Organization as a Precondition of Revival (Acts 1:20-26)


In Acts 1:5, 8, Jesus promised his disciples that soon after his ascension they would “be baptized with the Holy Spirit” and “receive power.” Acts 2:1-41 narrates the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise on the Day of Pentecost. Between Jesus’ promise and its Pentecostal fulfillment, Luke narrates two important events: the disciples “all joined together constantly in prayer” (1:12-14), and they chose an apostolic replacement for Judas Iscariot (1:15-26).
 
If the Day of Pentecost is a paradigm of spiritual revival for the church, then prayer and organization are preconditions for it. I have already written about prayer in my comments on Acts 1:12-14. So today I’m going to focus on organization.
 
First, however, let me address a widespread attitude that is destructive of true Christianity, namely, the notion that we can be authentically spiritual without organized religion. Many Americans describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” Interestingly, many in the church have adopted a similar attitude: “Christianity is about relationship, not religion.” Neither of these sentiments makes biblical sense to me.
 
In Acts 1:15-26, Peter addresses the Judas Problem with Jesus’ disciples. Because Jesus hand-selected the Twelve Apostles to be his designated witnesses, and because Judas self-selected out of the Twelve through his treachery, his “place of leadership”—Gr., episkopen, from which we get the word episcopacyhad to be filled. “It is necessary to choose,” Peter says in verse 21, before laying out the qualifications for Judas’ successor.
 
What were those qualifications? He had to be “one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection” (verses 21-22). In the event, two men fit these qualifications, and after prayer and the casting of lots, Matthias was chosen to be Judas’ successor.
 
If spiritual experience can be detached from organized religion, the selection of Matthias makes little sense. Why piddle around filling an empty slot in the apostolic org chart if it’s not necessary? But if Peter thought it “necessary” to fill the slot of Judas’ “apostolic ministry” (verse 25), then perhaps spiritual experience cannot be detached from organized religion after all.
 
Let me take this one step further. If organized religion is such a bad thing, why did Jesus appoint the Twelve Apostles in the first place? Precisely because he appointed them, organized religion cannot be such a bad thing.
 
Organized religion does several things for spiritual experience, at least in the Christian faith. First, it reminds us that God makes and keeps promises across generations. Centuries of prophets, priests, and kings prepared the way for the coming of Jesus. Second, it provides an authoritative interpretation of spiritual experience. That is why the apostles had to be eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry. Christianity is not a cleverly told tale; it is history. And third, organized religion channels the tremendous energy of spiritual experience into missional outcomes. Churches, precisely because they are organized, are better able to evangelize and disciple people than are lone individuals.
 
Organized religion is not perfect. Indeed, detached from vital spirituality, it becomes oppressive. But rather than being spiritual or religious, why can’t we be both?

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