We often turn to Acts chapter two to look for clues as to what our congregations should look like. The passage we often turn to is Acts 2:42-47. "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
It is a wonderful picture but it misses one very important factor. It is not the picture of what the church will look like in heaven. This was still a church that reflected one group of people - Jews who now followed Jesus. Their practices were notable and revolutionary for that day. But missing were the people from many tribes, nations, colors and backgrounds that will make up the church in heaven.
Consider the congregation we will be a part of in heaven: "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9).
This is not only the picture of our future congregation but it is proof of the power of God. Where else could people from every nation, tribe language, social group, find unity together except at the foot of the cross and the family of God? Paul wrote this in Galatians 3:26-28: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Their is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Now think for a moment of our society which is becoming more and more divided around politics, beliefs, practices and ethnic groups. There is only one place where all those divisions can exist together in peace. It is in the family of God where each of us, regardless of who we are have been clothed with Christ and are one in Christ Jesus. One!
Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4 of the unity we should have in the body of Christ regardless of our differences. "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:1-6).
In all the bickering among Christians over politics, theology, practice and racial issues we forget one core principle: There is one body and one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father who (and hear this) is Over all that other stuff, who is through all and in all of us. The Father and the gospel transcend our differences so that we can be one family in Him.
Then why all of our divisions? Because we don't understand that it is in Jesus that we are made one. In fact, Paul says in Ephesians 2:14 that "he himself is our peace (in spite of our differences), who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility" between Jews and Gentiles (and all those things that could divide us), because "His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." And so we are no longer disparate and divided people but "fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household."
Which leads me back to Acts, but this time to Acts 13 where you see the church moving from a mono cultural place to a multi cultural place. In fact, as a result of Paul and Barnabas's ministry, gentiles were brought into God's family and "The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. This set the stage for the council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 where the leaders of the church endorsed the fact that the church was to be made up of Jews and Gentiles and all who responded to the Gospel setting the stage for major multiethnic congregations throughout Asia Minor.
All of this reflects God's intent for the church. We come to the foot of the cross and into the family of God as equals. We come to Him despite our differences and He knits us together into living stones of His household. We come from disparate backgrounds but have one faith, one hope, one baptism, one Spirit within us and one Lord of all.
Therefore, the picture of the church in Revelation is to be the picture for our congregations today. In a day of division we ought to be a people who come together under His banner. Multi ethnic, different social classes, political rivals - it does not matter because Jesus brings peace between God and us and between us with each other. The more our congregations look like the congregation in heaven the closer we come to the reality of who God is and who is family is and how He makes peace between people who otherwise would not have peace. He is our Peace!
Sadly, the typical evangelical church is not living in that peace. We have become more tribal than ever. We are moving away from unity toward disunity. We need to reclaim Christ's vision for the church.
The Acts two church is beautiful. The Acts 13 church is amazing! When the Spirit of God and our love for one another come together, our differences fade compared to our commitment to Jesus and His family. In a day when there is so much division, He is our Peace!