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The Early Church: Why can’t we be like them?

The Early Church: Why can’t we be like them?

Acts 13: 1-13.


Wouldn’t it be great to be like the early church?

Last week we had Pentecost...that was in Acts 2.

There was no church as we know it before then.

But by Acts 13, that's only 15 pages on, we have churches starting up all round the Roman Empire and people like Saul (who will become known as Paul) is going out starting new churches all over the place.

He isn't scared to go out and declare his faith, he isn’t scared to talk to anyone about their faith and he isn't scared to face down people who are attacking the faith.

Wouldn’t it be great if our church could be like that and we were spreading the good news of God’s love to everyone we knew?

Well there are two answers to that question...

The first answer, the answer we know we should give is YES. It would be great if we could be like that and be bold in our faith and tell everyone about our faith. That’s the first answer, the answer that we think we should give.

But then there’s the real answer we want to give.

And that answer is NO. It wouldn’t be great if we were like that and challenging people all the time about their faith, we would have no friends and our family probably wouldn't ever talk to us.

It’s a bit like me.

Recently I joined a squash club, a real squash club, with real squash players in it.

And I was playing one of my usual partners and we were passing by this court looking at real squash players.

And we thought to ourselves, ‘Wouldn't it be great if we could play the way they played.’

When I play squash with my partner we look like two old men who have no control of what we are doing.

When we watched these guys they looked as if they were hardly moving yet the ball was going exactly where they wanted it to be. It was more like an effortless dance than a squash game.

Their squash looked like an elegant waltz.

Our squash looked like we were doing the slosh.

And the thought comes into our head, ‘Wouldn't it be great if we could play squash like that?’

And again there are two answers.

The obvious answer is YES.

But it is the wrong answer. The true answer, the real answer is NO.

Because the truth is that if I wanted to play squash like that, I could. I would have to spend a fortune in time and money in hours and hours and hours of coaching.

Then I would have to spend hours and hours alone on a court practicing all those squash strokes. I know that because I watch other players on the court for hours just practicing those shots. I don't want to do that; I can’t be bothered with that.

If I really wanted to play squash like that I could, but that fact that I can’t is a sign that I don’t want to play like that. Not enough to make the effort.

Wouldn't it be great if our church could be like the early church?

The answer is probably NO, we don't want to put the effort in to be like Saul/Paul.

But then again.

Maybe we are asking for the wrong thing.

Maybe our problem is that we have a wrong idea of the early church.

And the truth is that we could be like the early church, and we should be like the early church, we just need to correct our ideas about what the early church was like.

If we just glance through the book of Acts then we get the idea that Saul (or Paul) went through the Roman Empire telling people left right and centre about Jesus, he took on everyone, he was stoned and whipped and shipwrecked and imprisoned and he didn't care about any of this, nothing stopped him.

And we think that we should be like that, because that’s what the Bible tells us.

But we forget that originally the book of Acts wasn’t in the Bible.

None of the New Testament Books were in the Bible. The Bible didn't exist in Jesus’ day, or Paul’s day. So the original reason these books were written was NOT so that they would be in the Bible.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written because the original disciples and eye-witnesses to Jesus were dying out and they realised they needed to write down their memories so that they wouldn't be lost.

Paul’s letters to the churches were written because the churches were in a mess and needed advice.

And the book of Acts was written because Paul was arrested by the Romans and was facing beheading. So Luke, who wrote the Book of Acts, is giving the Emperor a summary of how they got into this mess and how the Emperor should see that this wasn't anything that justified beheading Paul.

You know how in those American court room dramas where the lawyer always summarizes the case to the jury...well this is Luke’s summary of Paul's case to the Emperor.

That is why Paul is so dominant in the book; that is why they are explaining why Paul is doing all this stuff. So Acts is not as an example of how we live our life, but it is an excuse as to how Paul lived his life.

So if this book of Acts is not meant to be an example of how we live our Christian life then are we off the hook?

I wish that was the case. But now we know what the real purpose of the book is, we can read between the lines to see how it can help us live our faith.

The first lesson, and probably the most important lesson, and the only lesson I am giving you the lesson of fellowship.

Christian faith was never meant to be a faith for loners.

We are not meant to be strong, independent, people with no need for anyone else.

Look at today's passage.

This book is meant to be all about Saul/Paul and yet Paul never works alone.

When he was working in Antioch he was working with Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius and Manaen.

When they decide they need to do some outreach work in Cyprus they send Paul/Saul and Barnabas and John Mark.

Paul is never left on his own.

I would suggest that one of the great failings of the Church of Scotland, and many denominational churches, is that we put a leader in charge on his or her own. And we leave them on their own. And they work away and do their thing, and then they leave and we wait for ages for another leader to be chosen, on their own.

Dollar church just down the road.

Minister left in 2015/16. That's 3-4 years ago...and they are still been looking for their next minister. And what has the church been doing during all that time?

Probably not much except wait for a new leader.

Tillycoultry Baptist Church even closer to us.

Minister is just about to leave. And now they will be setting up a group to look for a new minister who can lead them. How long will that take? And while that is going on what happens to the progress that they have made?

Too often we put people in power on their own and then leave them on their own. And what do these leaders do?

They set up groups where they see the church needs to change, and they put individual leaders in charge of these groups.

And everything is fragile; everything is dependent on the strength or weakness of one leader.

That’s not the example that we have in Acts.

Paul was with Barnabas, Paul was with John Mark, or Lucius or Simeon.

In fact if you even read the letters of Paul he usually ends them with greetings from other folk that are with him.

Look at this church.

Is this church stronger or weaker for having Anne work with me?

Is this church stronger or weaker for having John (our deputy session clerk) working with Lesley (our session clerk) and having ex session clerks like Gil and Andrew and Alex always chipping in with advice?

Possibly the greatest lesson we can learn is that we shouldn’t do faith on our own.

And I don't mean just meeting up on a Sunday for one hour where we can’t actually talk to each other much.

I mean the meeting up outside the church services.

I mean the Men’s Group and the Guild and building up fellowship.

I mean the meeting up in the street and catching up with how you are really getting on.

I mean the meeting up for coffee or meeting in the pub for a pint and sharing how you are doing.

There are times in our life when we will need others to help us. That no matter how strong and resilient we think our faith is, it won't be strong enough, we will need others to support us, others to help us.

I was sent this through the post.

It is called Ascend. It is meant to be the magazine for ministry for the Church of Scotland. Sent out to all the ministers to show them how to do ministry.

From page 3-36, that is basically the whole thing except the contents page and some adverts, it just goes on about ‘facing the dark night of the soul.’

They dedicated a whole magazine to ministers about how we cope with not coping.

How bad is the situation out there that a whole magazine to ministers is being used to talk about how to cope when you’re not coping.

Their big conclusion, their big answer?

Don’t face it on your own.

Be someone that cares enough to be there when someone needs you.

Have someone that cares enough to be there when you need them.

The early church was a mess,

If you read the New Testament at all with open eyes you see that it was a mess.

They were getting things wrong, they were arguing all the time, they were falling out with each other, they even had the Roman Empire attacking them.

They were in just the same kind of mess that we are in.

We don't need to try to be like them, we already are like them.

We have all the flaws that they had.

We make all the same mistakes that they did.

But they got through it.

And they got through it, and even grew though it, because they didn't live their faith on their own, they didn't face life on their own.

It was the way they supported each other that got them through their struggles.

It was the way they supported each other, and those outside the church, that became so attractive for others and they decided to try the faith out for themselves.

Be someone that cares enough to be there when someone needs you.

Have someone that cares enough to be there when you need them.

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