Fair warning: I spent 6-8 hours studying and refining material for my last post, but I have spent all of 25 minutes on this one, and 3/5 of that has been spent with proofreading and technicalities for clarity, not substance.
Yesterday morning, 10 people sat around a table prior to a class on Acts 6. One man was asked to kick things off by wording a prayer. He asked for God’s blessing on the “Bible study,” and then he corrected himself, mid-prayer: “Excuse me … I mean ‘Sunday School.'”
I immediately smiled (knowing no one would see me) and wondered what could have caused him to replace the former with the latter. We could discuss the merits of “Bible study” or “Acts class” over “Bible class,” but what benefit did he think there was in calling it “Sunday School”?
Maybe he had an intuition. (How do I get from noticing the mere expression “Sunday School” to this post? You had to be there. . . .) As it turned out, the class became more of a discussion of organizational voluntarism than a responsible look at Acts 6. Does that text lay out principles and practices for rallying a group of people, encouraging them to be involved because involvement and a voluntarism rate of x% are the things that make an organization thrive? Nope. That is not what that text addresses. In Acts 6, men are chosen for a task—they do not volunteer at all—yet voluntarism and group activities are what yesterday’s group focused almost all its attention on.
My summary of the early part of Acts 6 would be more along these lines:
The Spirit of God actively worked through the apostles, who once chose several to serve in particular roles, in order to meet a need in a particular setting.
As support for its being about the work of God within the Jerusalem group of disciples (as opposed to the inner works of an organization for its sake), I offer the fact that, three times in this context, a reader may note the expression “full of the Holy Spirit” (6:3, 6:5, and 7:55). In this section of text, God and people are seen working, not an organizational hierarchy or an institutional model. In the larger context that spans Acts chapters 6, 7, and part of 8, the “growing pains” of a nascent movement are felt, but this passage as a whole is not about institutional, organization dynamics and getting more people involved; it’s much more about Stephen as an example of a chosen servant, full of faith and the Spirit.
I see no institutional theme in the text that’s transferable to the likes of today’s IRS-protected, Yellow-Pages churches, although the idea that a group can and should respond to a need is broadly helpful. The Acts text ends up manifesting an altogether different emphasis from the one that says, “Hey, we need to get more people involved in our congregation’s projects”—or even the one that is concerned with who’s “in charge” of which “ministry.”
In the end, I have to wonder if yesterday’s group “study” was actually more about the “Sunday school” project (i.e., getting more people involved in the church program) than about learning from the ancient text; if so, I’d say the gentleman’s prayer was correctly corrected, from an institutional standpoint.
B. Casey, 8/7/17