A little less than 2,000 years ago in Palestine, a new community was born from the mixed clay of Jew and Greek, bond and free, rich and poor. Against all odds, that community exists today in very similar form to what it looked like in Acts 2:42ff. Prematurely, philosophers of the 20th century declared the death of God, only to die themselves while He lives on. The demise of Christ’s community is also prophesied by many, and yet as our community of Christ gatherers met together yesterday I am pleased to announce that many flags of this world will fall in tatters to the ground before the cross of Christ ceases to be raised.
Soldiers form tight knit bonds based on survival. Clubs form friendships based on common interests or even social status. Political parties adhere based on a shared philosophy of government. But the Church has outlasted armies, clubs, and governments. Rather, the church has conquered them! For our soldiers go to war accompanied by chaplains and prayers. Our taxes are paid with bills stating In God We Trust. And our clubs meet together because it is the self-evident truth that God has made mankind in His image.
The Church has not walked through fire and flood because its members longed to survive, but because so many gave their lives willingly. The church has not grown under the benevolence of any single form of government, but under tyranny and totalitarianism as well as democracy and republic. The Church fits no single demographic but declares all men (and women) equally image bearers of their creator, and all the redeemed to be co-inheritors of the grace of God.
How has this happened? What binds a community together in such a way that it stays the same while the world around changes? In Acts 2:42, we see that the early believers “continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship…” The deeper a shared body of truth, the more fast the bonds will hold in any given community. Living in the divided States of America, we see that there is a huge battle over the narrative of our nation. What does it mean to be American? While a nation can tolerate a pretty large diversity of opinions and still manage to cohere, there must be some body of truth that everyone holds to be, as our founders put it, self evident. This is no longer the case in America (perhaps more about that another time) and so we live in a divided nation.
But the body of Truth held by the Church remains unchanged since the teaching of the apostles. No new teaching are needed except the old teachings, which only need to be recovered from the dust of neglect, as in the case of the Reformation, or from the abuse of a self-serving “priesthood”, as in the case of – again – the Reformation. But if an apostle of Jesus Christ showed up at your church today, he ought not hear anything new. The world is always chasing after the novel and thereby loses its identity. The Church delivers the same message it has received and thereby retains its identity.
The early church also devoted itself to fellowship, that word that has about it the scent of fried chicken in our fellowship halls. But the word goes deeper than that and points to a sort of partnership, as though the fortunes of one are tied to the fortunes of all. There is a mutuality in the church, and this mutuality defies the demographic units that the pollsters and the media and the politicians like to divide everyone up into. The Church weeps with those who weep, and rejoices with those who rejoice.
I believe that a hundred years from now the community of Christ will still be going strong – minus some of the weirdness we have added to it in my lifetime. That which cannot be shaken will remain and that which can be shaken will disappear. I hope in a 100 years the distorted emphasis on music is gone. That is, I hope we recover the reality that a church that does not sing well but loves the Lord is infinitely more pleasing to Him than a church that sings well (or has a few people on stage who sing well) but is filled with a crowd instead of disciples. I hope we look back at this era of Christianity and lament how we chopped families up into age groups when they got to church, especially considering that there are few places left in society where the family is allowed to be together. I hope we shake our heads at our foolishness in thinking that churches needed to be fun and exciting at the expense of being truthful and joyful. I hope the community of Christ in 100 years shakes their heads at our foolishness in thinking that some sort of formula could be more effective than the gospel of Jesus Christ in transforming lives. And I hope you see by these critiques (whether you agree with them or not) that to the love the Church is not to overlook her faults, but to desire Her purity and beauty.
3 thoughts on “The Indestructible Community”
A truly beautiful piece of writing.
Thank you Steve, that’s very kind!
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You really captured the uniqueness of Christianity. I still struggle with the Christian faith, but I appreciate the apparent blessedness displayed in the enduring nature of the Christian community throughout so many generations.