The 'fellowship of the believers' in Acts starts out as a tale that likely threatens us more than encourages. They did what? you might say, clutching your smartphone. They shared everything?
They did. And they liked it: "with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people" (Acts 46-47).
Sounds like a utopian vision that we don't really want to consider in this city of wealth and individuality. How many of us can say that since we became Christians, we no longer "claimed our possessions as our own, but...shared everything [we] had" (Acts 5:32).
It was more than material, though - the abundance came out of joy and an understanding of grace that loosened the bonds of ownership and consumerism that clutch at our hearts and minds: "All the believers were one in heart and mind...there were no needy persons among them" (Acts 5:34).
Note, however that this is the beginning of the story, not the ending. More and more people are drawn to this generous community and the gospel, and shared resources begin to stretch, and people start to accuse one another of being selfish. Whether the fight is over land, water, food or money, we've all seen that similar effect operating in the world today: suddenly there isn't enough for everyone, and instead of being more generous, we turn inward and against one another, hoping to hold on more tightly to the little that we have.
The disciples realise this is happening, and instead of turning the church into a soup kitchen, and refocussing their efforts on service, they pool their greatest resource: people. Because they recognised the root of generosity that flowed out of a knowledge of the truth of scripture and the transformative power of the gospel, they sought out others to get involved in the ministry.
In our modern paradigm, where church is a product, and the parishioners are consumers, we end up placing the role of resource managers and content delivery on our pastors and teachers, and join the ranks of those who on looking to be well entertained, well served, and well cared for.
As we reflect this weekend on what our church's needs are, consider this: as soon as the apostles drew others in to help shoulder the work - the practical, real work of caring, feeding, loving, and paying attention to the needs of the whole community, Acts tells us that "the word of God spread." (6:7)
The gospel, then, is more practical than we'd like to stomach: it involves stepping into responsibility, not settling into a comfy theatre seat to be entertained.
Take some time today to consider your relationship to church. Is it one of contribution, especially in the less glamourous areas like waiting on tables, or making coffee, or sharing your time and possessions with someone? Or is it just another place of spiritual consumption to meet your own personal needs?
We are in a beautiful, scary place as a new community - as we consider together this month what it means to be a church, and what we'd like to see happen in this city that we are called to, we should consider the foundation of generosity as a counter-cultural cornerstone of who we are.
Grace grows when shared, not collected:
(thanks to Ben Chan for highlighting this video!)
- Sarah Kift