When is a sequel, not a sequel?
What if Luke had really wanted to only write one long book, instead of the Part 1&2 of Luke-Acts? There were serious publishing restrictions on written works in the first century. A single book the length of Luke-Acts would be too long for standard scrolls and create problems for copyists. If it were really intended to be one book, then is it possible that it really has one plot, one theme, and a single central element. I want to propose that the focus is Church, with a capital ‘C.’
The center passage in a combined Luke-Acts is Acts 2:42-47, where we see the ideal first fellowship of Christians. They are gathered into ‘Church,’ in Jerusalem in the days that follow the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Like Adam and Eve in Paradise they live a short paragraph without sin. They do all the things that Church will do everywhere; they study, they pray, they live in community meeting the needs of the weakest among them, they witness by their simplicity and charity towards those outside the faith. Never again will a church be so purely Church.
Luke gives us previews of this coming moment in his Gospel. You have the women joining the disciples in ministry in Luke 8:1-3, and a church on the road being Church with a capital ‘C.’ You have Jesus’ parables, particularly in Luke 15, where Church is defined by its efforts to reconnect with the lost. You can probably find hundreds more, but these pop into my mind.
In Acts, all the adventures of Peter and Paul flow out of a desire to form fellowships for faith in every place that look like the Acts 2:42-47 Church. Perhaps we should note the things that don’t show up in this model of Church, yet seem to have become our idols today. Nowhere in Acts is a church reduced to its membership role, nor is there much hand wringing over statistical reports. Finances, budgets, and trustee meetings seem to have fallen off the Acts radar. Church buildings are also absent, and there doesn’t seem to be much hurry to get under roof. In fact, flexibility and being the Church among the people of the community seems to be the watch word.
What then is Church? Church is a gathering of people for prayer, study, and worship, who relate to each other and to the world as Christ desires.