Guess what, faithful reader? This week you get two Acts blogs as we hit on it at Pancakes and Prayers and with our BBC leaders this week! This is going to be a little strange since I will actually go backwards to the start of Acts 2 later in the week, but such is life. Enjoy!
They 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. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day 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, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Much has been written and said about Luke’s description here of the earliest churches in Acts. While it is obviously a simple and probably idealistic description of the first communities of Jesus followers, it is undoubtedly powerful. For us modern people who struggle to find meaningful community in our compartmentalized lives there is an allure here of real belonging. I have personally heard dozens of sermons about this passage, often presented as the goal or “bottom line” of what a church wants to be about, and the vast majority of these sermons have focused on “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,” and “the breaking of bread.” In other words, these churches have made a clear point that they want to be a place where people are well taught and where people find strong community.
Their focus on these items is good; those are undoubtedly critical pieces in our attempt to be faithful to the gospel. However, I have NEVER heard a sermon that focused on the early communities’ devotion to prayer and sharing possessions. With regard to the sharing of possessions, most people avoid holding that up as a model because they don’t want to scare people away. It is sort of a “good for them but that was a LONG time ago thing.” With regard to the prayer element, I don’t really have an answer. My best guess is that most of us simply think about prayer so informally that we don’t really consider how it could shape a community. Like so many other items it has simply become an individual practice or something we only partake in briefly and formally as a group.
I would like to gently challenge this state of affairs. I don’t think you can have the kind of community detailed above until you have shared communion with God (not bread and wine but time spent in God’s presence). It is the believers time spent together in prayer, and their experience of the Spirit in prayer that gives birth to their group identity and that gives them their mission (to love one another and to invite others into God's presence). So we might say that communion both creates community and compels mission. And the cycle then comes back because a community that is engaged in mission will be compelled to seek communion. The risk and sacrifice that real mission entails makes for active and dynamic prayer and time spent with God. It is in the midst of this cycle that the deep community that we long for is born.
Of course how these ideas are applied depends on context, but here is my small encouragement for us: in whatever Christian “community” we are planted in, if we want a deeper community to be born, let’s make sure there’s a priority on both prayer and mission. Of course we need time just to get to know each other, and have fun, and relax, but real community, Acts 2 community, requires more than common interests and fun time together; it requires shared time together in the presence of God and shared engagement in His mission.