07 September 2009


Acts 5:1-11 has a rather 'interesting' scene from the early church - the death of noted members Ananias and Sapphira. I say noted because they are said to have made a name for themselves out of the offering they lay at the feet of the apostles. I say death because that is where they end up. Not that their death has anything to do with the fact that they gave an offering to this upstart movement. Rather, the issue is one of ethics before God - in other words, it is about holiness. Yet, even then most Christians want to avoid this passage because of the seemingly drastic nature of judgment being played out. And you don't typically start introducing the church to non-believers with this passage, that's a bit disconcerting and embarrassing . . . to say the least.

Something that I never caught my eye before a few weeks ago is that the end of this story is the first place that Luke uses the word church to describe this gathering of Jesus-people. One would think that Acts 2, 3, 4 would all be good candidates to introduce this lingo, but Luke waits until the very public death of two figures from within the community to say, 'Yes, this is the church. This is what will fulfill the kingdom of God in a post-Easter world.'

As The Professor (I. H. Marshall) told us, Luke is indeed an historian and theologian. Here we see his theology coming in full force: he knows when to introduce the church and how to introduce the church. Perhaps it is with the same holy fear that gripped the disciples throughout the Easter narrative, when they realized that the world is drastically different, that the new community is caught up in the events of Acts 5. True encounters with the divine are never as ethereal as our dreams would have us to believe; drawing close to God shakes our souls and leave us more than a bit unsettled.

But Luke is clear: this is the church. And now there is a boundary to distinguish between those who want a tingly spiritual experience and those who are committed to the ongoing sacrificial work of the gospel. It would be all-too-easy for this church to be defined around those who were excited and energized in the wake of Pentecost. But time has moved on since that event, and even Acts 5 shows how real life is setting in beyond the mountaintop religious event. Now there are real needs and real challenges, and opportunities for real people to do real kingdom work.

That there is Ananias and Sapphira show that not everyone is going to be in this for the long haul. There have always been (and always will be) people who use this community for their own power and prominence. This road is wide, but it leads to destruction . . . perhaps not in the immediacy seen in Acts 5, but in time which retrospectively looks just as short. Here, just like C. S. Lewis taught us about so many miracles, we have the natural process sped up to an instantaneous event that we might recognize, learn and grow from the truth found in the narrative.

The church is defined in this passage, assuming that you have already been noticing the events of Acts 1-4 (and that you'll keep noticing how the rest of the story plays out). This is not for those looking to make a place for themselves, but for those who sacrifice for the kingdom . . . with great integrity and commitment.

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