Monday, April 23, 2012

Early Church as Community: Lessons for Us?

It's always interesting to study Bible texts with a group of Christians and see what speaks to us.  During our Church Council meeting last week, we looked at two texts.  Here's the first:

Luke 9: 1-6

9Then Jesus* called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. 5Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ 6They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

I was interested in the fact that they were sent out in pairs.  They left with no possessions.  Others focused on their being forced to rely on the kindness of unknown people, while others focused on the necessity of leaving a town if they weren't welcoming.

I wondered about what this passage says to modern Christians:  are we supposed to leave our buildings behind?

Some people nodded.  Others saw this going out in pairs as metaphorical and argued that we can bring the Good News to others even if we stay in our church buildings.  Some of us talked about being witnesses in our modern lives:  workplaces, neighbors, the people who provide services.

Then we moved on to a different passage:

Acts 2: 41-47

41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds* to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home* and ate their food with glad and generous* hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

I wonder how many Christians are even familiar with this view of the Christian life:  living in community, praying and eating together, sharing all possessions (when not selling them to generate funds).

Of course, not all of my fellow Council members saw it this way.  Some argued that the Church does function in this way.  Some argued that this passage shows the importance of the sacrament of the Eucharist.  Some argued that this passage said we should praise God in our daily lives.

I confess to some impatience with these approaches.  What if this text means what it says?  What if we really are supposed to live together in a closer community, not a community that only meets once or twice a week?

I asked that question, and I said, "There are lots of forecloses houses in my neighborhood.  We could all live in the same neighborhood and do a better job of supporting each other in prayer and meals."

I didn't expect everyone to embrace that idea, but I'm always surprised at how threatening my basic question is to some people:  what if Jesus means what he says?  Sell all your possessions and rely on God.  Live in deep community with each other.

I realize the irony here:  I rarely take Biblical texts literally.  I'm that annoying person who thinks figuratively and approaches texts with my English major heart.

We ended our Bible study with this question.  How can we as a church be a community that studies Biblical texts together more often?  How can we support each other in prayer and encourage each other to pray more?

I have an idea about that last question, but I'll save that for tomorrow's post.

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