Birth of the church
Pentecost must have been an exciting time! The 120 had been in the Upper Room when the Spirit fell and they rushed out into the street beside themselves with excitement, so much so that people thought they were drunk, despite it being just after breakfast. They were speaking ‘nineteen to the dozen’ in their excitement – even though they were using languages from other nations which they had never formally learned!
Following Peter’s sermon in the open air several remarkable things happened:
1. The listeners were deeply convicted of their sin and wanted to know how to be saved.
2. 3000 were baptized and added to the church – no mean administrative exercise in itself!
3. They ‘devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (Acts 2:42). In other words they couldn’t get enough of this new-found meaning to life and wanted to learn more.
4. ‘They were selling their possessions and belongings, and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need’ (Acts 2:45). Now that is community in action!
What caused people to behave in this way?
Being Pentecost there were many visitors to Jerusalem from around the Mediterranean and the Middle East. We know this because of the response to the disciples’ speaking in tongues in Acts 2:8-11 where 16 geographical areas are mentioned, even as far away as Rome and Libya.
Putting these two facts together – travelers from far away and a hunger to learn from the teaching of the apostles – it is likely that a lot of extra accommodation and food were needed at short notice as people were reluctant to return home. Perhaps this is what led to an extraordinary outpouring of generosity.
Two chapters later, in Acts 4:32-35, we find this generosity was becoming a hallmark of the early church resulting in there being no ‘needy person among them’ (v 34). What a testimony for a church to have – ‘we have no needy person in our midst’. And so the scene is set for the first dispute that arose in the early church as recorded in Acts 6.
Act 6:1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
What’s the problem?
The precise issue is not known. Some translations imply it was over handouts of food. But, bearing in mind the above passage in Acts 4 the ‘daily distribution’ could also have been about money – always a contentious topic! Whichever is correct it clearly refers in some way to welfare which was being handed out and the ‘immigrants’ were being discriminated against, those who are often most vulnerable in society.
This dispute was a very real threat to the life and health of the early church and was one in which clear, wise administration was required to bring resolution and prevent the church suffering a severe set back at this vulnerable stage in its history.
Something to think about
We shall see more about this in the next posting but let me sow a seed thought. When a church is planted, a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common across the world as the Kingdom is advancing, it is young and vulnerable. What are the first gifts to be appointed? Shepherds (pastors)? Evangelists? Teachers? All these are important but, as we shall see, the inclusion of the gift of Administration may be the door-opener to much blessing and growth.