Why Can’t We Be an Acts 2 Church?

The Bible, the band, and the future of the church.

Chris Hutchison on January 6, 2020

“2nd Chapter of Acts.” When you read those words, some of you might think about a chapter in the Bible. But if you were a Christian in the 70s and 80s, you may think instead of the musical group by that name, a group which was very popular and influential during those decades. With songs like “Easter Song” and “Mansion Builder” and “Your Love Broke Through,” 2nd Chapter of Acts helped define the sound and create the genre that came to be known as Contemporary Christian Music.

Now those of you in the first category—who thought about the Bible, not the band—might be asking the question, “Why in the world would a band give themselves a name like that?”

The answer is that this band was formed during the early 70s in the throes of the “Jesus Movement.” This was an incredible time in history as hundreds of thousands of young people, coming out of (or at least influenced by) the hippie movement, turned to Jesus. And all across North America the church grew and changed in unprecedented ways.

One of the defining marks of the Jesus Movement was a real dissatisfaction with the existing church. It was seen as too stuffy and traditionalistic and out of touch with young people in that day. 

This sentiment is summed up well in the 1972 song “Little Country Church,” sung by Love Song, another influential Jesus Movement band.

Little country church on the edge of town
Do do do do do do do
People comin’ everyday from miles around
For meetin’s and for Sunday school

And it’s very plain to see
It’s not the way it used to be

Preacher isn’t talkin’ bout religion no more
He just wants to praise the Lord
People aren’t as stuffy as they were before
They just want to praise the Lord

Chuck Girard | Fred Field ©1971 Dunamis Music

It’s not hard to imagine why these “Jesus People” were very interested in Acts 2. After all, Acts 2 describes the day when 3,000 people came to faith in Jesus in one event, and how for some time they all lived together in Jerusalem sharing their food and possessions with one another. As you read that chapter, especially verses 42-47, it sounds like a hippie’s dream come true.

Former hippies in the 70s weren’t the last Christians to be infatuated with this vision of Christianity. In my lifetime I’ve heard many people point to Acts 2, or at least use the more general phrase “the early church,” to describe the way we should be as the people of God.

Their sense is that the contemporary church is too structured. Too institutionalized. Recently I’ve heard several voices saying that pastors shouldn’t take salaries, churches shouldn’t own buildings, we should stop working so hard on having a great weekend service, and instead we should embrace this Acts chapter 2 kind of thing. No structure, no institutions, just spirit-filled people having authentic relationships and meaningful conversations with one another.

And I’ll admit that at times in my life I’ve tasted the allurement of the Acts 2 thing. “Sell the buildings, fire the paid staff, cancel the pension plans, and lets just love each other the way Jesus said we should!”

Today, though, I’m convinced that this perspective is shortsighted and naive and ultimately doesn’t square up with what the Bible itself actually teaches us about the church. And I can say this because the New Testament didn’t conclude with Acts chapter 2. That’s chapter is not the final word. Rather, it’s just the very first look at what happened when the risen Jesus sent His Holy Spirit upon His people.

For a very short period of time, the church did exist in a somewhat free-flowing stage of shared, communal life. But they didn’t stay that way. No group of people can stay that way—not even Spirit-filled Christians. Any group of people trying to do anything long-term and effective together will require structure and yes, institutionalization.

We get the first glimpse of this in Acts 6:1-6, where the distribution of food ran into problems, and the church appointed seven men to oversee that ministry. Fixing that problem needed more than a prayer meeting: it required the creation of an administrative structure.

And this is one of the significant themes we’ve seen so far in our study of 1 Timothy. Chapter 5, especially, reads like a policy document as it specifies the eligibility requirements for financial support, gives direction regarding remuneration for preaching elders, lays out disciplinary procedures for leadership, and so on.

In other words, the church did not stay in Acts chapter 2, and we should be grateful for this. The Holy-Spirit inspired administration and structure given in 1 Timothy was required for its long-term health. Let’s receive this instruction with gratefulness!


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