When I first started writing publically about the church, I started this blog, “21st Century Reformation”. That was 2003 or about 10 years ago. In those years, the emphasis was simply to take seriously the teachings of Jesus and to apply them in a practical way. I was pastoring a church and later participated in a church plant. Both communities evolved into something that, in light of my reading of the scripture, did not look like the early church. Many of my friends encouraged me to meet people half way and to be more “realistic”. The last few years I have tried that half-measured approach for myself, and I have found this road does not make me happy. Therefore, today I return to my first love and am beginning a new quest to walk a road of continual spiritual revolution. Personally, my heart will only find its home in the midst of a community committed to this spiritual revolution. Let the journey and the struggle begin anew.
God Plan for Human Community Remains the Same
42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed]were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.And again in Acts chapter 4, the church is described as “32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
The biblical description of the early church depicts a community that is both spiritual and revolutionary. Can this be said of the church today? Is the church spiritual? Martin Lloyd-Jones, one of the greatest preachers of the 20th Century, described the church’s greatest problem as “superficiality”. Is not superficiality in opposition to spirituality? Spirituality seeks to heal what really ails us. A healthy spiritual community develops a spiritual program that helps others find this healing, this freedom, this truly happy and heavenly quality of life. Are today’s Christians distinctly more spiritually healthy and beautiful than the non-Christian? Are our behaviors and attitudes distinct? Would the on-looker describe the peace and endurance of the modern Christian as stunning and awesome? If not, then, we are not yet spiritual.
Likewise, would anyone describe the church of today as revolutionary? The early church lived communally, “had all things in common”. “There was not a needy person among them, for all who had lands or houses would sell them…and they would distribute to each as any had need”. Does this describe the church today? Is not the church a staunch defender of the status quo? Is the church meeting the material needs of the world in a revolutionary way? Is materialism a problem in the church as it is in the world? Is simplicity the norm? Is our generosity extravagant? Is the church revolutionary like the early church was?
By revolutionary, I mean a community that is living by an entirely different set of ethical rules than the world around us. To be revolutionary always requires a revolutionary relationships with material goods and a revolutionary concern for others. This is exactly what is described in the early church. Plainly, poverty and inequality is a problem in the world and always has been. This problem of inequality was solved in the revolutionary lifestyle of the early church. We cannot call ourselves a biblical community unless we are similarly living a revolutionary lifestyle.
The church is neither radically spiritual nor radically revolutionary, and, unless we become both spiritual and revolutionary, we cannot be the solution to the human problem. Yet, this is exactly what it means that Jesus is the Christ and that we are His disciples. Jesus came to solve the human problem of injustice and man’s inhumanity to man, and this solution is to be shining forth in the church.
What the world needs is a spiritual revolution. Our spirituality must set us truly free, and this freedom must express itself in a distinctly Christlike ethical response to the world we encounter. Our world is drowning in injustice and in need of a people free enough to make personal material sacrifices which meet this injustice with compassion and empathy.
The early church is a description of the prototype of the church as fashioned by the disciples of Jesus. These men and women, discipled in the footsteps of Jesus, lived radically distinct lives filled with spiritual power and material generosity. The early church lived in a state of spiritual revolution bringing a revolutionary lifestyle of worship, prayer and simplicity to a world filled with violence and poverty. Until the church looks like the early church, we will not change the world like the early church changed the world. Until the church makes disciples like Jesus made disciples, the church will not look like the community of the disciples of Jesus.
It is not time to move the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is time for a spiritual revolution.