Acts 2094

Michael Metzger

Now that we’ve hit Pause, here are three ways to make the most of social distancing.

I decided to suspend my Further Up and Further In series for a week to address the pandemic. No one knows how long we’re going to be under lockdown due to the coronavirus. But there’s no reason to shutdown entirely. Here are three ways we can make the most of this time.

First, it seems the US government is going to be cutting every taxpayer a check. Frankly, about a quar­ter of the pri­vate work­force (34 mil­lion) needs this money more than the rest of us.

About half of this 34 mil­lion is em­ployed in ser­vices jobs in the hos­pi­tality in­dus­try, where oc­cu­pations earn less than the over­all me­dian pay for all US work­ers of $18.58. The me­dian wage for a restau­rant job is $11.09 an hour. The other half comes from re­tail, per­sonal and main­tenance ser­vice jobs—many of which start at the min­i­mum wage, as low as $7.25 an hour.

In addition to this, al­most 40 percent of Amer­icans don’t have enough cash on hand to cover an un­expected $400 ex­pense (according to 2019 Fed­eral Re­serve sur­vey). They are a pay-check away from fi­nan­cial stress. They need help more than the rest of us.

So here’s an idea: How about churches, neighborhoods, and networks of friends and colleagues pooling whatever the US Treasury gives us and giving it to the neediest in our communities?

My second idea: Biblical illiteracy plagues the US faith community. Difficult to overcome if we don’t read the Bible. Yet most of my friends complain they don’t have sufficient margins to read the Bible. We do now. I recommend reading the lectionary. Couple of reasons why.

The lectionary covers the entire Bible in three years. Second, we join over two-thirds of the worldwide communion of saints who read the same lectionary. This is helpful as independent churches often tend to do their own thing, or try to be original. Older Christian traditions aimed for univocity, how the church, as the Bride of Jesus, ought to “speak with one voice.”

Third, this lectionary features wonderful biographies of saints from the past. In March, we read about Thomas Ken, who died on March 19, 1711. He was an Anglican clergyman best known for his book of sermons, as well as the many hymns he wrote. Churches worldwide sing an excerpt from one: Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow / Praise Him, all creatures here below / Praise Him above, ye heavenly host / Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

This leads to my third idea. Use this time to learn a little church history and theology. These lectionary biographies remind us of how the church operated in AD100, 500, 700, 1500, and so on. Most Westerners are ignorant of church history. Many assume we operate just like the church in the Book of Acts, so we draw a straight line from Acts 28—the last chapter—to today’s churches, calling them Acts 29.

There is no straight line. The early church blossomed like a three-leaf clover—Asia, Africa, and Europe. And even “though languages differ throughout the world,” wrote Irenaeus (177-202 AD) the bishop of Lyons, France, “the content of the Tradition is one and the same.” Few of my friends are familiar with the Tradition. So they don’t see where we diverge from Acts 28.

Eugene Peterson did. He was a prophetic pastor. Prophets critique the church because they love the church. Peterson’s critique was tough. He wrote that a great deal of what churches do today “hasn’t the remotest connection” with what churches did for most of twenty centuries.[1] But we’d have to read the lectionary for three years, as well as learn a little church history, to understand why Peterson wrote this critique.

The Book of Acts has 28 chapters spanning 30 years (AD33-63). Pull out your trusty calculator and do the math. It works out to 1.07 chapters per year. We’re 1,957 years after AD63, so it’s fair to say we’re Acts 2094, not Acts 29. A whole lot of church chapters have been written, and too many in Western Christianity are unfamiliar with them.

Use this time of social distancing to become familiar with 2,000 years of church history.

Next week, we return to our little journey further up and further in.

Be check out the latest Clapham podcast:

[1] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Eerdmans, 1989), 1.


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  1. Thanks, Mike. I really like the recommendation to pool resources locally for the check every American is going to get.

    I also like the challenge to read more Church history. I don’t know the context of Cardinal Henry Newman’s quote, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had similar thoughts in mind when he said: “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”

    How’s the Tiber looking these days?

  2. Dear readers:

    Upon further reflection, my math is bad! It’s .93 chapter per year in the Book of Acts. We’re 1,957 years after the last chapter (28). So we should be living Acts 1820.

    Oh well…

  3. Michele

    Glad you asked.

    I’d recommend “The Rise of Christianity” by Rodney Stark
    Next. “The First Urban Christians” (Wayne Meeks)
    Next… “The Rise of Western Christendom” (Peter Brown)

    Finally, a new book I’m going to be commenting on in future colums: “Our Bodies Tell God’s Story,” by Christopher West.

    Perhaps West’s best book to date. Note that he says the “crowning theme” in the gospel (i.e. the governing metaphor surpassing all the other metaphors for the gospel) is “God wants to marry us.”

    In Western Christianity, we rarely hear that from the pulpit. Nor do most Western Christians imagine all that this means.

    When you’ve read all these, let me know. My list of recommended books is rather lengthy!

  4. I do have one nore book for my Protestant friends who feel Roman Catholicism is mostly about rules, rituals, rote prayers, and law.

    I’m Protestant but found that “Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History,” written by Rodney Stark, also a Protestant, debunks many of our assumptions.

    You’ll see how we often oppose what is actually a gross mischaracterization fostered by Protestant writers.

  5. Mike;
    All of this resonates deeply with me. I appreciate your ideas and recommendations. Two years ago I decided that my focus would be to “Root Down”. I unraveled myself from “causes” and many commitments in order to free up time to be in the Word of God. I was feeling the need to be better prepared to give answers to my kids and my friends. It has been life-changing. The closer I get, the more I abide, and the more I abide the more the nearness to Him heals. It makes me realize that the host of believers around me who are living in defeat are living this way simply out of anemia, as I was. The body of Christ is anemic. We are weak not only in our knowledge of the Scriptures but in abiding with it so that it can divide bone and marrow and judge the attitudes of our hearts. As tragic as this time is globally, I feel an undercurrent of excitement towards what God can do with this. I’m familiar with Rodney Stark’s writings, I’m familiar with Christopher West’s message (his books and live talk introduced to me by John Seel), and look forward to adding the lectionary to my reading list. THANK YOU FOR YOUR INPUT! Stay well!

  6. Thanks for the suggestion about donating funds we get from the feds. It just takes a suggestion to set in motion someone primed to act. That was me. I have publicly committed whatever I get to FISH of Howard County, Inc. I have also begun reading from the lectionary which is published as part of the Serendipity Bible

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