We need the early Church's vision.
What should be the fundamental change in a local church when its eyes are fixed upon the majesty of the reigning Christ? It should understand that it is a representative of the Kingdom of God, and that each of its members is a citizen of that Kingdom. Our values should then be Kingdom values. Our mission should then be the advancement of the Kingdom. Our character, our attitude, and our demeanor should be those of the Kingdom.
In the evangelical churches I once belonged to, little to no emphasis was placed on the Kingdom of God, although that was the major theme of Jesus’ preaching while he walked among us. An emphasis was placed on asking for forgiveness of our sins and having a personal relationship with Jesus, consequently becoming a “good person,” or a “good Christian,” but not upon what it means to be under the sovereignty of our King as he reigns over our lives. All of the emphasis was placed on personal salvation, while the collective aspect of the salvation as a people called as an entity with a mandate was just not in the teaching or preaching. Personal salvation is important, don’t get me wrong, but the faith is so much more than fire insurance. Jesus called people to follow him, not just to pray a sinner’s prayer. Jesus called people to enter into the Kingdom of his father through the forgiveness of their sins, not just for the forgiveness of their sins. Entering the faith by a sinner’s prayer, then, is not salvation’s sine qua non, but the first step in a lifelong process of learning what it means to be under the sovereignty of Jesus the King.
Unlike much of the American church, the early church understood that Christians worshipped a Caesar who now reigns in heaven, not in Rome, as the world’s Caesars did. Unlike much of the American church, Rome understood this, too, which is why they martyred Christians who would not worship the all-too-human “gods” that were Rome’s Caesars. Christians in the early church understood that each individual was part of a collective body, an organic body, with Jesus at its head, a called out body, that was “[devoting] themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).” Since the apostles were men who had walked with Jesus, the teachings that they transmitted to those who were devoted were the lessons they learned from their Master, especially his proclamation of the Kingdom. The church that experienced the fiery anointing by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was ordained to be God’s visible agents, representatives and ambassadors of his Kingdom.
Note that there are four components in Acts 2:42 describing that to which the early church was devoted: the teachings of the apostles, some which we just discussed, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. “Fellowship” in this case is the sharing of a common life with one another, specifically the common life of Jesus. The “breaking of bread” was more than a common meal. Each meal was a love feast and began with the breaking of bread and ended with the sharing of the cup. And the prayers were more than simply praying for one another’s healings. They were praying for the advancement of the gospel, for the mandate given in the Great Commission of 28, for their being the initial yeast that would then bloom into many fresh-baked loaves whose enticing aroma would penetrate a hungry world.
Brothers and sisters, let the writer of Hebrews in 12:22-24 define our vision as to what the Kingdom now is and will be:
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (ESV).