Act 5: Church
We now have come to the act of The Drama of Scripture where we ourselves fall: the Church. Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom as something radically different than everyone had imagined and left us to continue to spread its message. The book of Acts as well as the epistles give us more of a picture of how the earliest church understand this Act of the story.
I’m not going to spend much space going through the details of the story of the earliest church. As with other acts, if you’d like more depth you can look into Bartholomew and Goheen’s The Drama of Scripture which does progress from the beginning of Acts through Pentecost, the early Jerusalem-based church and their persecution there, and the conversion of Paul and his ministry to the Gentiles elsewhere. More importantly is to determine the characteristics of this early Church, which Bartholomew and Goheen describe this way:
This young Church has three defining qualities. First, it is committed to what will bring the life of the Spirit to itself: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer. By these means, the young Church experiences more and more the life of the Kingdom (Acts 2:42). Second, the life of Christ is manifested both in the lives of individual members of the young Church and in the life of the community considered as a whole. The Church is thus known by convincing signs of God’s saving power within it (2.43), by justice and mercy in its communal relations (2.44-5), by joyful conviviality (2.46) and by worship (2.47). Third, as the liberating life of the kingdom becomes more and more evident in the Church, we hear that the exalted Lord ‘[adds] to their number daily those who are being saved’ (2.47). This too fulfills Old Testament prophecies about God’s kingdom. The prophets picture the drawing power of a renewed Israel (Isa. 60.2-3; Zech. 8.20-3). This newly formed community of the Church is attractive to outsiders: the life of the believing community radiates the light of the kingdom and thus draws people in from the darkness. (pg 138)
They also make these important observations about how we are to similarly live in Act 5:
As we have seen, Jesus’ mission centred in the coming of God’s kingdom, the restoration of God’s rule over all creation and all of human life. Though today some Christians believe that Jesus came to enable us to escape this creation and live eternally in an otherworldly and heavenly dwelling, such an understanding of salvation would have been entirely foreign to Old Testament prophets, to first-century Jews – and to Jesus himself. Salvation is not an escape from creational life into ‘spiritual’ existence; it is the restoration of God’s rule over all of creation and all of human life. Neither is salvation merely the restoration of a personal relationship with God, important as that is. Salvation goes further: it is the restoration of the whole life of humankind and ultimately of the non-human creation as well. This is the scope of biblical salvation. It is also the scope of our own calling to be witnesses of that salvation. In his words Jesus announced the kingdom, and in his actions he demonstrated that the kingdom had come. He welcomed the marginalized and formed a kingdom community, taught by precept and example how to live faithfully within that community, and suffered for its sake as he challenged the idolatrous culture of his time. And he prayed for the kingdom. All of this should shape our mission today as we follow Jesus.
But our own cultural situation is quite different than that of first-century Palestine. Thus we need to carry out the mission of Jesus with imagination and creativity. In Hugo Echegaray’s words, ‘Jesus did not set up a rigid model for action but, rather, inspired his disciples to prolong the logic of his own action in a creative way amid the new and different historical circumstances in which the community would have to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom in word and deed.’ (pp 153-154)
This Act is still unfolding in its details, details which will vary by context, but this remains: we are to live the Kingdom and spread the Kingdom all over the world.