The First Signal Community: Acts 2

6 02 2012


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.”


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 and 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

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)

Haiti Rebuilds with Hope, Love

4 02 2012

by Andrea Read
Haiti relief coordinator, Community of Christ and Field Operations, Outreach International

Solid roofs have replaced tarpaulins in many structures as the church and Outreach international continue to work in Haiti.

The catastrophic earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12, 2010, toppled buildings, claimed lives, and brought misery.

But it didn’t destroy hope, love, and generosity.

Nearly 1½ years after the earthquake jolted the already-impoverished nation, I visited Cite Soleil, one of the poorest slums in the Western Hemisphere. There, I met the pastor of a Community of Christ congregation who also served as director of a school.

He no longer had a building to house the church and school. All gatherings and classes took place under a temporary shelter with wooden poles and tarpaulins. We had come to discuss his needs.

But when we met, his first words weren’t about the desolation and poverty that surrounded him. They were of concern for the people of another tragedy that had happened just days earlier—the life-taking tornado in Joplin, Missouri.

“My prayers are with your family and people in Joplin. I am sorry to hear of the sadness there.”

His generosity of spirit and love deeply touched me, especially when I reflected on his loss and the heart-breaking conditions of his own community.

That sense of generosity and love is lifting Haiti. And the partnership of Community of Christ and Outreach International is playing a key role in rebuilding congregations and schools.

The impact goes beyond mere buildings and the initial disaster response. That’s because in Haiti many congregations offer schooling to their communities at little or no cost. Some of these schools receive funding from Outreach International for academics and meal programs.

So the generosity of finance and heart has touched lives in many ways. I returned again from this impoverished island just a few weeks ago. I am proud of the many victories at our schools and churches.

Outreach International, partnering with the Digicel Foundation, a Haiti-based group, coordinated the first school reconstruction finished in Croix des Bouquets, a suburb of Port-Au-Prince. Also, we’ve repaired three school/church buildings and finished two water and sanitation projects with many more projects ahead—thanks to the generosity of our congregations and Outreach International supporters.

Even so, more challenges have complicated the situation. Difficulties with land ownership have been significant roadblocks to reconstruction. With the influx of foreign organizations following the earthquake, costs skyrocketed for building, transportation, and local professional consultation.

Transportation in particular is difficult in Port-au-Prince and regionally. In some places, where there are no roads, the only way to churches and sponsored schools is to walk—sometimes as much as eight hours on rough mountain paths. But other hardships—a cholera outbreak, tropical storms, hurricanes, and political unrest—have sapped the attention of community leaders.

Hand-washing stations are helping provide good hygiene in new buildings.

But while responding to these challenges and focusing on rebuilding efforts, we still have accomplished much!

Outreach International has maximized the impact of gifts by partnering with other groups committed to rebuilding Haiti. They have offered monetary and in-kind support. Article 25, Digicel Foundation, Jubilee Action, Just a Drop, HELP, and UNICEF are among our new partners.

All 16 church/school sites in the earthquake area have undergone rigorous structural and engineering assessments. Besides the reconstruction and repairs, we have demolished and cleared two sites. We’ve finished water and sanitation upgrades at three schools, and rebuilt the school at Croix des Bouquets better than it was before. Six more building projects are in the planning stages.

Outreach International, with consultation from Community of Christ, also increased the number of schools in the meal program (15 now offer hot, nutritious lunches for malnourished students). Other improvements include cholera-prevention seminars and kits for schools in Cite Soleil, hand-washing seminars to promote good personal hygiene, and thousands of dollars in school supplies and uniforms.

The generous response of Community of Christ members and Outreach International contributors has played a key role in helping to rebuild Haiti. It’s an uplifting example of living out the peace and mission of Jesus Christ. Through that mission, there is hope. Hope lifts us up, comforts us in struggles, and inspires us in ways we never thought possible.

It hasn’t been easy. In Haiti, I quickly learned that if I expected things to look the same, cost the same, or move at a similar pace to my own culture, I would live in constant frustration. Personal prayer and reflection changed that.

Now, with every visit to Haiti, I find restored hope—hope for today, and hope for what is to come.


2 02 2012

by K. Scott Murphy, Council of Twelve Apostles

“Let the evangelistic ministries of the church accelerate.”

These eight words form the final sentence of Doctrine and Covenants 164:8.

I like the word, “accelerate.” Something about it stirs a sense of movement, forward thinking and action, and power and exhilaration.

In many ways “accelerate” describes what has been happening in the church since the articulation of our mission initiatives. In these mission initiatives, President Steve Veazey is taking the church deeper in an understanding of the mission to which the church is called.

The mission initiatives also have created a sense of acceleration for the Council of Twelve Apostles. These dedicated leaders have made tremendous sacrifice to lead mission in the fields. They do so with passion and hope as they work together to expand the capacity for mission in more-significant ways.

So, how does the Council of Twelve respond to the challenge to accelerate mission? We intentionally engage in the practices of discernment as a means to discover where and how the Spirit is calling us to join in the work Christ is already up to.

Last September, the Council made a covenant to journey together weekly in prayer and reflection. We did so because mission is not something we do alone. Giving time to seek God’s guidance in how we continue to respond to mission is an essential step toward action.

In December, our week of meetings allowed us to hear the stories of how the global church is living out mission initiatives.

We shared insights from our prayerful journey. We asked ourselves difficult questions to take us deeper in our understanding of mission. We pondered how we could continue to make the gospel and church relevant for a new generation seeking connection with God.

We discussed strategies of where we sensed the Spirit calling us to expand our capacity for mission and where to plant the church in new locations and nations.

Following our December meetings, our most important work took place. We began to take our insights and strength as a council to where mission matters—in the fields, congregations, and mission centers. I want you to know we are partnering with God’s Spirit, leaders, pastors, priesthood, and congregations to accelerate Christ’s mission.

Because of all Section 164 has to say to the church, I can understand how these words of “accelerating mission” can easily be missed. It may even seem justified to skip paragraph eight because it seems directed to the Council of Twelve Apostles and Council of Presidents of Seventy. But if you read this paragraph closely enough, you might begin to recognize these words are for all of us.

You see, mission is not something only a defined group of leaders does. Mission is what the church does in partnership with Christ. And the church is all of us, together, living Christ’s mission.

The Council of Twelve invites you to join us as we prayerfully discover where the Holy Spirit is leading us to live out Christ’s Mission with people in our neighborhoods, communities, and nations.

And may we have the courage to let the Holy Spirit lead us into new places, with new ways to live the mission of Christ so others discover God’s divine peace.

Be ready to hold on, because our mission is picking up speed!