One of the great challenges of today’s Church is the quest for vitality. Recent years have been marked by an increasingly rapid decline in church attendance and dwindling interest in the organized church as a whole. Many people are seeking new ways of expressing their spirituality, or simply abandoning spirituality all together. The movement of being “spiritual but not religious” borders very closely to agnosticism.
People are looking to the ancient writings of the mystics and monastics for answers to this disturbing situation. In my own journey, I have discovered some very helpful materials in that arena of thought, but there is more. Perhaps we can look to the foundational story of the Church as found in the Book of Acts. This sacred writing chronicles the formation of Christianity as a separate movement. Acts is an eyewitness account of the birth and growth of the early church. This book begins with the coming of the Holy Spirit and ends with the preaching of Paul. Acts 2:42 gives us a foundational model for the Church that is well worth a look today. The scripture proclaims to us: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Let’s unpack that fourfold charge of the church.
Teaching – We are told that the early church devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching. Indisputably, they taught the words and actions of Jesus as only an eyewitness could. They spoke of His miracles, retold His parables, and made His teachings come back to life. Today we have a movement within the Church known as “Red Letter Christians.” These Red Letter Christians get their name from the day when Bible publishers printed the words in the Bible that were attributed to Jesus in red. I believe that those words should once again become the heart of our teaching.
Fellowship – This means that all Christians were a part of a community that shared in the common commitment of the good news of Christ. By sharing all things, they took this concept a little further than we can in our world. We may not be able to live in community, but we are called to be a community. A community shares, loves, supports and lifts one another up in all ways possible. If the Church neglects the concept of community, it ultimately fails. Today’s Church must take community seriously.
Breaking of Bread – Scholars and theologians are not completely on the same page on this issue, but the end result is the same. People who eat together, sacramentally or by sharing a meal, feel a great bond to one another. My own view is that the early Church practiced Communion every time they met. In was through that common bread and cup that they gained great strength. As a Church of today we should not neglect the fellowship of the table sacramentally or otherwise.
Prayers – The early Church prayed. They prayed as an act worship and not just for the things they wanted or needed. Prayer was a regular part of their day whether they were assembled together or not. Prayer has to become more than it is in the Church of today. The practice of mental prayer, silence and sacred reading are a “must do” for the Church if we are to see greater vitality.
That is a fourfold formula for the revitalization of the Church. Nothing new is expounded at all: it is a simple call back to the foundational purpose and work of the Church. Victory is not found it the new, but in the birth documents of our Church.