“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 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, 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.” NRSV
The highlighted text above is the formula for being church employed by the people who were the early church. They actually birthed the church through these acts of faith, love, and compassion.
We don’t live in the first century world so trying to duplicate this kind of church to the letter would be nearly impossible. However, it’s not the acts themselves that should capture our attention. Our focus should be on the motivation behind the acts.
They came together to deepen their faith in God. They worshipped together. They prayed together. So far so good.
They had all things in common, selling their possessions and goods to distribute to those in need. A challenge, yes, but not impossible.
The whole point of selling their possessions and giving them to the church for distribution was to meet the felt needs of the people both inside and outside of the church community. This was the original intent of tithes and offerings.
Today, rather than meeting the felt needs of the people around us, we use the generosity of the people to pay preachers, pay utility bills, repair roofs, carpet sanctuaries and so on. The felt needs of the people around us get what’s left over, if anything is left over, and then it is begrudgingly given, if given at all.
Now, I like being paid. I like worshipping in an air conditioned, beautiful, well-maintained sanctuary and sipping coffee in a well-equipped fellowship hall. I like the nice amenities the generosity of the saints provide.
But, if you really want to grow a church “the old-fashioned way,” the original way, the way Jesus taught, then paying the preacher and providing all the nice amenities is what you do after all the felt needs of the people around us are met. Paul knew that well. That is why he made sure his tent-making skills paid his for his mission and ministry, not the church.
The compassion and generosity of those early followers of Jesus is what earned the goodwill of the people. These early Christians turned the social tables upside down by putting the needs of others above their own needs. No one else in the first century cared about them. They only cared about their own survival. These genuine expressions of faith, love, and compassion for the people’s needs was exactly the ministry and the life Jesus modeled. That model birthed the church.
It’s no secret why the church today is in trouble. It was called into being to distribute praise and thanksgiving to God; to change the hearts and minds of the people toward the way of Jesus; to be the source of generosity and compassion in every place the followers of Jesus gathered; and, to work for the justice and righteousness of God (the essence of the apostles teaching). When these base requirements are sacrificed on the altar of serving self and serving an organization called church, what other results than decline and irrelevancy should we expect?
I love Hodgenville Christian Church because I do not see these same self-serving attitudes I have seen in so many other churches over the years. What I see are good, faithful people wanting to do the right thing, working hard to do the right thing and being responsible for the resources we have inherited from the generous saints who came before us.
I also see a people whose potential for love and compassion is still somewhat underdeveloped. That’s on me. It is my responsibility to help us find our place and purpose as a community of faith. Coffee on the Square is a great foundation to build on. But there is so much more we have not yet discovered. This is why prayer has become my primary focus. There is where we find our way to be all that God desires us to be a faithful people.
“and that day about three thousand persons were added.”
In all sincerity, I wonder how many people’s lives we could change if, instead of selling all our possessions and giving them to the church for distribution to those in need, we devoted fifty percent of our tithes and offerings to meeting the felt needs of the people in Hodgenville? Or raised our giving to meet our current needs and still have another fifty-percent for the felt needs of the people? Just a thought…
Be a blessing to someone today!