In my first church board meeting as a senior pastor (although I was not a senior at age 23), I heard the following report, “We didn’t lose any members this year. We didn’t gain any members. No one was converted. No one was baptized. We had 91 members at the beginning and end of the year. Praise God; we are holding our own.”
I was stunned. I could not believe this community did not move forward or backward, it simply sustained. It simply existed. I thought to myself, “How can this community be the body of Christ?”
The book of Acts goes into great detail about the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to give His disciples power when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8). This outpouring of the Holy Spirit was different from anything the people of God had ever experienced before. This experience surpassed any previous expectations or knowledge of how God worked since the Spirit had only worked through specific kings, priests or prophets. The Spirit worked by coming down and on people as necessary, but He never stayed. The Holy Spirit ushered in a new period beginning with Pentecost. The truth is that until Jesus returns once more, the Spirit will indwell and empower all believers to proclaim God’s message.
“They were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). The individuals gathered together in prayer to obey Jesus’ command (Acts 1:4, 13–14). As they prayed together, there were manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s arrival. Scripture tells us it was “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind” (2:2). They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them — the 12 apostles (after Matthias replaced Judas in 1:12–26), other disciples, the men and the women — were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them (2:3–4).
Older scriptures promised the Spirit in the lives of believers. “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit on those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17–18, referencing Joel 2:28–29). Peter drives the message home, “Everyone who calls the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).
At this point, the greater story in the Bible is beginning to make sense. The Lord is their only source for salvation. Now the Lord has come in a man named Jesus. Peter reminds the crowd gathered together of Jesus’ miracles and that they crucified and rejected Him, but His resurrection is a testament of God’s will (2:22–24). Jesus is now lifted to the right hand of God, where He has received from the Father the Holy Spirit and has made available what the people now see and hear (2:33). Peter makes a call to repentance and baptism to the entire crowd and set parameters for the act of demonstrating an outward, physical act that corresponds to an inner, spiritual act of receiving God’s mercy and grace. Both the forgiveness and repentance are only effective in the name of Jesus and His power and authority. Peter calls the crown gathered together to “save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (2:40). Then those who accepted and were baptized were added in their numbers, about 3,000 that day (2:41).
These new Christians were transformed. Acts 2:42-47 describes lives in which the Spirit is evident and transformation takes place. The devotion to the apostles’ teaching was fervent in this community. The crowd also devoted themselves to fellowship (2:42). True community takes place in fellowship.
The First Community
To fully understand a community, we need to consider the first community. I will define “community” as interdependent persons having particular characteristics in common. The first community to come to my mind is the Trinity of God. God is three equal parts: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No one and nothing else is like Him — an interdependent unit with a commonality.
Now, most communities have a shared goal. The Trinity shares the goal of creating opportunities for praise and adoration. We see this commonality numerous times in the book of Genesis. In the beginning, God [all three in one] created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Then God gave form to earth and separated light and darkness and, for the first time on record, the Spirit of God hovered over the earth (1:2). The Spirit of God was always drawn to earth from the beginning. God creates the sky, water, land, plants, creatures and eventually man. God says, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (1:26).
We were made of the first community, for community and in community. Mankind was made in the likeness of the Creator so that we may rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, the animals and over all creatures that move along the ground with one purpose. That purpose is to bring all creation together in community with the community of God, to bring honor, glory and adoration to the collective community of God (1:28-31), the King of the newly created kingdom.
Broken & Restored Community
The story takes a turn of events in which a man and a woman — created companions in community with each other — break common-unity with the community of God (Genesis 3). The common-unity — the commonly assessable unity with God [the creator of all and originator of community] — is severed with the distancing of the community of God and the community of mankind. This distance is a result of distrust, misalignment, and doubt in the community of God by the community of mankind. The result of this uncertainty (lack of faith) caused mankind to be afraid and hide from the community of God (Genesis 3:10). From that moment on, the community of mankind was separated from the community of God because of fear and distance due to sinful behaviors. To bring right-standing (righteousness and holiness) back into common-unity between God and man, a sinless man (representing equal part man and God) needed to be sacrificed (put to death) and risen to restore the order of a common goal: to bring honor, glory and adoration back to the original community of God (the maker of all things and King of all).
Fast-forward years of mankind communities trying to get close to God and failing due to sin. The Messiah (deliverer) has arrived, per the ancient scriptures, and has fulfilled the prophesy according to the knowledge passed down from generation to generation. He has ascended into the right hand of the community of God. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to be in common-unity with the people of God, the community of mankind to bring unity between God and mankind once again (Romans 12:13; 2 Corinthians 9:12-13). The Holy Spirit once again hovers over all of the earth through residence in mankind. The Apostles are now filled with the Spirit of God and create a new community (common-unity) among the crowds who are receiving the Spirit of God. Now fellowship was expressed in two ways. First, Christians (followers of Jesus) are now caring for each other (a proof of relationship with Christ) in common-unity with one another (Acts 2:46) through stewardship and generosity (Acts 4:32-35). Second, they share a devotion to worship and adoration to the community of God. Every day, the community of believers met together for prayer and worship (Acts 2:46–47). The community between the church and the Holy Spirit was such a strong bond that it became infectious to those outside of the community. As a result, many were filled with awe, and many wonders and miracles were done by those filled with the Spirit of God. Their worship was of one heart and one soul and many more were brought into the community of the church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:47).
The vision of our church is “to bring wholeness to the world through healthy biblical communities of holy people multiplying disciples, leaders, groups and churches.” Throughout this issue, you will find many ways in which your community can get connected to the work God is already doing domestically and globally. We were created to be in unity with God, doing His work on Earth.
Jay Cordova is an ordained elder who serves as the director of communications for the Free Methodist Church – USA. He previously worked as a startup business entrepreneur and coached small businesses in a Michigan incubator.