Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:32-33 (NRSV)
In the early stages of the birth and growth of Jesus’ church there was struggle, trials and figuring-out what the mission would be. But there was also a communal sense of “bonded-ness” where the group instinctively knew they had to stick together and work together. And that brought great power to the message of Christ as it was proclaimed in the first century.
It’s hard to miss that so much more can be accomplished with teamwork and cooperation than when people act independently. However, it is even harder to understand, in light of the proven power of unity, that people more often choose individualism over working together.
Now, it isn’t always that way. In extreme situations we’ve all seen great community response and corporate effort. A neighbor’s house burns, the community rushes to help. A woman is trapped under a car and complete strangers will join the lift. Cancer stalks a child and you’ll see signs in every store window about a fundraiser to meet the needs. Cooperation happens!
But the Church does have some Laundry
One of the persistent and pervasive problems churches have is “individualism” – a conscious (or sub-conscious) choosing of personal preferences over mission.
Plainly-said: we want what we want; selfishness! Whether it’s worship style, music or color of the carpet, disagreement and disunity is ever close!
This is so opposite of how Jesus established the church. With cooperation and prayerful dependence on God’s strength, the church was growing and there wasn’t a need the church didn’t meet. But, it wasn’t long before selfishness crept-in. In the very next chapter (Acts 5) Ananias and Sapphira lied to church leaders, boasting about their supposed generosity.
You expect that sort of thing in politics and big business - scandals, lawsuits, stealing and backstabbing. Sadly though, it also happens in the church. And it cripples the mission of the church to make known the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
With as many factions as there are in church organizations throughout the world today, denominations divided, para-church groups, lobbying splinter groups within mainline machinery and schism after schism, it’s hard to read about believers who …were of one heart and soul. It’s hard to read it and still keep a straight face while we call ourselves the church.
There is Hope for the Church’s Future
Nonetheless, I still have great confidence in the church. If in times of tragedy and crisis, we still see a large percentage of people coming to the aid of others, I believe the church can still, and will “be the church” in this 21st century crisis of faith.
In church Sunday we sang “The Church’s One Foundation”:
Though with a scornful wonder we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.
The old ship of Zion, the church, has always had to deal with the fact that we are humans – frail, sinful and selfish. But in the final analysis, it is not our humanity which rules the church. The church is Christ’s, and the prayers of the night, weeping and mourning, are always that which lead to the bright morning sun of song and laughter.
Pray for the church! The Father is listening.