Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Community that Builds Up

In general, the culture of the West is not communal. Now there are certainly places here and there, small breakaways from the norm, such as The Simple Way, or Solomon's Porch, but they are certainly more the exception than the anything else. For the most part, this culture prides itself on the individuality and space, while many other cultures around the world still live in that communal setting, all joined together, working and living together. 

Because we are not a communal people, many of the things written about the early Church can be very hard to relate to. So what I see more often than not in this society, is lots of people who claim to follow Christ, all struggling (or thriving) on their own, individually. Some can pay their bills and are able to afford such luxuries as healthcare, and have extra left over to be able to give; and let it be known that there are many who give generously according to their ability. Many more are not able to pay their bills, have lost their homes, and certainly cannot afford any luxuries, including healthcare and life-saving medications, such as insulin. But because we are such an individualistic people, everyone is doing it on their own. Many of those who are drowning are going down in silence. They are working VERY hard, but are not in the right job that would afford them these seeming luxuries. And many on the other side are, possibly unknowingly, yet callously nonetheless, labeling them a drag on the economy, a casualty of capitalism.

But in community, no one struggles alone. Your problem, your lack, your deficiency, is my problem, my lack, my deficiency. As it says in the Word, “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”

2 Corinthians 8:13-15 says this:
"Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.'"

Equality was the goal. Simple, divine equality. No keeping up with the Joneses, because they have exactly what you have and all needs are met. For everyone. 

Here’s the real beauty of the Church building itself in that manner: it frees people to be about Kingdom business rather than the business of the world. The early Church was all about spreading, teaching, sharing, equipping, engaging the gospel. Not about surrounding themselves with comfort or building up their portfolios or retirement. For all they knew, they were going to be martyred, so all they had guaranteed was the very moment they were living in, and the blessed assurance that what they had waiting for them was well worth the sacrifice. 

No one claimed that any of his possessions were his own, so all needs were met and the various parts of the body were free to truly live in their giftings and callings. The teachers were free to teach without having to worry about the mouths of their family being fed. Those gifted with hospitality certainly had more than enough room to move and work and love and invite. The apostles were free to come and go, knowing that the needs of others were being met. These men and women knew their gifts, accepted their calling, and then walked in them. Fully. Moreover, they had the backing and support of a community to fill in the gaps that they could not. Their attention was not divided. They were not working day jobs to pay the bills and then serving with whatever they had left over. The fulfillment of the gospel was their day job. All of them.

Look at Acts 6:

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit, and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
         This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
         So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Because we, as a society, have strayed so far from community, there are many, many among the faithful church-goers, teachers, shepherds, apostles, healers, prophets, and those with gifts of administration and working miracles who are waiting on tables to meet the needs of their families. They are struggling to scrape by, to pay the bills, to buy more things, to appease whatever desire is in them, rather than living out the calling on their lives. Because we are not joined together, one in heart and mind, we have lost focus of what it is that we have been called to. We have become enslaved to the duties and responsibilities of the culture rather than the commandment of the Kingdom, so we work to pay the bills and hope that maybe we’ll have something left over at the end of it all to give a little something to the church.

But what if...what if we got radical? What if we sold a house to pay for the medical needs of someone among us? Who would take us in? Where would we live? Would you take a family into your home? What about someone who is homeless? It might get really inconvenient, maybe even tight. Could your kids share a room so that you had a room open to a stranger? A stranger?? What if two or three families were to combine residences? Sell the other homes and pool the resources. It would be tight living quarters, but I bet folks would discover very quickly how to be Christ to each other, or at least the need for it. 

And what if those resources were then used to put together a feeding ministry in a local school, taking over a government-run program? What if the resources were used to buy medication for those who could not afford it, on a regular basis? What if the Church became the healthcare reform that so many are desperate for? And what if the right job that guarantees benefits was simply in the community of the Church, walking and serving in the gifting that given to you? 

What if we just took another look at what we were doing and asked some really hard questions of ourselves? Do we really need all this space? Or could we invite another family in and pool the resources? Don't you think it could be done?

I do.

So did the early Church. 

And their numbers grew by the thousands. Daily.

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1 comment:

  1. this is such a thoughtful post.

    from what i've seen, people in the church excuse themselves from reaching out by blaming those who are struggling--THEY are lazy, THEY don't work, THEY have cell phones and so mustn't really struggle--it's a pretty convenient philosophy!

    unfortunately, a person/family can work 80+ hours a week in america and still not have healthcare (so not a mere luxury!), and so many are just one unexpected bill (a trip to the hospital, a broken down car) away from a bad situation. why does the Church refuse to acknowledge that?


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