see it.

In this story though, the crowd now sees it:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” —Acts 2:37

Peter gives the crowd a way out of the hell of guilt and self condemnation:

Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” —Acts 2:38–40 NRSV

Many seize Peter’s offer of a way of salvation:

So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. —Acts 2:41 NRSV

How do they now live? These new disciples joined the 120 others, forming a new kind of human community:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. —Acts 2:42–47 NRSV6

This first Christian congregation in Jerusalem is what we would call a “signal community.” What are the signals of the first “community of Christ” congregation?

  1. The first signal is being devoted to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship (Acts 2:42).a) What are the apostles teaching today? We hear again the first apostles’ testimonies of Jesus. For us today this means that we are devoted students of the gospels, we know the stories of Jesus. We read Acts and the letters of the Apostle Paul. We traditionally have called ourselves a Restoration church. This means returning to the stories of Jesus in the gospels, returning to the example of the early Christian church, to drink again at the source, to read and understand the New Testament.

    b) What is meant by being devoted to the apostles’ fellowship? This means we are in fellowship with today’s leaders: pastors, mission center presidents, apostles, all those who bear witness of Jesus today and serve in his name. Christianity is both knowing the Bible and being in fellowship with leaders of a living community centered in Jesus. Of course, leaders can fail us, but the church has processes for dealing with this. Christianity is about being in relationship. We learn the gospel in relationship. We are glad to be together.

  2. The second signal is breaking bread at home and eating with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:42, 46). This suggests hospitality, a shared table, inviting others into our lives as family. A discipline of one contemporary urban Christian community in Germany is eating at least one meal a day with other members of the community. Eating together forms community, creates a sense of family. There is also a connection here with Communion.
  3. The third signal is praying together. A Christian congregation is a people who spend time in prayer, enhancing their personal and communal connection with the Divine.
  4. The fourth signal is the abolition of poverty. A signal community centered in Christ shares materially with those in need. They abolish poverty. There are no rich or poor. All are stewards or managers for the good of all, and the good of all beyond their fellowship.
  5. The fifth signal is that this community does not create victims. It stands up for the worth of all persons, resists crucifixion and violence, and pursues peace/shalom in society. Convicted members of the crowd repent of shouting for the crucifixion of Jesus. They find forgiveness and a new beginning through baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. They now form a victimless community.7

The story in Acts 2 begins with the coming of the Holy Spirit in a dramatic fashion. The story in Acts 2 ends with people living in righteous relationship together.

Holy Spirit is embodied in holy community. The Apostle Peter proclaims Jesus crucified and raised from the dead. A community of joy, hope, love, and peace is created from a crowd of the guilty. It is possible for people to find a way out of hell. It is possible to accept an invitation to join with Christ and grow as a disciple who learns to serve. It is possible to have another chance at beginning life again in a new way. We sometimes have called the kind of community described in Acts 2 as Zion.

To quote William Willimon again, the purpose of Acts is

“to tell the story of Christ and his new community in such a way that the values of the founder and his immediate successors might be emulated today.”


FOOTNOTES:

1. William Willimon; Acts – INTERPRETATION, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Know, 1988) p. 5

2. Source of the concept ‘startling’ see Beverly Roberts Gaventa; Acts Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2003) p.3.

3. ‘never was there a more international crowd in Jerusalem than at Pentecost’ see William Barclay; The Acts of the Apostles, Revised Edition (Philadephia: The Westminster Press, 1976) p. 21

4. Acts 2:25-28 see Psalm 16:8-11; Acts 2:30 see Psalm 132:11; Acts 2:31 see Psalm 16:1

5. This estimate is based on the average of War Resisters and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) analyses (see http://www.warresisters.org/sites/default/files/FY2012piechart-color.pdf and http://fcnl.org/assets/flyer/taxchart11.pdf War Resisters estimate 48% of USA Federal taxes go for past, present and future wars. FCNL, a Quaker lobbying organization on Capitol Hill, estimate 39%. In both cases, Social Security is taken out of their calculations. The US government added in Social Security, a trust fund, in the Vietnam war to hide the real cost of that war. Social security has stayed in ever since, distorting the reality of how Federal taxes are spent. The prophetic message of swords into ploughshares is still timely (Isaiah 2:2-4). So are the words of a final speech by US President Eisenhower in 1961 warning about the military-industrial complex http://www.h-net.org/~hst306/documents/indust.html.

6. There are arguments that all things in common was not really practiced by the early Jerusalem church. However, see William Willimon ob cit page p.40

7. Acts 2:36 speaks of the crowd’s participation in the “victim mechanism”. To understand how the “victim mechanism” works see: Rene Girard; I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2001)

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6 responses

7 02 2012
Andrew Bolton

Dear Steve thanks for your kind comments.

Please read me paper on the Book of Mormon and war and peace (“The Book of Mormon: Asset or liability for a Becoming Peace Church” (John Whitmer Historical Association Journal Volume 19, 1999). I argue in this paper that the Book of Mormon read as a whole provides a radical critique of war and violence.

6 02 2012
Greg Clark

Hi Steve,
We’d like to consider your reply for the Herald, but we need to know where you’re from. Thanks. Greg Clark

6 02 2012
Steve Palmer

Cape Girardeau, Mo

6 02 2012
RAISER William

Not bad, Br. Andrew; but even you still skirt the notion of “community”. Jesus thrusts us into life, not into theological discussions. We’re called to be “followers of the way/Jesus”, which is quite different from “worshipers of Christ”.

“they broke bread at home”. At each meal, they “remembered” Jesus. They put into practice his teachings about how to live daily. In the doing, in the experimenting on the Word, they learned “line upon line, precept upon precept”. We are too inclined to step our of daily life/community and into worship services/congregations. Jesus thrusts us into life; he doesn’t draw us out of it into hollowed walls.

But we’ve talked of all of this before.

7 02 2012
Andrew Bolton

IGreetings Will in France from Andrew in the Philippines!

I am not sure how we are disagreeing. I personally have lived with my family for a year in a Christian community in the UK based on Acts 2. I currently live in one of the few Community of Christ intentional communities called Harvest Hills, Independence, MO, USA. It is celebrating 40 years this year – come to the anniversary celebration in the middle of September!. So I agree the first signal community in Acts has to be lived out today.

6 02 2012
Steve Palmer

Great article and very informative. But, in this age, how do we protect our freedoms without protecting them from outside threats? The Book of Mormon cites innumerable examples of a righteous people having to do this and even being led in battle by their spiritual leaders. The last battle at Cumorah comes to mind as one example. How do we pursue peace without defending our right to do so?




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