Two passages in particular have been on my mind: Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35. Luke describes a body of believers that were intensely devoted to the Scriptures and to each other. They were selflessly focused on the mission of spreading the Gospel to their community. God blessed them with both numerical growth and supernatural manifestations of His power. I constantly remind my congregation (and myself) that the events recorded are much more than a historical account–the same Spirit who started the church in Jerusalem is at work in our midst. In other words, Luke (the author of Acts) doesn’t just show us what the church was–he shows us what it can be, here and now. It’s awe-inspiring, challenging, and quite frankly, convicting.
But another side to the story unfolds as I read through other books of the New Testament. The gospel spreads rapidly through the Roman Empire and beyond, but not every church we encounter is as healthy or vibrant as the infant congregation in Jerusalem. I can think of no clearer example than the church in Corinth. Paul’s letter indicates many of these believers struggled to leave behind their pagan attitudes. The problems were many: factions, worldliness, immaturity, arrogance, and expressions of sexual immorality that even pagans would find objectionable (quite remarkable when one considers the Romans’ nonchalant attitude about sexual promiscuity).
The stark contrast between the Jerusalem and Corinthian churches intrigues me. I’m grateful that God chose to give us historical snapshots of both ancient congregations through His word. I’m especially grateful now that I’m a pastor.
Allow me to explain this a little further. I consider myself to be an ordinary pastor of an ordinary congregation serving an extraordinary God. Luke’s writing shows me what God can do with and through an ordinary group of believers like us. Paul’s letters teach me to be patient as we, and imperfect congregation (with a very imperfect pastor), journey together by the grace of God.
So here we are, somewhere between Jerusalem and Corinth. I dare to dream of greater things, because God may just use us to radically impact this community for His glory. But I dare not lose patience with the everyday struggles, quirks and failures of people who are just as deeply flawed as I am.