There is significant debate about the effect of the church in the world. Did it really disrupt the existing social order? For many years Hans Conzelmann’s thesis that Christians are “docile subjects and trouble arises only when Jews rouse the populace with false accusations against the church” dominated scholarship. Later, Richard Cassidy (Political Issues in Luke-Acts) challenges this perspective by viewing Jesus as a “nonviolent social dissident who was … a potential danger to the Roman empire” by paralleling Jesus’ effect on Rome with Gandhi’s effect on the British empire.
Though Luke (in Acts) tends to depict Rome as “fair and respectful in their treatment of Christians, and the apostles are certainly not seeking to foment rebellion against the empire,” Hays also notes that the apostles and the Christian community do sometimes upset the cultural conventions which creates tension with the “established social order.” In fact “Luke’s vision for the transformative power of the church … turns the world upside down not through armed revolution but through the formation of the church as a counterculture, an alternative witness-bearing community.”
Schnackenburg believes that the church saw themselves as the “true ‘Israel of God’” and as “legitimate heirs of the old people of the covenant.” They preserved the Jewish way of life, while confessing Jesus as Messiah, held to the teaching of the apostles, kept the Eucharist and communal meals, and held worship services in private homes with common prayer. Though externally identifiable with Judaism, it was “a separate community in faith and worship” whose life was affected by these practices.” Though there were controversies within the community, these are presented as being resolved internally without crumbling the community. Finally, the community served as the source of the transformational power in the life of the individual which garnered admiration - even from those who were zealous for the law (Acts 21:20).
Conzelmann viewed Luke’s understanding of the early church community as somewhat of a paradox. It was a great, but unrepeatable and non-replicable event in the theological history of Christianity, but so exemplary in its own “self-consciousness, concrete life, and organization.” The example set by this early community compels even the most casual reader to long for the presence of such a community in their own life. Luke’s major emphases in describing the community are unity (and togetherness), the work of the Spirit (particularly through “signs and wonders” done by the people) , and common interests in both the physical and spiritual realms.
Throughout the first few chapters of Acts, Luke provides summaries of the state of the church at various points in its infancy. Bock sees these as reports that the community has effectively bonded, though there could be a literary function of these summaries as well. In any case, Luke situates the first summary (Ac. 2:42-47)...