Mission work, faith, love keys to change among Churches of Christ
The story of the early church, as Luke records it in Acts, is about as thrilling as any story I know. The coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost begins great changes: Those responsible for Jesus’ death are penitent. And Acts 2:44-47 paints a bright picture of the early church. “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
The church grew and even some of the priests believed and were obedient. The swell continued until the church was a multitude: Estimates range from 20,000 to 100,000 members in the early Jerusalem church. The growth was so spectacular that the Jewish leaders increased harassment of the apostles and disciples.
The stoning of Stephen, one of the first servants of the church, triggered events that would bring change none of the earlier believers contemplated. Saul, the devoted Pharisee and a fierce defender of the faith, rejected the counsel of his own teacher Gamaliel and led in persecuting Christian.
Saul was a dreadful change agent. The community of the early church scattered all over the known world. People who had come for Passover had stayed for Pentecost and were converted. To escape the persecution, they returned to their homes. But they, filled with the Holy Spirit, went everywhere sharing the message of grace and forgiveness they had heard from the apostles.
With hindsight and the facts of Luke’s narrative, we see clearly that what men had intended for evil was really God’s work to prompt his followers to spread the message of Jesus far and wide. And eventually even the great change agent was changed when he encountered Jesus on the Road to Damascus. As a follower of The Way, Paul changed the world.
For the past 10 years, some in the Churches of Christ have expressed concern about the “change agents,” meaning so many different things that it is impossible to know precise meanings. I have a shelf of books about change agents, but I have read only parts of most because the approach has been to attack the character and work of well-known preachers. Rarely do these works encourage brethren to “reason together over Scripture.”
I know that culture is changing. I know too that the church is changing in appearance, but hopefully not in substance. I personally believe that the changes are coming not from preachers and Bible teachers, but from the activities of devoted believers.
For a decade the church has functioned differently for many. I know of hundreds of young Christians and their parents who have given a week or two to working in Mexico, Central America and the Gulf Coast. Youth groups have conducted vacation Bible schools in struggling churches throughout the United States. These people understand that faith requires them to love and serve others. Many of these people and others will spend time during the fall and winter working with inner-city youth and families to help with language studies, tutoring for success in school and providing basic necessities.
Short-terms mission efforts are extremely popular with all generations. Older families are going to help with leadership training and encourage faith in mission communities. Younger people are going to teach English using one of the Gospels. The church is changing — not so much because some are talking with Christian Church leaders, but more because a new generation realizes that sitting in a pew to worship is not the whole duty of believers.
Loving and serving others changes our perspective on the lost world. We may aid and assist a Mexican family in our city and thus change their lives, bit we will be more changed. People who work in prison ministries grow in compassion and concern for those that they would have previously dismissed.
My good friend Amber Foster just completed two years as a Helpers in Missions worker in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. As a freshman in college she had gone to Honduras on a spring break mission trip, and it has her focus since. A recent report from her lists dozens who have worked in Honduras building houses, caring for children and helping with clinics. The good these people have done is obvious. The ways the experience will transform these people will be seen in changed churches that are more compassionate, more faith driven and more dedicated to God.
Sept. 1, 2006