All I can say is, I fully understand why so many people are leaving what has become the church “System” in groves and flocking to small home groups. A lot of true Believers are leaving the modern church in order to save their faith.
They are tired of the repetitious Sunday services that have grown so old. Tired of Pastors who do not really know their flock. Tired of being told they must “tithe” when our N.T. Covenant does not teach that. Tired of falling through so many cracks in the system because it lacks personal relationship. Tired of a Gospel that preaches to be family but fails to deliver. Tired of services more about super talent and entertainment than real Christianity. Tired of complexity from a religion claiming simplicity. This to name but a few reasons.
Can God be found there? Yes he can, and for many this is the “gathering together” we practice in faith. Can we grow there? Yes we can, but is it the same growth the Apostles cultivated in the early church?
Notice I started all this by specifying “true Believers”, because all those looking for a place of high entertainment and low commitment are perfectly happy with such a place. I almost felt guilty when I left my last church, but I held my judgement because I suspected my answers were hidden in the days of the early church fathers. I would seek out that information before judging the spirit in my gut that kept driving me out.
So I downloaded 5,000 pages of church library and also began much research on the Internet, other books, any source I could find, even the study of all those early Rome “Popes” who were not really “Popes”, but the title was back-dated to them whether they wanted it or not, including the Apostle Peter! Personally, I think Peter already had a much better title.
Because of recently retiring, I have been able to do a tremendous amount of study in a short time. Its been three months of much digging and questioning. A week or so ago I knew I had finally seen enough, and my path was plain. Our Christian Passover meal was very much a success, and a meeting with a handful of people this last Sunday, in the food court of a mall, has also led to an outreach we are about to begin involving gardens. There seems to be no end to this path God is showing us. It is full of life and possibilities!
I take it very seriously where our N.T. instructs us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Therefore, I have made an effort to reach out in fellowship in various ways from the beginning, and it has been happening, and with good results I might add. Something living is slowly developing in a very organic way. I fully expect it to produce living cells that multiply into other living cells, rather than a bigger and bigger building. A building so large that people begin falling through cracks, or hiding in the crowd.
After my studies of the early church, a few scriptures have become particularly precious to me. Before my studies, every time I read these verses I somehow thought I was reading about some kind of an early church Commune, and I couldn’t see any way it could fit today’s reality. But now, somehow, those verses no longer seem to be complicated, but have melted into the simplest of structures, and clearest of instructions for what Church is supposed to be.
Maybe it was the King James Version that made it sound so complicated. I do not know why it did, actually. I read it now and am amazed at the simplicity. And it was not a Commune. It could not have been. The early church did not even have any large buildings for such a thing, and it says they were breaking bread in their homes. Whose homes? Theirs! And once you see this, you begin to realize what you really have is a very simple set of instructions almost in list form!
Of course I’m speaking of Acts 2: 42-47. And you can read it for yourself, but I’m going to put it down in “list form” so you see what I’m referring to. I’m partial to the NLT Version, but most any version basically shows the same thing. Here is the list in the order given. Perhaps even the “order” is a clue to the “priority” of each item?
1.) Devoted to the Apostle’s teachings. (Which for us, is our N.T. Bible, and any early writings that are in harmony with the Apostles. In other words, study your Bible, know what it says, and live accordingly!)
2.) Fellowship! (Number 2 on list! #2 on the list! And also #3 and #7!)
3.) Share meals, including the Lord’s Supper! (Sounds like more fellowship to me. And I do believe the Lord’s Supper was actually a meal! Sounds like a lot more time spent at tables rather than temples!)
4.) Prayer! (Item number 4! Does this sound too hard or complicated to you? If Jesus said his house would be known as a house of prayer, look at the items that have been listed before prayer! Bible and fellowship!)
5.) They shared everything they had. They sold property and possessions to help those in need. (Okay, I admit this is one of the areas that originally scared me away. But we got to look at the whole picture. They are still meeting in homes, and these homes must belong to people in the body of Believers. Also, in chapter 5, Ananias and Sapphira lie to the Apostles, saying they had sold everything and given everything, when in truth they had kept some back. Peter tells them they are not in trouble for keeping some back. It is theirs to do as they wish, but they dropped dead because they lied about it. The more I look at the Book of Acts, I don’t see a Commune, but a people looking out for each other like family, and isn’t that what Jesus told us to do? Have you considered if you belong to a large church, you have a certain responsibility towards all those you are fellowshipping with? Be careful who you fellowship with. Not so to avoid giving, but people not truly saved could take advantage. Be harmless as sheep, and wise as serpents! And where would be the need for a teaching on tithing where all things are common?)
6.) They worshiped together at the temple, before getting kicked out. (After the first few years, the Jews denied them use of their temples.)
7.) Met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals. (Notice this is basically instructed TWICE!!! Not only are these things mentioned before prayer, but listed twice! How important is that?)
8.) They did all this in great joy and generosity while praising God and enjoying goodwill of all the people.
9.) And each day >the Lord< added to their >fellowship< those who were being saved. (Jesus himself will add to a group living this way. Sure, I need to live in such a way to shine the love of God, but I can’t save anybody, therefore, I just need to learn to live God’s love and the rest will happen.) (But think closely as to what is God’s love?)
So…I look at this list and I wonder why I thought it was too difficult before, and did not apply to today? Why did I think it had to be some kind of a Commune? Or the selling of every item I owned and a sure path to poverty?
So with new eyes I now turn to the modern church and I ask, are we practicing the family relationship the Apostles instructed? Well… we have “something”. And something is better than nothing. But a lot of people are now realizing the human heart hungers for something more, and only true and meaningful relationships fill that void. Not only relationship to “Our Father” in heaven, but also my family in Christ. Jesus said two things fulfilled all the law. Love upward and love outward!
People like to ask, “What would Jesus do?” But in this case maybe we should be asking, “What DID Jesus do?” Does your church look like what Jesus did? Did he constantly ask for money, or seek a fancy house, or large paycheck? Were his people materialistic, or their affections set on heaven? It seemed to me the materialistic did not last long with our Lord. Ever notice that?
My personal choice has become continuing this path of fellowship I am on, and that might also include a more traditional church setting eventually, but only if they have managed to capture a certain family feel to what they call church, a certain Acts 2: 42-47 way of doing things.
So Acts 2:42-47, some scriptures that use to confuse me, has now become one of my favorite verses and words for guidance. In our next article we will share another set that has become so very important in my walk with Christ, with my new understanding.