Friday, 3 June 2011

The Gospel According to Peter Pan?

Photo Credit: Malcolm Jackson, Flickr Creative Commons
I was reading in Acts this morning which led me to comment on Twitter that, "I'm bothered by the fact that the Book of Acts is completely foreign to the modern church. We might as well be reading Peter Pan!" This comment resulted in someone answering back, "False eternal life; false conversion...sounds like a great metaphor!" I thought about that on and off throughout the day. Has the modern church as we know it bought into the Gospel of Peter Pan?

So, for those of you who strangely may not be aware of who Peter Pan was, let me begin by refreshing your memory a bit. Peter Pan was the creation of J.M. Barrie (1860-1937). It's the magical story of a young boy who refuses to grow up. He lives on the island of Neverland with his gang, The Lost Boys. Peter's perpetual youthful life includes an assortment of adventures with mermaids, Indians, pirates and fairies. He is a careless and boastful boy who is often quick to point out to those around just how great he is. Peter has a "who cares" attitude and is surprisingly cocky when faced with danger. I would argue that Peter Pan is also a pompous and judgmental boy with a big attitude problem.

Photo Credit: Thamy Secco, Flickr Creative Commons
When you stop to think about these things, it's amazing that parents even allowed their children to see the film. Children will emulate what they see in others, especially in heros and other popular characters. If their heros are cocky, boastful, judgemental etc., then they too are more likely to also become cocky, boastful, judgemental. It's the proverbial monkey see, monkey do. It is little wonder that so many young people have developmental issues. With all our talk of magic and fairies, it's almost like we've doomed them from the start.

So what does all of this have to do with my reading of Acts this morning? What is all this talk about the modern church embraced the Gospel of Peter Pan? I think that, unfortunately, it has done just that. Before I share my thoughts, we should look at the Acts passage that led me to this conclusion.

Acts 2: 42-47 describes the fellowship of the believers in the early church. There we read,
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
I've often said, the Bible is either the Word of God, or it isn't. If we maintain that it is, and if we call ourselves Christians, then we have no excuse for not following its teachings and examples. If, on the other hand, we argue that it is not the Word of God, then our whole faith is a sham and we might as well all go book a flight to Neverland and join Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. In that case, we're obviously just as lost as they are. So which is it? Is it the Word of God, or isn't it? If you are reading this blog, I'm sure that you are not here because you believe in fairies, magic, and a tribe of Lost Boys who like to play with mermaids and fight Indians and pirates. I'm going to assume that you're here because you are interested in things pertaining to your faith. You're here because, like me, you search the web for other believers and (hopefully) some interesting, inspiring and encouraging truths. So let's get back to the text in Acts.

I said at the beginning that I believed that the Book of Acts was completely foreign to the modern church. Do you see the modern church in those verses? I don't. They:
"devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." 
Where's the devotion today? If we are to assume that the dictionary definition of "devotion" is correct, then "devotion" means "a deep, steady affection: a feeling of loyalty; faithfulness." The early church may have had such a devotion, but I'm sorry, I just don't see the same thing in the modern church.
"Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles."
Forgive me for sounding harsh, but do we even know what the word "awe" means any more? According to the dictionary, "awe" is described as, "wonder and reverence inspired by something sacred, mysterious or magnificent." Does that describe your normal church experience? If it does, I would suggest you're in the minority.
"All the believers were together and had everything in common." 
Well, seems to me we blew that one too. A quick look at denominationalism proves that we certainly don't have everything in common theologically, and our materialistic hoarding tendencies proves we don't have a common pool of resources either!
"Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." 
Do you see the modern church there? No, me neither.
"Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts." 
We sometimes get together with other believers two or three times per week, but "every day?" No, sorry.
"They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people." 
Those of us who have left the traditional institutional forms of church life for the more organic and simple house church style, probably have a more successful time on this one. Still, most of us here too have a long way to go.
"And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." 
How many bonafide genuine conversions to Christianity do we see in our churches every day? How about per week? Per month? Last year? I thought so. We're great at shuffling the sheep, but not so great at turning goats into sheep.

So if God in the Bible has preserved for us this passage of the fellowship of the early believers, does it not seem likely to you that He did so to set an example for us to emulate? Does it also not seem likely that it also serves as a barometer through which we can test and see whether or not we are on track with what He intended for the church?

Likewise, if we find that we are not on the same page with the early church, and if we do nothing to seek to correct our error, is it not safe to say that we are then simply following a delusion of our own minds? If we have missed the boat of the seemingly simple truths of Christian fellowship, is it then not likely that we've also missed the boat on some of the deeper doctrines as well. If we cannot digest the milk, how can we digest the meat and potatoes?

A brother on Twitter this morning simply said,
"False eternal life; false conversion." 
Is that true? Maybe he's got something there. If our preaching doesn't include the need for repentance, then it is a "false eternal life and a false conversion" we're experiencing. And that in turn may explain why the Book of Acts is completely foreign to the modern church; unlike them, we still need to learn to repent. Until we learn that, we'll never find our way back from Neverland. Until we learn that, we'll never be much more than cartoon characters in the Gospel According to Peter Pan.


  1. I think you may have hit on something Will. We are quite a way from the first century church. Clearly we can't be a carbon copy because of cultural differences but we could be a lot closer than we are. The question is do we want to come back from Neverland?

    1. You're right, Ken. I too think that we could be a lot closer than we are to the Acts example, despite the cultural differences.

  2. Another good piece Will. A hallmark of the early church was the intimacy and closeness that was clearly in evidence. This was partly cultural, but was also as a result of them following closely Jesus' example. There was teaching without hierarchy; the breaking of bread in fellowship and community, probably as a meal and probably daily. Signs and wonders were commonplace and relatively 'normal'! However, it is worth remembering that this was the very genesis of the church and that all at that point were 'feeling their way', in relation to how to go forward. They still saw themselves very much as Jews and consequently continued in that vein for quite some time. It was only after much persecution and the challenges such as the gentiles coming to Christ that change began to arrive. It is interesting to read on in Acts and see how Peter, Paul and the others adapted to their ministries and to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I'm sure Peter found some of the stuff the Holy Spirit led him to do rocked his cultural foundations! This was a key factor in them being led into new and un-familiar waters! The Apostles laid the foundations that have not been built on according to God's blueprint! Could it be that we are re-visiting these scriptures as a result of the Holy Spirit holding up the map in the passenger seat and pointing the other way! As always, enjoy your stuff. Ian

    1. In light of all the extra baggage that religious institutions have heaped upon the faith since the early church, I think many of the faithful are once again "feeling their way" as how to go forward. As a result, many have essentially de-institutionalized themselves in their quest for what they feel is a more biblical form of Christianity. For many of us, this is all a part of "Rethinking Faith and Church."

      Thanks for the comment, Ian. Blessings.