And the Pendulum Swings…
Of course, this is totally understandable. When confronted with a problem, specifically one that is trying or particularly difficult, we want the solution to avoid ever experiencing a repeat. So, the best way to never see the original problem again is to effectively stress its opposite. However, in doing so, we often simply switch one problem for another.
You have undoubtedly heard some variation of the teaching that Christianity is a personal decision, an individual relationship between the believer and the Redeemer; that our standing with God is not something we inherit, or gain through others, but that it arises from our individual connection to, and our personal faith in, Jesus Christ. The stress upon this teaching is crucial—it reflects the clear biblical understanding of our relationship with Christ. For each and every one of us, we stand before our God and either claim the blood of Jesus as our own or reject His mercy and goodness. I truly hope and pray that you have heard this explanation, and that you have taken it to heart.
But, where does such an emphasis come from? Why has this been stressed so stridently for the past decades? Well, at this point, you can probably guess—it is part of the pendulum swing from an earlier, deficient approach.
For hundreds of years, the Church exercised an enormous influence in Western civilization, to such a degree that it was not unreasonable to expect that every person in Western Europe was exposed to and understood the Gospel message. Simply living in a society that was so saturated with the presence and teaching of the Church seemed to qualify you as a “Christian.” This mentality—that you are a Christian simply by being part of the culture—is the very definition of the ditch we MUST avoid!
And so, the pendulum swings. Now, it is not unusual to hear Christianity described as a “me and Jesus” kind-of-thing; that the personal relationship is all that matters, and any communal identity is a distortion of the Gospel. Institutions like the Church or a small group or accountability to another believer are all seen superfluous at best, and more likely, a distraction from one’s pure connection with the divine. And thus, we find ourselves in the other ditch.
The Bible absolutely describes the importance of an individual, vibrant faith in the Lord and there is no substitute for it. Like David, we must individually examine our hearts as we stand before our God. But, equally so, the Bible portrays our salvation as a corporate, collective one. We are not, nor will we ever be, alone. Built into the redemptive plan of God is His goal of gathering a body of worshippers, the Church. Existence outside the Church is way outside God’s plan.
Somehow we have to steer the course, emphasizing that the cross brings us into a personal relationship with Jesus, and, equally so, into a vibrant community of believers—and losing track of either one lands us in a ditch.
1. Note the immediate context of this passage. Why is it helpful to know of the events earlier in chapter 2?
2. In verse 42, the author describes the early Church as “devoted” to things. What does “devotion” look like in your life?
3. What is meant by the apostles’ teaching? Where did they get the information to teach others?