Adding To Our Number?

A reading for Monday, May 1, 2017: Acts 2:43-47.

It's one of my favorite passages of scripture, and I know I am not alone. The image of the early church is comforting and encouraging. As we read what Luke writes about the way believers lived together in faith, the theme of happiness and gratitude comes through. It's no wonder the Lord added to their number... the value to the human spirit of being part of such a community was obvious.

Today the church seems to be in a different place. There is anxiety and there is fear. We wonder why so many are no longer interested in the practice of faith. Our neighbors and friends do not seem to find value in being part of Christian community. The worship of God is out of favor. Why does the Lord no longer add to our number?

Could it be that we long for the happiness and gratitude of the early church? I don't mean we should romanticize or even try to reproduce the first century church. However, if we read the description of that church carefully, we might notice some key themes to the way those early believers were useful to God. They found happiness and gratitude in their purpose.

First, the church believed it was formed for the benefit of others. Those early signs and wonders were transformations of individual lives and communities. The early church was seeking the healing and wholeness of their community. First was prayer for others.

Second, the community was generous. Sharing resources in order to make sure everyone had enough was also a hallmark of that early community. It was a different time and place, however how much is generosity with each other a part of our faith community?

The early believers gathered together for the worship of God. That worship was not designed to attract people to the community, with a high level of entertainment and marketing. There was no competition between churches in those days for attendance. Instead, the earliest worship was centered in recognizing the living Christ as Lord of their lives.

Number four: the believers broke bread in their homes and in their neighborhoods believing that the simple act of sharing a meal with others was grace and the sharing of their commitment to Christ. Sharing faith with our neighbors is not something many of us believers do anymore. Notice the Temple was the place to worship, but the home was the place of sharing faith with glad and generous hearts. So that others in the community could see their devotion and know their belief.

Lastly, the early church community was centered in the praising of God. The people of God are the only ones who can interpret God's goodness for others, and when we as God's people share what God is doing in our midst, then we give others a chance to enjoy it along with us. That's what generates the goodwill of the people. The knowledge that God is with us and is seeking good for all is key.

In these five ways, the Lord added to the number of the early church. We can't duplicate that early church, but I wonder what would happen if we built our faith communities around the five pillars:

1. Prayer and transformation of the world around us...
2. Generosity with each other...
3. Commitment to regular worship...
4. Sharing grace with our neighbors...
5. Public praising of God for all our blessings...

Our community of faith will likely look very different from the ancient one, but might have the same value to the human spirit. It's not really about saving the church or justifying our existence. In the end, just as in the beginning, being the church is about our usefulness to God. It's about the happiness and gratitude of our purpose. I believe the church exists in direct proportion to our connection with the mission of God. The church doesn't have a mission. The mission of God has a church.

Adding to our number too is in proportion to that mission of God.


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