Finding hope in the early church

Progressively bigger stacks of coins grow plant shoots.
 on December 1, 2016

I have always admired the zeal and commitment early Christians had for founding a new church and facing untold opposition from those with an interest that the new movement not succeed. The lesson in Acts 2: 44-45 is summed up in four words: “those who believed, shared.” For a stewardship educator, this message is golden.

Luke’s portrait of the early Christian community is a lofty depiction – the community of believers is always together, praying and eating and evangelizing. They share everything, personal possessions are sold off and the money is given to the disciples to fund their ministry. Everything is held in common. Everyone has each other’s back. Idealized indeed, but not unattainable. Even though the early Christians were particularly zealous in their belief and practice, their values and behaviours are, in fact, achievable today.

Members of the early church were not above experiencing their share of temptations, either. First-century Christians faced many of the same struggles we face today: doubt, lack of commitment, distractions from the world around us, false gods and idols. They were tempted by the same vices we are tempted with.

What I like about the passage in Acts is the depiction of the early church: its simplicity and yet profound demand for commitment. The people had all things in common. They made sure things would be distributed “as anyone had need.” They broke bread together with glad and generous hearts. They spent a lot of time together. And they really got to know each other.

They also loved one another like themselves. They fully committed to the group, as if it were the only thing that mattered. It sounds both awesome and overwhelming, because living in community takes a lot of work. To be part of something so much bigger than yourself and to devote every ounce of your being takes work, unyielding commitment, sacrifice, patience and a generous spirit.

What the early disciples were aiming for was a culture that shunned the “all about me” mentality. They endeavoured to achieve a healthy, transforming faith community. It takes time, prayer, discipline, enthusiasm and money. Even the early Christian communities recognized that ministry required an investment if it were to flourish and nourish those who were its members.

The story of the disciples in Acts is inspiring because it makes me think and believe that a similar experience can be had even today; that same sort of devoted and all-encompassing faith community can be possible. But honestly, it can be discouraging to compare that picture with the reality of some churches today. Many are grappling with declining membership, reduced Sunday school attendance, decaying buildings, few if any ministry opportunities, burned-out volunteers and a lack of hope.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can lament that our church will never be as committed or spiritual or unified as the ones in Acts were. Or we can recognize that in the brokenness and fragility of humankind, Jesus gives us the tools to persevere in his mission.

Across our church, I see those glimpses of life-sustaining community among this group of imperfect, struggling people. We laugh and cry, break bread, pray together, celebrate together and walk as disciples together. In these holy moments, we experience grace.

What value do you place on the ministry that takes place here? What do you hope for, for you, your family and your children? In this season of Advent, what might God be calling you to give – two per cent, five per cent or perhaps a 10 per cent tithe? That same generosity of heart the early Christians experienced needs to be felt here if we are to grow this church and evangelize this community.

For many of you, this month marks the end of your commitment to the diocesan ministry campaign Our Faith-Our Hope. Month in, month out you have diligently given to support the reimagining of the church of God. Now that the campaign is done, can you recommit? Can you direct 40 per cent of your pledge amount to the parish – the same amount that was returned to the church for local ministry over the last five years – now that your gift is complete?

In the next week or so – perhaps even today – I ask that you put this to prayer. Take five minutes and contemplate the life of the early disciples and their perseverance. Consider their generosity, their unity and their hopes for a fledgling church. Consider the importance of this place in your life and what you bring to it. Pray for yourself, your family, your church, for a pew-mate who is experiencing loss. Pray as you can. Slow down and have a conversation with God, the one who is always ready to listen. May we become more like those earliest Christians, who believed and shared.


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