Becoming the Church, Claude R. Alexander Jr. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022.
Summary: Studies of the first six chapters of Acts revealing the purposes, practices, and principles that led to the transformation of a loose group of individuals into the church.
Bishop Claude Alexander loves the church. This doesn’t mean he is blind to the ways its people and institutions fall short of its purpose to be Christ’s visible body in the world. Rather, it is that he realizes that God has decided to reveal his purposes and power through the church. In this book, he takes us through the last chapters of the gospels and the first six chapters of Acts, speaking sometimes in the voice of Thomas, Matthew, Peter, or Luke, and other times in his own voice.
Through Thomas, we learn that it is through the church that Jesus confronts and convicts us–if we get Jesus, we get the church. Through Peter, we hear Jesus as the Lord of the second chance to put love for Jesus at the heart of his life, expressed in sacrificial care. Matthew speaks of the mission of the church as making disciples with one who assures of his everlasting presence. Luke reveals to us a people “steadied by the purposes and promises of God.”
All this sets up the study of Acts, which begins with the divine assignment of witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and repentance, baptism, and belief in his name. The conversion of three thousand form a community of commitments to the Word of God, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper and the cross, prayer, and joy.
In Acts 3, Alexander once more narrates in the voice of the lame man in the temple, transformed by the power of Jesus and welcomed into fellowship by Peter and John. This leads to proclamation. Alexander emphasizes that this is a word for others, one that brings glory to God, that explains the working of God, and invites people into relationship with God and his people. As Peter and John are called on the carpet in Acts 4, their boldness, wisdom, and knowledge is evidence that they have been with Jesus. This is also evident in determination to persist in our testimony in the face of persecution. Alexander observes that the tension doesn’t come because of good works, but rather the Name in which they are done, the Name they are proclaiming. It comes down to asserting the integrity of our experience–it is Jesus that has worked transformation in lives, not our social or self-help programs.
In the latter part of Acts 4 we see the church at prayer. It is a church that understands the God to whom we pray, that takes seriously what God has said and promised, and seeks to exalt the name of Jesus. We see the church at its best and worst–sharing possessions out of the understanding that we are conduits of God’s blessing, and turning this into deception and people pleasing, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. We see God nipping this in the bud, revealing how deadly this is to the genuine love and unity of the church.
And so we come to Acts 6, a church facing growth pains from its exponential expansion. Conflict arising from growth leads to prayerful discernment, changes in structure, and the entrusting of power to a wider circle. And when the church faces the worst about itself honestly and makes discerning structural changes, sharing power, it presses beyond the worst into new growth.
The chapters have the feel to me of pulpit messages. They ring the changes on the centrality of Jesus, transformation in his name, and baptism into a people called into prayer, sacrificial and joyful love for each other, bold witness before the world, and integrity, even when the church acts at its worst. We see a church “doing the stuff” of Jesus and how dynamic that can be, instead of a church that has lost its way in success schemes, struggles for power, and sex scandals. Alexander offers hope for the church rooted in God’s purpose for and continued work in her.
[This review is time to coincide with InterVarsity’s Urbana 22, at which Bishop Claude Alexander will give four messages from the book of Acts beginning on December 28 through December 31, 2022. The messages will be livestreamed from urbana.org each evening at 7:30 pm Eastern Standard Time (US).]
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.