Have you ever wondered why there does not seem to be a satisfactory likeness in most of our churches today to the one described at the end of the second chapter of Acts? Acts 2:44-46 This was after Christ had died, rose from the grave, walked among them, and ascended. Their hearts were set on fire by the Holy Spirit and any fears and doubts that had nagged at them while Christ hung on the cross were subdued in the hushed atmosphere of the greatest and most redeeming miracle ever. They were finally “getting the big picture”; in spite of the fact that these were just the beginning of very difficult days for believers. In retrospect, some of the things that Jesus had said to them became crystal clear now. Verses 44-46 say they “had everything in common”, shared their possessions, and “devoted themselves to meeting together”. These meetings were both at the temple and from house to house.
One of my Sunday School quarterly commentator’s, Lynn Pryor (see footnote), says they were bound by 1) their purposeful unity of soul and spirit, 2) radical and sacrificial stewardship convictions, 3) their common witness of Christ, and 4) God’s prevailing grace, which was both unmerited and yet also God’s response to their benevolent activity and to their bold witness. If these elements are the correct link to unity, it is easy enough to see why we have not quite arrived yet. Most of us Christians, at least here in America, have the first one down (let’s hope anyway), but could probably improve in some of the other areas. And I speak to myself!
Yet, we, at large, have a yearning for close community, and as believers, especially in the church body. That yearning is often filled elsewhere, and there is certainly nothing wrong with seeking close and appropriate relationships elsewhere. The problem seems, to me, to be that with our overfilled schedules, there is only a small amount of time and effort most can afford to expend on filling those needs. It is natural to develop meaningful relationships in the work place or where ever a significant amount of our time is spent. Another place where relationships are forged is through various types of electronic means. http://voices.yahoo.com/cyber-relationship-cheating-not-90226.html?cat=41 For better or worse, there is a need for relationships that are beyond just casual acquaintances. There are plenty of sources of Godly encouragement to be found online, though granted, it is not like a friend sitting down for tea or coffee with you. Here is a great place to go for daily encouragement: http://www.incourage.me/.
People will often seek to fulfill appropriate relational needs in one way or another, even if it is some other means of comfort while attempting to dull an empty ache. According to Pryor, “We live in a fragmented society where people have many shallow acquaintances, but few have deep relationships….Maybe the New Testament writers were onto something when they penned the ‘one another’ instructions – love one another, serve one another, encourage one another, pray for one another – that’s what people want. That’s what people need. And the church is the best place to offer it.”
So besides improving on the four links that should bind us together, I say we also need to start making time for these relationships. These believers were aware of others needs. Whether or not these needs were of a temporary nature while believers gathered in Jerusalem, I do not know and it is not my point. These were genuine needs; not just wants. But they could only have become aware of others needs as they spent time “from house to house”. They did not just meet in one or two houses, or the finest ones (had there been any), but likely with everyone, and if someone didn’t have a home, well they were provided for somehow. There had to have been openness and vulnerability and it was valued and respected. As they spent time together I’ll wager they had time for more than a distracted look while their friend was speaking. I’ll bet they knew pretty well what to pray for without checking the bulletin, not that a bulletin is not a great tool for remembering (or becoming aware!). It’s just that these friendships were real and they had a love for each other and an intimacy with each other that was personal.
I wonder if they had more time and energy to devote to one another because all ages lived out this community together. The adults were not worn out and neglected (nor their homes or family) at the expense of myriads of programs for children. When something needed to become age appropriate it was likely done naturally, in the same way that it is done in a family setting. That doesn’t mean someone didn’t pull the kids or youth aside now and then. Jesus took time out for the children on their level and chastised the disciples for wanting to send them away. Matthew 19:13-14 I believe it just means that children and youth were a vital and needed part in serving the others in the body and this also surely helped them not self focus or focus soley on missions “out there” or the next big youth project, rather than needs right around them.
I believe God will perfect his church, Christ’s bride. Whatever it takes to cause us to be perfected in the area of unity will surely be served up to us sooner or later. I think it will take some radical changes in how we think and act, not just how we talk. Maybe I have not hit on the areas that you think would help the church, at large, have everything in common. What do you think is needed to steer us that direction?
Footnote: Life Focus Leader Guide for teaching ages 12-17 Volume 5, Number 1 Fall 2012 Nov. 11 lesson