“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” Acts 2:17
Is there any reason at all for people to step inside a church? Does the church have any vision that would make the overwhelming majority who don’t attend feel that it might be a place they would want to go?
In the Bible, having a sense of vision is at the heart of the life of God’s people.
The book of Proverbs Chapter 29 Verse 18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
What the writer was saying was that if people have no idea what they are about or what they are working towards, then they tend to give up and things fall apart. Why would anyone stay involved with an organisation that was unsure of its purpose and which had no idea of what its future would be?
In the book of Acts, Saint Peter stands in the street at nine o’clock in the morning on that first day of Pentecost and announces that what has taken place is a fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel.
The Old Testament prophet Joel looked forward to a day when a sense of vision returned to the life of the people. Peter declares that the moment anticipated by Joel has come. From the day of Pentecost onwards, the followers of Jesus were to be people inspired by the Holy Spirit and filled with a vision of what God wanted.
If the church were being true to Jesus’ calling it would want to be similar to the church as it existed in the Acts of the Apostles. But when you look at Joel’s vision of the future and then look at a typical church you have to admit that there is a very wide gulf between the vision and reality.
Churches have become places that have long since ceased to be fit for purpose. There is no sense that the Holy Spirit has been sent to all people and guides and directs every thought and decision and action.
If someone went to a church on a Sunday morning to find out what goes on there, would they be able to point to things in the life of the church, and in the lives of those present that would persuade them that God is present? Would the church be able to persuade them that it is a people of dreams and vision?
Joel lived around about the Fourth Century BC in very uncertain times. The hopes of two centuries previously, of a new and strong country, had not been fulfilled. The country had been through economic and environmental disaster with drought and locusts. People were turning away from God, no longer trusting him. Joel knew what it was like to see people giving up on their faith.
Joel would have understood current times.
Faith in Joel’s time was no easy matter, those who held on to their beliefs would have wondered what the future might hold. Would the generations to come continue in the faith of their fathers? Even in Old Testament times younger people went off and followed their own choices and preferences. Even in Joel’s time there were people who thought that God was no longer relevant to their lives.
Joel would have stood in church today and said to that these times are nothing new.
Joel’s answer to would be that the Day of the Lord, the day to which he had so looked forward had come on the day of Pentecost, and what had the church made of the gifts that God had given?
“Read the Acts of the Apostles”, Joel would say, “read about the gifts given to the Church, these are gifts for the church now. Don’t complain about the church not growing or younger generations not being interested, if the church doesn’t use the gifts that God has given.”
Joel would say that the opportunities are there to take. “Dreams and visions”, Joel would ask, “what are your dreams and visions?”
Watch the bishops in their strange medieval outfits and ask, if this is the leadership of the church, then where are the dreams and visions? If Joel went to a church today, what would he make of it, where’s the vision? Would he feel at all inclined to step in off of the street?
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
Where is there a place for Joel?