“…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.”
In the immediate aftermath of Pentecost, the Spirit’s anointing manifested itself in the believers sharing their prayers, bread and money with one another in a community of faith.
But is this, I wonder, meant to be a good thing?
Does Luke intend for us to see here in Acts 2 a blueprint for how we should do Church?
Typically theologians and preachers romanticize the Church of Acts 2. It’s there that we find the closest approximation of the ‘true Church.’ I know I’m guilty of unrealistically lauding Acts 2 as the ideal after which today’s Church should strive to embody.
Not only is the Acts 2 model unrealistic, I now wonder if it’s even a good, faithful model of the Church Jesus intended. After all, a community of believers sharing their possessions together, eating together, gathering together, teaching and praying and fellowshipping together just may entail too much togetherness.
What if the Acts 2 Church about which preachers so often wax poetic was actually a contravention of Jesus’ final commandment?
To take the Gospel to the very ends of the earth.
As easily as one can romanticize the Acts 2 Church, it’s just as easy to view it as a static, inward-focused community- both static and stationary, camped out in Jerusalem.
Maybe what we’re supposed to see in Acts 2, especially when contrasted with the rest of Acts’ unfolding, is not a romantic ideal but the caution that Christian community is not an end in itself.
In fact, I’ve come to think that a better reading of Acts understands the actual birth of the Church, in the sense of the community of disciples living up to and living out their calling, happening in Acts 8.
It’s not until Stephen’s bold ministry in Acts 6 and 7 provokes persecution and eventually martyrdom that the disciples disperse beyond their community.
It’s in fleeing that the disciples inadvertently find their former calling: to be a missionary people, a community on the move.
If this is a fair reading of Acts then I think it follows to say that Christians do not seek community as an end in itself but rather community is the result of us seeking other, larger ends.
We build community not for its own sake; we build it incidentally, as our hearts and energies are captured by the greater cause of proclaiming the Gospel message
The anthropologist Victor Turner distinguished between ‘community’ and what he labeled ‘communitas.’
Whereas ‘community’ can be described: as something to be built, as inward-focused, centered on encouraging one another and creating a safe space, Turner says ‘communitas’ is the experience of deeper bonds, support and relationships of people who undergo a shared ordeal.
What Turner labels ‘communitas’ is what people on mission trips often experience as the ‘spiritual high’ of their time serving the poor. With a cause bigger than ourselves, community just sort of happens on its own.
Communitas is only experienced by taking risks together, suffering together, and working together for a cause greater than the community itself.
In other words, when it comes to the ideal Church Turner would have you think of Saving Private Ryan more so than Acts chapter 2. Too many churches miss this experience of ‘communitas’ for no other reason than that they avoid shared ordeals. They opt for a safe, secure environment. Indeed they make a safe, secure environment their goal.
Alan Hirsch explains ‘communitas’ this way:
“…it is a community infused with a grand sense of purpose; a purpose that lies outside of its current internal reality…It’s the kind of community that happens to people in actual pursuit of a common vision of what could be. It involves movement and it describes the experience of togetherness that only really happens among a group of people actually engaging in a mission outside itself.”