In the book of Acts, we learn that the first Christains had much at stake in forming their new community of believers. Acts tells about people who gave everything, even their lives, for their faith in Christ. Despite persecution, they continued to trust in the Lord’s faithfulness. They lived closely together, looking out for each other’s needs. They lived with urgency to give their possessions, time, resources, and life. We also learn that, early on, they faced difficulties from within their own community and from outside forces.
Ephesians 5 says that Christ died for the church, a people, not merely isolated individuals. We are not meant to live without Christ-centered community. We are made for relationships, as we mentioned in an earlier post. Of course, it doesn’t take long to figure out that all Christian communities are full of broken people. They may be redeemed and seeking to follow Christ, but that doesn’t mean healthy community comes easy. We must fight for community by being vulnerable and willing to change, even when it’s messy.
“From the Day of Pentecost onwards it has become clear that conversion to Christ means also conversion to the community of Christ.”
—John Stott, The Cross of Christ (249)
Henri Nouwen, a prolific Christian scholar, decided later in his life to move away from a prominent position at Harvard to a community of people with disabilities. His story reveals that true community is hard work. He no longer could rely on his academic success to relate to those he lived with. Nouwen felt challenged that it was easier to use power and control in a community rather than love:
Without realizing it, the people I came to live with made me aware of the extent to which my leadership was still a desire to control complex situations, confused emotions, and anxious minds. …I still have moments when I clamp down and tell everyone to shut up, get in line, listen to me, and believe what I say. …The temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat. Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Many Christian empire-builders have been people unable to give and receive love. (In the Name of Jesus, 74-79)
It’s often easier to control people than to love them. The picture we see of the early Christian community in Acts is of people struggling to learn how to lay down their control to follow God. But it is not just happy, Jesus-loving people like a Christian version of Woodstock. It was a struggle even for the first churches. They were people who had been radically changed by Jesus’ resurrection. They had to be on the same mission in order to spread the love of Christ to the world.
This summer and fall, we are posting sections of our Life Group studies on Identity and Witness (full studies available in links). In the fall of 2019, our Life Groups will focus on the theme of Wisdom.