Mission-Shaped Church: A Critical Commentary and Analysis

2.1 The Apostolic Church

We seem to be incalculably far away from the practice of the early Church as summarised in Acts 2.42-7: "They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many signs and wonders were being done by the Apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need Day by day, as they spent much time together in the Temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved" (NRSV).

We no longer have a sense of wonder and therefore no longer generate wonder; we no longer break bread in our homes and although we break it in church more than ever before in Christian history, sclerotic clericalism is depriving many; we do not hold our goods in common and, indeed, are perceived to be the well off condemning materialism; we do not enjoy the esteem of the people, partly because of our internal dissension but also partly because we speak in code; and we consequently do not add to our numbers every day although we believe that this is the over-riding criterion of growth.

Yet, although it is dangerous to make glib comparisons between the 1st and the 21st Centuries there are some features which bear examination. We live in a global society as did the Apostles who worked within the Roman Empire. Their outlook, very similar to ours, provides an enormous contrast with the Church of England of the late 18th Century before a period of widespread missionary activity spearheaded by Wesley on the one hand and the Oxford Movement on the other. The contrast is not in the environment but in the context: whereas the Apostles, filled with the inspiration of the Resurrection and fired by the Holy Spirit, were looking forward, we, depressed by a decline in our numbers and influence, are looking back to a supposed golden age. Whereas the Apostles were able to move easily across Roman Provincial boundaries, we find internationalism almost impossibly difficult.