42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47, NLT)
As so many people have pointed out, we are living in an unprecedented time in the history of the world. Much of what people have been putting their trust in is crumbling around them. You can feel the anxiety and fear in the air—for finances, for health, for the future, and much more. Everywhere, people are trying to make sense of what of happening around them.
Yet, in the midst of this uncertainty, God is doing amazing things—prodigal sons and daughters are coming home; people once hostile to the gospel are finding peace as they engage in spiritual conversation—opening the door for an encounter with Jesus; online gatherings are providing access to a spiritual community to people who have never had this level of access through traditional church. And, although not perfect, the church is actually doing fairly well in adapting to this new normal.
As the church begins to adapt to the changing landscape, across the web and social media, there is much talk about the church “being the church”—a call to live differently, to shift paradigms, and ultimately to shine bright like a city on a hill. So, what does it actually mean to “be the church”—particularly in our present reality?
As I consider this, I am reminded of the early church. In many ways I see parallels to what we are living and those of the early church. Although they weren’t experiencing a pandemic—the persecution they faced as followers of Christ brought uncertainty to their future, and for many, a struggle to provide for even their basic needs. And, in their struggle, they adopted some practices that helped them thrive despite the difficulties they were living. Here are three practices that we as the church can implement in the present crisis.
PRACTICE #1: Prioritize God’s truth (vv. 42, 46)
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…
Here is what it was like for the first Christians. Jesus was gone. Anyone following Jesus was a potential target for persecution. At times I am sure they felt vulnerable, anxious, and fearful. They were looking for something that they could hold on to, that would bring them comfort and peace, that would give their lives meaning. God’s truth—His revelation through Jesus and to the apostles (disciples)—helped to make sense of what they were living and brought order out of chaos. As they read, listened to, meditated on, and put into practice the teachings of Jesus, the gospel became the solid foundation for their lives.
As we, the church in this moment, experience vulnerability, anxiety and fear, it is vital that God’s truth—His word—becomes (if it isn’t already) the foundation for our lives. We need to cling to the hope that comes from His promises.
PRACTICE #2: Place a high value on community (vv. 42, 44)
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer…
God created us with this innate need to be in relationship with others. Nowhere is this seen more than in moments when our lives are in crisis. In these moments, to have people who will listen, encourage, and grieve with us is a truly significant gift. To have someone offer a hug, who by their very presence brings peace to a tormented soul, can be as holy as anything this side of heaven. We need each other.
The early church understood this. They made doing life together a part of their daily rhythm—connecting, sharing meals, and praying for one another. They encouraged each other to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus through celebrating communion together around their tables. Doing life together was what solidified their faith despite the difficulties that they were experiencing.
In this season of “social-distancing”, the ability to do life together poses a bit of a challenge. And yet, the church is discovering that through the gift of technology, we are able—all be it at a distance—to continue to find community. And, although we are still learning, the church is actually doing fairly well at adapting to this new reality—connecting broader and deeper in this moment, than our busy lives often allow. Driven by our need for community in this season, online meetings are becoming a priority for us. I believe that for many of us, we are discovering a greater level of appreciation for the relationship that we have with our brothers and sisters in Christ. My hope is that we would we not lose this newfound sense of community when someday (hopefully in the very near future) we get back to something that resembles “normal life”.
PRACTICE #3: Care for one another’s needs (vv. 45-46)
44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need….
As the first Christians prioritized God’s truth (what it means to be a follower of Jesus), and as they placed a high value on community, this led to a beautiful outpouring of God’s love as they cared for one another.
In this crazy time, the natural response is to hold on to what we have and to think of ourselves. We see this in the hoarder mentality that has gripped our nation. But, what would God say to the Church in these days? What does it mean to be the church in times when people are losing their jobs, when for so many financial insecurity (even food insecurity) is a very present reality?
As I look at the early church, I see an opposite, counter intuitive response to their situation. They chose sacrifice over self-preservation—generosity over selfishness. They even took the extreme act of liquidating property and possessions—all in order to make sure that no one went without.
Are we, as the people who make up the church, prepared to say to God: “What I have is yours”? Are churches who have been dreaming about (and saving for) future plans prepared to trust God in order to care for those in need? In a culture (particularly the western world) that trusts in finances to bring security, are we, the church, prepared to put our ultimate trust in God? This may be the greatest way we can be the church and shine the brightest.
These practices allowed the early church to thrive. But not only that, God used them to impact those around them.
47 … (they enjoyed) the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved….
And as the early church was prioritizing God’s truth, living as a community, and making sure everyone was being taken care of, those in proximity to these first Christians took notice. The early church shone brightly—they modelled a different way to live—they followed the example set by Jesus. As the passage says, these Christ-followers enjoyed the goodwill of all the people. What a witness for the Kingdom. And probably the most exciting of all, others were added to their numbers.
So, now what? As I am writing these words I can’t help but think of what this means to me personally—what it means for me to adopt these practices in my own life. I am grateful for the added time I have these days to go deeper in the word, and have enjoyed staying connected to the larger Christian community through various online gatherings. And despite social distancing, I am actually having more contact with my neighbours, and am looking for ways to be more intentional in my witness to them.
Where I struggle the most these days, is in the area of financial security. In my heart, I want to be generous with what I have, to help those who may be in need. But, in this uncertain climate, can I really trust God to provide for me and my family? As I think about this, I am reminded that God has always been faithful in providing for every need I have ever had. May I have the courage to respond like those first Christians when God shows me a need that I can meet.
So, how about you? I would invite you to join me in this reflection. We will shine brighter together!