I was thinking today about what the church is supposed to look like. If you ask most pastors, they will probably take you to Acts 2:42-47. We use this to describe the church all the time. And it is an excellent description. Here are the characteristics: they devoted themselves to the Word of God, prayer, meeting together regularly, taking the Lord's Supper, having meals together, sharing all things, and having unity. They also saw many people get saved and join them. Every pastor I know is like, "Give me that!" And I am sure all of us want our church to have that back. However, a lot of those things either look radically different or aren't happening at all right now in churches across the world because of the Coronavirus. So, what do we do? What does that mean? Are we still the church?
Well, by the time we get to Acts 8, everything changes for the church. The world is turned upside down in an instance. Let's read what happens:
1 Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. 3 Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.
It began with the death of Stephen and moved to Christians everywhere. Wow! In a day, the church in Jerusalem is scattered. All the believers that had joined the church in the first days of the church are now scattered all over the world. It kind of sounds like what happened three weeks ago with the Coronavirus. We were all planning to have service that Sunday as usual, and that week everything changed. The church didn't look like it did every other week. It still doesn't.
But that isn't what we should focus on, and that not what the Bible focuses on either. Let's keep on reading in verse 4.
4 So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6 The crowds were all paying attention to what Philip said, as they listened and saw the signs he was performing. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
Wherever they went, they continued to share the gospel with people. Philip, in particular, is in a new community with a group of Samaritans, look what happens!
9 A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and amazed the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, "This man is called the Great Power of God." 11 They were attentive to him because he had amazed them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he followed Philip everywhere and was amazed as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.
God did many miracles, and men and women far from Jesus were saved and baptized into the church from all around.
We see in the book of Acts the church is a group of people gathered together in the name of Jesus. At first, they were gathered together, and everything was awesome, and droves of people were coming to Jesus. But then persecution broke out, and they were scattered and guess what! There were still droves of people coming to Jesus.
Church, whether we are gathered or scattered, let us keep our focus on Acts 1:8 "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
The way our church looks right now may be different than what we are used to, but Jesus has still given us the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses wherever we are. Like the list in Acts 2:42-47 states, the church was unified. A short distance is not what connects us as a church, but rather what unifies us, the love of Christ that we have each experienced and a love for Christ to carry out His mission to the ends of the earth. While we are scattered, are we still unified in our purpose: To Make Disciples Who Make Disciples?
When we gather again in a few Sunday's what will our church services look like?
Will it look the same as it did the Sunday before we were scattered? Or, will our church have many new faces and get to celebrate the new life that many people have found in Jesus during this time. While we are scattered, will we be faithful to Jesus’ command in Acts 1:8, to be His witnesses wherever we are, expanding His kingdom all over Central Virginia?
I love you, Hyland Heights, and I cannot wait until we are gathered together again, but I am even more excited to hear about all of the things Jesus is doing through our church while we are scattered.