Compared to the early church – you’re all a bunch of secularists! (And so am I.)
First, a word about secularization. I’ve done a lot of reading about the sociology of religion and have begun to now read church history more earnestly. To my surprise, the Church is always in a mess. But, by the grace of God, it’s always the Body of His Son and the means by which He serves and rules on earth.
We normally assume that secularization means that a culture and its people are becoming less Christian. There may be truth in that, and I think it’s demonstrably true for Western Europe. But what sociologists of religion think secularization really is is the withdrawal of religion from public life. Christianity hasn’t really disappeared in the U.S.: we’ve just progressively decided that it isn’t supposed to be a factor in our public lives, including the political and academic realm.
So our public schools might be filled with Christians, but we’ve decided that they can’t publicly act or talk like Christians. If they want to hold private Bible studies or pray privately, that’s O.K., but no PDC or Public Displays of Christ allowed. In politics, all of our candidates may give a head nod to being a Christian, but we don’t really expect or want our politicians to think and act as Christians.
In our culture, therefore, a huge chasm has opened between what we privately believe and what we publicly say and do. In this way, our culture has become “desacralized,” and Jesus has had to go into hiding, with His robes between his legs, skulking silently away.
All the time I hear Christians say, “You can’t legislate morality,” even though all law is morality. Or I’ll hear them say, “I’m spiritual but not religious,” meaning they get to choose to worship Jesus Christ any way they want and that they want nothing to do with “organized” religion, by which I suppose they mean the very “religion” Jesus Christ Himself “organized” when He drew to Him the apostles and sent the Holy Spirit into them and gave His life for His publicly organized Body known as the Church.
And many of us have bought into this myth of the separation of Christianity from our public lives.
But not the apostles. Not the early church.
This privatization of our life in Christ extends not only to how we live and speak in the world but also to how we live and speak in the Church. I believe the 2 are intimately connected, as intimately as evangelism and discipleship, which I see as parts of the same great thing that Jesus has commanded us to do.
Yesterday, we witnessed how boldly Peter and John proclaimed Jesus Christ publicly, in a culture (whether Roman or Jew) that was not very accepting of Jesus Christ and Christians. We all witnessed the results: a man was healed, and many people heard the Good News of Jesus Christ.
But today, we are privileged to witness how boldly Peter and John proclaim Jesus Christ within the Church. Do you remember how in yesterday’s meditation I said that if we want to have the courage and boldness of Peter and John then we need to have the same attitude they had, that they could not but speak of the things they had seen and heard Jesus Christ say and do?
This presents us with a difficulty, however: how can we see and hear Jesus, and how can we be so filled with the Spirit that we will be compelled out of love and joy and the Spirit to speak about what God has said and done to us?
In Acts 4, and throughout the life of the early Church, the Church most saw and heard Jesus Christ in the Church, as the Church. Is it any surprise that it is most frequently and most intensely as the Body of Christ that we see and hear Jesus Christ?
The fact that we live in the modern time period in history has masked this for us and turned us all into good secularists. What do I mean? I mean that we seem to believe that the most real and likely time and place when God will meet with me is when I’m doing some private act of devotion. When I’m praying alone or reading my Bible alone.But think of how the early Church lived. When was it that they heard the Bible? For the vast majority of Christians who lived up until (and even for a long time after) the marriage of the printing press and movable type, the Word of God was heard in the Body of Christ, in the Church. Naturally, since the Bible was written in the context of the Church and canonized in the Church, and since God had ordained leaders in the Church to guard His Word, most Christians until the modern era assumed that the best place to hear the Word of God was in the Church.
Did you notice the first thing that Peter and John did, after they had been threatened and let go? They went to their own companions (the church) and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them (verse 23). I believe this is what we should be doing on a daily and weekly basis: proclaiming what Jesus Christ has said and done to us and through us and for us.
It’s understandable why we might be afraid to speak about Jesus Christ in the world. But what in the world keeps us from speaking joyfully and incessantly about Him in His Body?
Once Peter and John reported all that God had done, what does the Church do? When they hear the words and acts of Jesus Christ done through His Church, they raise their voice to God with one accord and sing a Psalm (Psalm 2). Have you ever wondered in this passage how they could all truly pray with one accord and one voice? If you try that in most churches today, you’ll simply have chaos. “Alright, on the count of 3, everyone pray the same thing together. One . . . two . . . three . . . babble babble babble, bar bar bar bar, Praise We you just Jesus praise Thank you you Lord Jesus for Praise helping be Peter to and you John.”
But since they had all memorized Psalm 2 and probably knew how to sing it, they could all pray it with one voice and accord.
And as they pray with one voice and one accord, what happened as they prayed? The place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
So here’s the pattern for our lives. Here’s how we find the inspiration and courage to speak about the things we’ve seen and heard Jesus do. We gather together as one Body and share our lives with each other. When God has spoken to one of us or worked in one of our lives, we should share that with each other. I don’t think we need to wait for the most spectacular, miraculous thing either. If God has spoken clearly to you today or blessed you or held your hand while you were in danger and led you safely through it – share it with someone in the church! When God moves our souls in the sermon or dazzles us with His beauty (and He should all the time) – share it with someone or someones in your church.
We all ought to be able to not only tell the story of God in our lives but also relate particular incidents where He has come to us each day.
Coming together as one Body, we should practice living with one accord and sharing one voice of praise. In living and worshiping, praying and speaking, together, God’s Holy Spirit will fill our common lives.
By speaking to each other about the things Jesus Christ continues to say and do in our lives, we share the glad and joyful work of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In making disciples by worshiping and sharing our lives together, we will receive the Spirit of courage so that we, too, along with Peter and John, will be able to say, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
Prayer: Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them. Grant to Your servants that they may diligently seek and find Your Son today, and, having found Him may worship You. Having worshiped You, may they with all boldness speak Your word and perform signs and wonders through the Name of Your holy Son Jesus. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. What opportunities do you have in your local church to share with others what Jesus Christ has said and done in your life? What opportunities to share in this way could you initiate?
2. What people has God already put into your life, with whom you should be sharing what Jesus Christ is saying and doing?
Resolution: I resolve to find one way today to share with at least one other Christian something Jesus Christ has said or done in my life recently.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson