And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Our Scripture today is much more than the words we have recorded here in this brief passage. Certainly, it connects to everything President Harrison had to say on Tuesday and to what President Stoterau was saying yesterday, about the Pentecost proclamation of Peter [Both preached on earlier portions of Acts 2]. It connects also to the proclamation in the chapters to come, as Peter would preach in Acts 3: “Repent, therefore, and turn, that your sins may be washed away, and that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (3:19-20).
But what is it that we have here, really? That they were holding everything in common? Distributing to everyone as he had need? Is this an experiment in “proto-communism” that was destined to fail? An impossible ideal? Inspirational to be sure, but impossible nonetheless?
Yet the language here is very nitty gritty – down to earth, incarnational, even. Full of present participles, periphrastic constructions and imperfect verbs, it’s describing ongoing actions, videos, if you will, not snap shots. This is what they were continually doing, those 3000 who were baptized on Pentecost, to whom the Lord was adding every day.
They were devoting themselves – proskarterountes – meaning, to be firm, to persevere, to be faithful to a person. We might best say – “They were completely given over to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
Next verse: Literally, “fear was happening with every soul” and “signs and wonder were happening through the apostles.” “They were selling their property and possessions and distributing them.” “They were devoting themselves to the temple together,” same word – proskarterountes – and the Lord was adding to their number daily. None of this could be human work, but it was the Lord Jesus Himself alive in their midst working by His Spirit.
But that also begs the question! To what are we devoting ourselves? To what are we completely given over? What or whom do we fear? What signs are at work among us? What reputation do we have?
Maybe what really makes us feel uncomfortable with this passage is the contrast… The contrast between our life together and the koinonia, the life together, of these 3000, growing daily. I guess, when we really consider it, the contrast makes us feel, even at our best, like nothing more than sinful frauds.
Yet therein also lies a trap, a deceptive trap laid by Satan himself. For when we talk about this contrast, it is so easy to think of the sins of others against the koinonia, and much harder for me to consider my own, to consider how often I have been the obstacle to koinonia, how my actions and attitudes have hindered the Lord’s way among us. And the same is true for you.
But when the Spirit thereby leads us to repentance, He also shows us the truly incarnational side of koinonia, the incarnational nature of this word, koinonia, the act of holding things in common.
These baptized believers were led to hold everything in common. But before that could ever happen, the Lord Jesus came to hold everything in common with us. St. Paul writes, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).
What does it mean to have fellowship with Jesus? It means we have everything in common with Jesus. Well, what do I have to give to Jesus? Nothing He hasn’t first given to me… except for my sin, my death. But that is exactly what He has come to take! In this wonderful great exchange Jesus takes my sin, my death and gives me His righteousness, His life, His peace, His presence for ever.
This is the truly incarnational meaning of koinonia. Jesus identified with us. He took on our flesh. He carried all our sins. He held them in common with us on the cross. He took them along into His grave where they are buried forever because He rose from the dead.
That’s why the real koinonia begins as a fellowship of sinners, sinners who know they are dead without Jesus. Sinners who know it is true: what the Pharisees in Luke 15 meant as the ultimate putdown, is actually the ultimate good news, for sinners, “This man receives sinners and even eats with them!” (Luke 15:2).
Not only that, He feeds them with Himself! The ultimate fellowship or koinonia here on earth is what Paul describes in chapter 10 of 1st Corinthians: “The cup we bless, is it not a participation [a koinonia] in the blood of Christ? The bread we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).
And this koinonia, this holding in common, goes both ways. Bread and wine share in the body and blood of Christ placed on our lips, so that we who share in His body and blood also have koinonia with one another even as Christ gives Himself to us.
So “they were devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The apostles teaching and fellowship… this is the teaching about a real Savior, for real sinners. Who actually took on our flesh, who took our sin into Himself, who suffered the full wrath of God for our sin on His cross, in our place. Who rose again and is alive today.
He does not leave us as sinful frauds, but He unites Himself with us. He sits down to have a meal with us, a meal where He feeds us with Himself, where He has fellowship with us, where He brings us into the Father’s house, and restores us to the Father’s table.
As you may know, we are developing what we are calling “The Koinonia Project,” a means by which we pray our Synod can be drawn closer together in its life together by means of helping each other hear God’s Word clearly. For more information, the concept paper is on the Synod’s website on the President’s page.
But the heart of the real koinonia is this: that we have Jesus in common, and that Jesus receives us, that Jesus takes everything we have, even our sin and death. And that Jesus gives us everything He has, everything good, now and forever.
Then what John writes about koinonia becomes true for us as well:
“If we say we have fellowship with Him, and yet we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another [koinonia] and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7-8).
“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[Sermon preached by LCMS Vice-President Herbert Mueller on Thursday, September 22, 2011, at the National Mission Conference of members of the COP, District Mission Execs and others, for opening devotion.]
Pastor Robert Zagore of Trinity Lutheran Church in Traverse City, MI, wrote a book review for Logia on the Witness, Mercy, Life Together Bible Study published by CPH. Logia is a quarterly journal published by The Luther Academy. You can read about Logia here. The review is posted below but can be found at Logia’s Blogia site. A special thanks to both Pastor Zagore and Logia for the book review.
A new Bible study and DVD presentation, Witness, Mercy, Life Together [Witness Mercy Life Together Bible Study by Albert B. Collver, Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2011. 64 pages. $5.99.]
has been published as a rally-cry-educational-let’s-work-together piece by Dr. Albert Collver and the LCMS President Matthew Harrison. Many pastors who receive it in the mail will have a conditioned response, ‘we’ve seen this before.’ Every publishing house, every administration and (it seems) most pastors seek to build the church into a savvy social organization using marketing surveys, demographic insights and the effective use of technology. Slogans and catch phrases inform believers about the church’s core competencies, strategic goals, and mission. Books and “Bible Studies” show how their’s is really the Lord’s plan updated and informed by the insights of the modern mind. How strange and welcomed therefore is the new Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod theme and emphasis which is built on something altogether different. “Witness, Mercy and Life Together” is the new Synodical emphasis put forward by LCMS President Matthew Harrison and his administrative staff. The emphasis is not a focus-group-tested slogan set forth to move forward with strategic objectives. “Witness,” “Mercy,” and “Life Together” are words the Lord has spoken describing the work of His church. The church is purest and most beautiful when she is defined and described by the Lord. Through His eyes she stands as, “a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27). It is indescribably refreshing to the weary to hear those words applied to us. That is the point of the new study by Dr. Albert Collver, to hear what the Lord has said about His church and embrace it as a gift. From the start one can tell this theme and Bible study are much different than the usual “grow more, give more, get more” fare.
The difference becomes obvious in Lesson One, “Witness.” In the church-speak world the word witness has become shorthand for an intentional conversation by which believers help an unbeliever make a decision for Christ and therefore grow the kingdom. “Lesson One” should really be called “Round One” because Collver gently wrestles the word back to its Biblical intent, “The Lord saves souls, but He locates His saving Gospel in the Church, and He uses people within the Church as his instruments to proclaim the Gospel” (p.14). The leader’s guide, the accompanying Steven Starke hymn, and the impressive concordance of Biblical usage thoroughly equip students and leaders to complete the journey which brings the word “witness” back from Law to Gospel.
“Round Two,” builds on this gift and extends it. Throughout history, well-intented but misguided people have declared that pure doctrine and the desire to save the lost are antagonistic goals. Systematicians have sometimes made doctrine devoid of proclamation. Mysticism, pietism, the theological descendants of Dwight Moody decry doctrinal and confessional subscription as anti-missional. The LCMS is certainly no stranger to this battle. Collver however beautifully and convincingly demonstrates that these two stand together in the Lord’s church, “A witness that does not confess what Jesus taught is not a Christian witness. Likewise, a confession that does not witness is not a New Testament confession. . .Telling about Jesus and doctrine go together” (p.18). The leaders’ guide to this section is especially strong. As Collver presents a precisely written and beautiful summary of how true doctrine is manifest in Christ coming to us according to His promise—which is the only hope of the world. With very little modification the leaders’ guide could become a great Christmas sermon.
Lesson three, wrestles the word “mercy” (his translation of the Greek word diakonia) back into it’s Biblical sense, “Being rooted in the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won for us on the cross, mercy means feeding the poor, taking care of the sick, and caring for the orphans and widows. Diakonia, then is caring for our neighbor in concrete and effective ways because of what Jesus has done for us” (p.22). Collver does not speak of himself, but his experience as a parish pastor and as an executive in LCMS World Relief and Human Care fills this far-too-brief study with an authenticity and understanding that is known by one who has “done the hard work” (Proverbs 14:23).
Lesson four, “Life Together” leads through a study of the Biblical word koinonia. Once again the word is rescued and revived from its more unworthy uses. In common usage koinonia and its common translation fellowship have lost their Biblical, sacramental foundation and have come to refer to donuts. Collver’s study and leaders’ guide demonstrates with great skill that our fellowship and unity are not founded on liking each other (think of St. Paul and Barnabas), but on a doctrinal and sacramental unity that transcends men, personalities and time. If the LCMS (and any denomination) would escape their bondage to bickering and infighting it will only be as people who have a bond that is deeper than human affronts and leadership cults. “Life Together” rightly teaches Divine fellowship that flows from the Gospel as the hope and substance of churchly interaction. Reconciliation with Christ through His cross enables reconciliation with others. Individual gifts find their fruit and proper use through their incorporation in the Body of Christ.
Lesson five, “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” speaks of the history of conflict in days of the apostles. The obvious conclusion is that the unity of the church has always been under assault from without and from within. The only proper response and the only faithful response of the church is to return to the mission which can be summarized by the Bible’s words witness, mercy and life together. It is indeed commendable that the author would take this approach to a topic so important at this stage of the LCMS’s life. The approach is Biblical, evangelical and draws us to the Gospel and the need for the faithful administration of the Word and Sacraments.
The accompanying DVD shows LCMS President Harrison presenting these same doctrines in a way that is winsome, pastoral, humorous and demonstrates a tremendous grasp of the practical application of Lutheran theology. While the production quality is not wonderful, it is hard to imagine a faithful non-partisan who could fail to be edified and delighted by Harrison’s presentations.
The study is designed to be used in any adult or teen level Bible class and can be used with great profit. Pastors may find that its most enduring value will be as a “new member’s” class or a follow-up to Catechism and confirmation classes. Many congregations offer special classes for those who wish to join by transfer or reaffirmation of faith; it is hard to imagine a better study for such use.
The Bible studies, leaders’ guide and DVD are not fundraising, team building or leadership training devices that use pop psychology and marketing techniques to win hearts. They are Biblical, sacramental, genuine, doctrinally solid, studies on the nature of the Church. It is easily the most useful item to come out of the Synodical Office Building since the sainted A. L. Barry’s What About series; and in many ways, it is more important. One can pray that the Biblical emphases in these studies will come to mark President Harrison’s term of office. If so, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is entering a period of great importance in this dark and fallen world. “The world is longing for what we have,” Harrison cries out in the presentation. If the LCMS and her leaders can maintain a strong Biblical witness, shown forth in mercy and lived out in our life together, she will truly be, “a radiant church.”
Robert Zagore is Senior Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church and School, Traverse City, MI.
Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, (as well as historians from Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne), have been instrumental in the development and production of a new film Walther. The film will be out Fall 2011 and premires on 10 October 2011 at 7:00 p.m. at the Wehrenberg Theater Des Peres 14, located at 1215 Des Peres Rd. in St. Louis, MO. The film will also be shown at the Walther Round Table on 25 October 2011.
The film looks like a great resource for congregations to use in celebration of Walther’s 200th birthday.
Check out the Walther Movie site at Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis.
See the flier below:
The National Mission Conference (September 20-22, 2011) began today with worship and a sermon by President Harrison based on Acts 2:14-28. In his sermon, the task of Christians is to bring forgiveness to people. The audio to the sermon may be listened to below or downloaded here.
After the sermon, Rev. Bart Day, Executive Director of the Office of National Mission (ONM), provided an overview of the ONM. Rev. Day explained that the Office of National Mission includes RSOs, Youth, Schools, Stewardship, Worship, and Church and Community Engagement. Each of these areas include various sub-areas, the largest being the area of Church and Community Engagement, which includes items such as Hispanic and Ethnic ministry, Black ministry, church planting, Gospel seeds, revitalization, the 72, rural ministry, et. al.
The goal of this conference is this conference is to listen to each other and to discuss with the District Presidents and various national mission leaders the best way to carry out the task of national mission. Priorities may also be identified and suggested.
In his address to the group, Rev. Day indicated the importance of listening to one another and how he was there to listen to this group. To emphasize the importance of listening, Rev. Day quoted the following passage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, which he has used in staff devotions:
The first service one owes to others in the community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives us God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear. We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to ‘offer’ something when they are together with other people. They forgot that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening. But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either; they will always be talking even in the presence of God. The death of the spiritual life starts here, and in the end there is nothing left but empty spiritual chatter and clerical condescension which chokes on pious words. Those who cannot listen long and patiently will always be talking past others, and finally no longer will even notice it. Those who think their time is too precious to spend listening will never really have time for God and others, but only for themselves and for their own words and plans.
(Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. “Life Together.” In Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, 5:1-139, 1987, 98).
The National Mission Conference is off to a good start. More information on the conference will appear later in the Reporter.
President Harrison preached a the opening service of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, when Dr. Larry Rast was installed as her 16th president on 11 September 2011. The sermon can be downloaded here, or listened below.
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Welcome! We hope you visit often to read regular contributions from officers and executive staff of the LCMS as they tell the stories of their lives, vocations and the work of the Synod through the lens of "Witness, Mercy, Life Together."
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