What kind of formative welcome do we have ready for new Christians?
The wealthy merchants of Liverpool, England, at the turn of the 20th century wanted to make plain that their city was a great city at the height of Great Britain’s imperial grandeur. So they commissioned a new Anglican cathedral. And they got what they asked for.
The Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool is one of largest churches in the world. Only St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is longer, as the Liverpool Cathedral stretches the length of a football field and a half. Only four churches in the world are larger in total volume, and it possesses the world’s largest bell tower. Thousands of people can worship there.
Strangely, however, in all of this huge space there seems no room dedicated to children. Or to Christian instruction. Apparently the care of new believers wasn’t a priority.
What would have happened should that great church suddenly have experienced an influx of converts, the way the Early Church in Jerusalem experienced such a blessing at Pentecost?
Are we set up to receive such a blessing here and now?
God added several thousand new believers to the Church that Pentecost. God didn’t provide a team of angels for mass education. Instead God expected the Early Church to welcome the newcomers into their community and help them learn the faith.
So what kind of church life did God know would be sufficient to disciple so many converts?
We notice in Acts 2:42 that they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers.
My students are supposed to devote themselves to my teaching. Yet if a student testified that she listened to me speak for maybe 30 minutes per week, you might consider her devotion to be at a rather low ebb. What would it mean to devote ourselves to serious Christian education?
In most Canadian churches today, it’s customary after the morning worship service to adjourn to a hall for "fellowship," by which we mean small talk, coffee and snacks.
Before we snicker, let’s note that social scientists recognize that small talk is not insignificant talk. Small talk strengthens the bonds of communication that will facilitate the big talk necessary in any serious relationship.
The question is: Do we ever have that big talk? When do we share the major things of life, truly partnering with each other?
As for worship in the breaking of bread, if you were to ask me if I am devoted to Canada’s alternative religion – hockey – and I say I watch an hour’s worth of hockey a week, you might question my seriousness, if not my Canadian citizenship. What would it mean to be devoted to worship? Both individually and corporately?
Finally, we pray for a few minutes during every worship service and likely before each meal. Many of us pray before we go to sleep. But would anybody look at our lives and plausibly conclude that we are devoted to prayer?
Acts 2 challenges us even further with its description of signs and wonders, and the willingness of the early Christians to sell whatever they owned to provide for each other. In our day, the willingness of people to sell what they have to care for each other’s needs would itself be a sign and a wonder.
Time on task – we get good at what we practise. We help other people get good at the things we share time together actually doing. And if there are new Christians among us, and they are introduced to this kind of community, they can’t help but grow soundly and joyfully.
So is God holding back a flood of new converts until we are ready to receive them?
Recently it was reported in northwest India that a single church baptized 2,000 converts. More startling was another report of 2,000 new members coming into a single congregation in south-central England.
How about St. John’s? Or Sudbury, Saskatoon or Squamish?
Forget 2,000. How about 200? How about 20?
May God bestow on us the Spirit of expectancy such that we will plan and prepare for success. And may God add to us daily those who are being saved.
John Stackhouse teaches at Crandall University in Moncton. Find more of these columns at www.FaithToday.ca/ChristAndCulture.