The movie National Treasure always captivates me–I watch pieces of it when I notice it’s on TV. Inside of me, there is some small part that wants to “crack the code” and find something no one else has discovered.
In the movie, Nicolas Cage’s character is always a step ahead of everyone else, cracking ciphers on his way to finding a massive treasure hidden away by America’s founders. It’s fictional of course, but it appeals to many of us because we all want to be discoverers in some sense.
The Bible has its “cipherers;” those who tell us there are “codes” inside of its pages which will tell us exactly what the future holds. You know what I mean. If we have a different moon one year, someone will write a book about it, explaining what God is telling us.
Y2K led to all kinds of prophetic books, now gathering dust on shelves of frustrated prophets. Whatever the code was, it didn’t happen.
I’m not “against” prophecy, but I notice the apostles didn’t spend much time on it. John wrote the book of Revelation, certainly. Yet if we read the Book of Acts and all the letters, we don’t see the leaders of the early church spending much time predicting this or ciphering that. Their focus is on doing what God, and what Jesus, called on them to do.
They spent their time spreading a message; they didn’t have time for decoding the Old Testament because they were too busy living and writing the New Testament.
But the other day I found a code which is so easy to discern. I was asking a question and the answer leaped out at me.
The question is, “How can I measure my church (or the overall Christian church) with the church of the New Testament?” In other words, how do we know if we are doing this faith thing right?
One quick answer is, “God will do amazing signs and wonders, just like in the Book of Acts!” But God may choose to do an amazing work to help us see him, even if the church is struggling. So, that answer is out.
Thumbing through Acts however, a possible answer popped up–and the ciphering wasn’t hard (because I have a calculator on my phone). Here we go:
Jesus began with 12 disciples, right? Just say “Yes,” because that’s the easiest part of this.
After Jesus ascended to heaven, his followers gathered in an upper room (Acts 1) and we find out in Acts 1:15 that about 120 were present. Keep this number in mind.
In Acts 2:41, Peter wraps up his first evangelistic message, and 3,000 were added to the number of followers.
Just after this, Peter speaks again and another 5,000 believed (Acts 4:4).
Let’s do the math:
12. 120. 3,120. 8,120.
Jesus started with 12. After about three years, 120 were close enough and committed enough to gather. While there were other followers in other places, we can at least say the group grew 10 times over in three years.
Peter’s first message took this number from 120 to 3,120. That’s an increase of exactly 26 times.
Peter’s second message grew this number from 3,120 to 8,120; an increase of 2.6 times.
Huh. I don’t know how significant it is that one increase was 26 times and another was 2.6 times, but it’s interesting.
And before anyone writes me (which you can do, kirk(at)1stFaith.com), let’s remind ourselves that the narrative uses the word “about” in regard to these numbers. So we’re loose here.
Here’s the deal. The early church increased exponentially. That much I know. Whether it was ten times over, 26 times over or by 2.6, they were multiplying.
Those first followers focused on a simple message and they saw exponential growth. If we want to compare ourselves to them, we must compare our results to theirs.
Too many times, I look around and compare myself to those around me, or compare my church to the one down the street. Wrong, Kirk.
Instead, I need to compare myself to those early believers. Is my church experiencing exponential growth? If not, I don’t need to throw my arms up in despair, but I do need to be a part of finding solutions–because odds are that we are not yet just like the early church.
I’m not indicting the church of today, far from it. Instead, it’s time we encourage ourselves and say, “If they did it back then, why can’t we do it today?”
If we are going to find their results, perhaps our first step is to see their growth and stop thinking it cannot take place today. Once we believe we too, can be used by God to change the world as they did, our next step is to find what they believed.
This may mean–as I point out in other posts–we have to get rid of some beliefs and grasp others. I need to be willing to do this.
But first, we believe. Can today’s church grow exponentially? Yep. It doesn’t take a lot of ciphering to know that much.