Characteristics of a missionary church
Cheesefare Sunday, has been designated by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese as Missions Day. I would like to offer a few words on the subject of mission, and specifically: What kind of a community is a Missionary Community?
For answers let us turn to the Acts of the Apostles. The whole Church sprung out of the upper Room in Jerusalem. As from a Big Bang, the Church spread all over the world. So when we inquire about the elements and ingredients a missionary church should possess, we look especially upon the Mother Church.
Who were the people gathered in the Upper Room? There were the eleven disciples, then the 72 other disciples who followed the Lord, the brothers and sisters of the Lord, and the Holy Theotokos–the holy scripture brings their number to 120 total: “all these with one accord,” the Acts of the Apostles attest, “devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14).
Two elements emerge immediately from this short description:
Oneness, Unity: “With one accord” indicates not just gathered in one place physically, but that there was an agreement among them, a unanimity, a concord–they were bonded together in oneness of mind and heart.
Prayer: The nucleus of the first Church did not simply wait idly there. They were engaged in the most important action of the Church, prayer: They “devoted themselves to prayer.” They were not just praying, praying at a time, praying occasionally, praying while doing so many other things–they “devoted” themselves to prayer. They made prayer their chief occupation.
obedience: What brought them together was obedience to the word of Christ, who had directed the Eleven, “Stay in the city” (Lk. 24:49) and wait for the Promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit. In obedience to His word they waited for ten days, until the Holy Spirit descended upon all those gathered together on Holy Pentecost.
Thus, being together, in oneness of mind and heart, in sweet anticipation of the Promise of the Father, in obedience to the Master’s word, and while applying themselves to prayer, they received the Holy Spirit, and they were anointed Apostles and missionaries of Christ.
Likewise, the expanded community, that incorporated the 3,000 souls that were added at the preaching of the Apostle Peter, also
“devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 3:42).
In addition to Oneness, Prayer and Obedience, we find two additional elements or characteristics the earliest Christian community possessed, which are necessary in every Christian community, following holy Pentecost:
Discipleship: This is expressed by the two terms, “teaching” and “fellowship.” It is not enough to be taught; a Christian needs to “be there,” to “attend” not so much a place, but to have a Mentor, a Master, a Spiritual Father.
Eucharist: The “breaking of Bread” was the technical term used in the early Church for holy Eucharist. The Christian community was and remains a Eucharist-centered community. In fact this is its chief characteristic.
To these elements we should add:
Charity: The scripture attests how much the members of the earliest Christian community cared for each other:
“There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the Apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35).
Of course we must add two more foundational elements of any Christian community: faith and repentance.
Faith: The Christian community was definitely a believing community. In fact this is how it all started: with faith. At the same time with faith came…
Repentance: A Church is a gathering, not of perfect people, not of people better than others, but, before anything else, of repentant people.
Finally we come to the element that is a consequence, a result of the other elements. A community, such as the one we have described, attests to the truth, gives witness to the truth.
Witness to the truth: “You will be my witnesses,” the Lord had said to His disciples. So, the Christian community is by its very composition a witnessing community. The word of God was proclaimed with boldness.
No wonder with such characteristics the Christian community grew in numbers, attracting many new members quickly, as the word of its holiness spread around. The scripture attests:
“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
“And more than ever believers were added to the Lord” (Acts 5:14).
“and the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem” (Acts 6:7).
Of course not everyone is an apostle (cf. 1 Cor. 12:29), but all of us are supposed to give an account of our faith, not so much with words, as with works, with our Christian life. This is the best testimony.
“The primary witness we can offer to one another is the holiness of our life.”
All of us should give ourselves completely to the Lord’s service, without any reservations (cf. 1 Cor. 7:35)
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