Many intrepid climbers lost their lives before Sir Edmund Hillary finally reached the summit of Mt. Everest on May 29th, 1953. Some said climbing Everest was an impossible task to be taken on only by fools who placed little value on their own lives. The hostile conditions coupled with the unpredictability of the weather and the unexpected pitfalls that lay around every turn made Everest as dangerous as it was irresistible. To stand at its base and look at its summit more than five miles up and declare it would one day be conquered amounted to the arrogance of someone believing they could reach the summit with nothing more than a step ladder.
But the fact that Mt. Everest would one day be conquered was never in doubt. The height of Everest, as daunting at it is at more than 29,000 feet, is fixed. It cannot grow but human beings made in the image of God can. Humanity grew in their boldness and ingenuity until the summit was reached.
The first century Church must have felt like they were standing at the base of Mt. Everest with nothing but a step ladder. If they turned to the left, they faced a hostile environment from a pagan Roman culture that worshiped Caesar as a god. If they turned to the right, the early believers faced their own people, who had been incited to vengeance against them by the Jewish leaders. According to the book of Acts, they were small in number. The 120 believers who waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit exploded to 3000 in a single day but that was still just a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the expanse of the Roman Empire.
Acts 2:42-47 reveals four key strategies that allowed the first century Church to achieve the equivalent of conquering Everest with a step ladder. They realized Satan’s power was fixed but they possessed the power of the Holy Spirit which was limitless.
First, they were a learning Church. Acts 2:42a says, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” They were a people concerned about knowing and defending the truth. They accepted and acted upon the teaching of God’s Word as they received it from the apostles. The Word of God became a fire inside their lives that motivated them to obey God, moving them outside the walls and into the world where their witness had a transformational influence on everyone they encountered.
For more than fifteen years my denomination (Southern Baptist) fought to turn the denomination in a more conservative direction. For over twenty-five years true conversions followed by baptism dropped because as a people, instead of reaching the lost we lost our way. We wandered in the wilderness of mushy preaching and tepid reaching that left us powerless. But after a long hard fight we returned to our biblical roots, embraced the truth of God’s Word, and, for a time we saw the conversion rate begin to climb.
But 2007 figures painted a picture of decline rather than a pattern of growth. One must wonder if we have once again abandoned the clear preaching of God’s Word, substituting a “felt needs” gospel that is powerless to bring about real change. If we want to see the Church revived we must begin with a recommitment to the Truth.
Second, according to verse 43, the early Church was a leaning Church. The sense of awe they felt and the demonstrations of power they witnessed were made possible by their willingness to lean on the power of God. They believed in prayer and they worshipped, not only in the temple but from house to house as they fellowshipped together. True corporate worship is the overflow of the personal worship that takes place when the church meets together. Sparks in the individual lives of believers lead to a fire that burns brightly when believers come together to celebrate God in worship.
Third, the early Church was a loving Church. Acts 2:44-45 says, “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing with all, as anyone might have need.” This was no commune or cult but a congregation of true believers who loved each other enough to do whatever it might take to meet each others needs. The world looks at the Church today and sees everything but love. Our message of salvation gets lost in the sound of the “noisy gong and clanging cymbal” of 1 Corinthians 13:1 because we have elevated style over substance and lifestyles over love.
Finally the early Church as a living Church. All living organisms grow and expand, pushing through boundaries and making a place in the world. Acts 2:47b says, “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The early Church didn’t wait for “Monday night visitation” or a fall or spring revival to be evangelistic. They lived out the power of the God, learning, leaning. and loving in such a way they exalted the living Christ. It was a bold and contagious way to live considering the hostile environment they with which they had to contend.
When you think about it, it was much like the environment the Church faces today. Conflict within and condemnation without, modern Western Christianity stands at the foot of Mt. Everest looking up at the summit with just a step ladder. But if we will learn and apply the lessons of the early Church we will find ourselves standing on the summit of the spiritual obstacles that stand in our way. We can scale the Everest of a post-modern culture with just a step ladder if the ladder is firmly planted on the foundation of God’s truth. We will find it is actually an extension ladder that can grow until the fixed opposition of the enemy is conquered.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.