We’re discussing Scot McKnight’s latest book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. And I’m still on break. Subject to exceptions.
So this is not from McKnight, but I think it fits pretty well with his ideas. Let’s take a look at Acts 2 —
(Act 2:42-47 ESV) 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
So I’ve been wondering just what Luke meant in v. 47 by “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Traditionally, in the Churches of Christ, we’ve interpreted this as accounting. That is, we emphasized the fact that God adds the saved to the church, rather than our choosing to join a church. And that’s true.
But it’s not really the point Luke was making. I mean, Luke never imagined that there was more than one church, and so he never imagined that he should write this verse to argue that it’s God’s choice as which denomination we identify with.
More importantly, the phrase “added to the church” is from the KJV, but it’s not found in modern translations because the oldest manuscripts say ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό (epi to auto), which is translated “together” in v. 46. That is, Luke actually wrote:
the Lord added together day by day those who were being saved.
(The phrase “to the church” is found in Codex D or Bezae but in none of the earlier texts.)
Hmm … “The Lord added together.” The point is not that God shifted their names on the Great Ledger in the Sky from “damned” to “saved.” Nor is it that God shifted their names from “not in the Lord’s church” to “in the Lord’s church.”
The point is that those being saved were added into the community of the church — they were made to be together by the very hand of God. And this was demonstrated by the examples Luke just gave. Only God can create such fellowship among flawed, sinful (and yet saved) people.
As people were being saved, they were included within the community of the saved — the people who eat and pray and worship and share their property together. The togetherness is a gift from God!
The Western Protestant view of Christianity is that when we’re saved our relationship with God is changed (and it is), and that’s pretty much it. Church, to the extent it matters at all, is secondary, even incidental, to the main event: salvation. And so we often struggle to explain why people need to go to church.
Very recently, there’s been a tendency to look down on the church. In fact, it’s easy to get a sneer from many just by suggesting that we Christians should invite our family, friends, and neighbors “to church.” Say that, and you should expect a condescending comment or two along the lines of —
1. The church is the people not the building — as though someone suggested that we should invite our friends to meet the building! It’s hypercritical — and evidences a failure to listen. The suggestion is that we should invite friends to meet our brothers and sisters, who assemble weekly — not that we should show off our pretty building.
Imagine that you are the parent of a large family with many children. You are considering adopting a 14-year old child. Sometime before the actual adoption, you’re going to invite the child to meet your family — and you’ll most likely do that when the family assembles — perhaps for Sunday lunch or even Thanksgiving.
After all, your children reflect who you are, how good a parent you are, and demonstrate the value of being adopted. Preach the wonders and beauty of God and Jesus all you want, but if the church has been poorly parented and if the children misbehave, you’re going to have trouble convincing that child to agree to the adoption.
Adoption is, legally, all about the relationship between the child and the parent-to-be. The existing children of the adopting parent have no say. But in reality, adoption is very much about the relationship between the child and the existing children of the parent — and inescapably so.
2. We invite the lost to meet Jesus, not the church. Really? Really? Where does Jesus live if not in the hearts of his brothers and sisters? How can you meet Jesus and not meet his bride? How can you meet Jesus and not meet his body?
You may be ashamed of Jesus’ bride, but he is not. He is fully aware of our weaknesses and sins, but he’s working with his bride to present her pure and holy to God. In the meantime, he gives his bride grace. And we need to do the same.
And when we speak of Jesus to the lost, we should also speak honestly of his bride — flawed but forgiven; sinful but growing up into Christ.
3. We need to get into the community rather than bringing the community to the church. And we have to pick one or the other? We can’t do both? Again — who is making up these rules?
In Acts 2:47, we learn that God brings the saved into the actual, real, present community called “the church.” Not in an accounting sense but in the sense of forming true fellowship — the fellowship described by Luke in Acts 2.