Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Devoted

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

                        Acts 2.42 

Pitching Tents

Centuries of catering to personal and political influences have splintered the Church into a woefully segmented—some say schizophrenic—entity. We accept this matter-of-factly, as though Christ intended it when He plainly didn’t. In John 10.16, He says, “There shall be one flock and one shepherd.” In Jeremiah 6.3, however, we find a vivid contrast depicting a people in disarray, which the prophet collectively refers to as “the Daughter of Zion:” “Shepherds with their flocks will come against her; they will pitch their tents around her, each tending to his own portion.” Only the most cockeyed optimists observe the Church’s present condition without asking why Jeremiah’s gloomy forecast currently seems more accurate than Jesus’s promise. It goes without saying Christ’s prophecy will bear Him out in the end, the very end. The flock will finally unite on Judgment Day, when He claims the sheep and dismisses the goats. (Matthew 25.31-33) Nonetheless, knowing the Church won’t be rid of its divisive elements before then doesn’t justify pitching tents around her and tending to our own portion or “kind.”

The same mentality that divides us cinched the Early Church together. Our putative reason for pitching tents is protecting the core ideals of our faith. Our differences encircle doctrine and dogma—i.e., varying systems of belief—while the underlying principles remain universal across Christianity. When the first congregation descends from the Upper Room, no doubt a lot of them also have unique ideas and opinions about how things should work. Given the fragility of their newfound faith, however, it’s more vital to stick together than push private agendas. Jesus founded His message on unconditional love and mercy. He died and rose to provide full access to grace. Believing one sacrifice cleanses all sin is revolutionary for Jews rooted in a quid pro quo tradition where the nature of the offense dictates the size of the offering. Its seismic significance emerges in Peter’s Pentecost sermon: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2.39) Thus, the first Spirit-filled believers leave the Upper Room envisioning Christianity as an open meadow giving pasture to one flock with one Shepherd, not a tent city where millions of campers and refugees compete for slivers of real estate.

Everything in Common

Verses 44 and 45 report: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” After centuries of perpetual exploitation of believers’ generosity by heretics and con artists, we tend to view the Early Church’s pooling of resources as unnecessarily extreme. Because we can’t wrap our minds around selling what we own and handing the proceeds to the church treasurer, we slide right past the intentions behind this practice. The Early Church didn’t collect funds to support organizational initiatives or construct cathedrals. Its only goal was liberating believers from temporal worries to maximize their time together. Christianity started as a radical cult of Judaism. Many early converts were kicked out of their homes, shunned by their families, and lost all they owned. Sharing everything in common provided for everyone’s needs regardless of what he/she possessed. It tore down fiscal and social barriers that might discourage potential followers of Christ with fears of rejection and ruin.

Fortunately, as the Church grew in size and prominence, these consequences became less dire. Yet even today, we all know people who can’t overcome worries with how following Jesus might affect their social and family standing. This is especially true for gay people, many of whom have already been rejected by loved ones and communities they grew up in. They’ve found new families and settled in new homes that welcome them. Trepidation about being cast aside again is enormous—particularly since the Church’s record and reputation for acceptance is (to put it mildly) unreliable. Our job as authentic believers requires us to pool our time, energy, and resources for the common purpose of removing obstacles that might prevent anyone from following Christ. We are the Church—the flock—and we must become a safe place. We must inspire new believers’ confidence they have equal access to God’s pasture, enabling them to ignore all of the nonsense flapping in the tents.

Constant Commitment

The first believers devoted themselves to four pursuits: teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. They spent every possible moment listening and learning, paying close attention to their leaders and one another. They invested invaluable hours in greater understanding of their faith and better knowledge of their brothers and sisters’ lives. As their belief gained strength and wisdom, their capacity to help each other increased. The epistles repeatedly admonish us to grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ in order to encourage our fellow believers. Jude’s letter, for instance, cautions that scoffers will try to pull us apart, saying, “These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love.” (v19-21) So the Early Church spent much of its time listening with an equal portion devoted to talking—breaking bread and praying together. Without constant commitment to the Word, prayer, and one another, we’ll never become a healthy, vibrant community of faith like the Early Church. We’ll never get out of our camps. We’ll never tear down the tents obscuring God’s green pasture. We’ll just be refugees and squatters, no good to Him, others, or us.

The first Christians envisioned the Church as an open pasture for one flock, not the tent city it's become. 

(Tomorrow: In His Presence, In His Place)

Postscript: Breaking Bread--A Poll

Cuboid Master, a longtime reader here, recently suggested the possibility of an online Bible study to break bread together in “real time.” The idea certainly appeals to me, as well as several others whom I’ve mentioned this to offline. I’ve looked into various “virtual meeting” sites typically used by businesses. They appear to suit this purpose perfectly, providing graphic support to view Scripture and outlines, coupled with text and conference call capabilities. My first inclination is to schedule one a month. Getting a feel for who’s interested will help tremendously in figuring out the best time to host it. Today, I’m posting a survey—which I’ll leave up for a couple weeks—to assess your interest, etc. (Email subscribers, you can either weigh in by clicking over to the blog or sending me a quick note.) I have no quota in mind; if it’s just CM and me, that’s fine. But the more of us who participate, the richer it will be. So take a minute, please, to let me know if you’re interested, etc. Thanks.

5 comments:

Cuboid Master said...

Count me in! I hope more will be interested in a virtual Bible study meeting. C'mon, y'all, it'll be fun.

Tim said...

I'm with you, CM. I can't stop grinning when I think about how cool it would be have all the smart, funny, and sincere people who swing by here breaking bread together.

But, as I said above, it's just you and me we'll have a great time nonetheless!

Thanks for planting this seed and giving it an extra boost.

Blessings,
Tim

Annette said...

I'd LOVE to get "together" for this! I think the more ideas and inspiration from each other, the better. Sign me up!

Thank you for this wonderful place to come!

Annette

Missy said...

Count me in, too! Sounds like a great idea and yet another brilliant use of technology for faith enrichment and fellowship.
I can't wait to see how you do this. Tim, you've got me so excited--I bet I could find other ways to use this sort of application in my parish.

Tim said...

Annette and Missy--the more responses like yours I get, the more excited I become! I have such respect for both of you, CM, and several others who've emailed their interest; I can't wait to learn from all of you!

Missy, I'm off on a busy trip through next Wednesday, but when I get back, I plan to get in touch with you to brainstorm how we can do this most effectively. I'm sure you've got a few ideas of your own that will add to the experience.

God bless both of you, my sweet sisters in Christ!

Tim