Beth is a student of the French language, a world traveller, a worship leader, musician and could harmonize with a dying cat and make it sound good. You can hear her music and read more of her thoughts at her blog...http://boredatthebeach.blogspot.com/
One Sunday this summer, I found myself considering this second chapter of Acts in an interesting way. It was one of those days where things "came together" in my head and I was "stirred". For my fantastic summer job, I was taking a group of exchange students to the Stratford Festival's production of Jesus Christ Superstar. As wacky as this portrayal of Christ is, this production (particularly the music) really impressed me. The rage of Jesus upon seeing the temple exploited especially struck me. Also, the weakness and the humanity of the disciples was made pretty obvious in this story and I couldn't help but think on how amazing it was that these same men and women spread the story of Jesus, performed miracles, started the church and wrote letters that have been forever documented and revered.
Evangelical Christians so often talk about "the early church" and reflect on how simple it was and how it inspires us to "go back" to that model, to forsake religion, etc. It is this second chapter of Acts that we hold as some kind of motto, but still seem to fall short of living. Or at least, fall short of discovering a way to do this kind of church, this kind of Christian community in our culture today.
The morning before seeing Jesus Christ Superstar, I was coincidentally a part of a discussion group after Sunday's sermon, reflecting on on the question, "What is church?" and James 5:13-20:
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective....if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins."
In the discussion group, we all seemed to agree that, for the most part, we're pretty good at the first few items, but not so good at confessing our sins to each other and definitely not at "bringing people back", since that requires a level of community and accountability that we shy away from in our culture. We discussed how, in our perception of other, less individualistic cultures, the Christian community is much better at this. In my experiences in Brazil, it has always seemed to me that church is a safe place to be vulnerable, to confess (with much latin emotion of course) and to even call someone out who has "lost their way". Has anyone noticed how we tend to cringe at the word "backslider" these days? Certainly there is a difficult line between judging and "bringing someone back". I think it is a particular challenge for the North American church (or maybe I should just speak for the Canadian church) to build church community that is good at all of these things: praying, praising, anointing, and bringing people back.
All that being said, it was not this discussion that challenged our little group the most; it was the revelation that someone in our group was feeling alone and unsupported by our church (of which I am, in this instance, embarrassingly a part). This person, who was receiving support from others outside of the church, admitted having serious questions about just what is church.
Isn't it interesting that many of us do not find support in our place of worship, yet we are able to find it in other places? According to the descriptions from Acts 2 and James 5, our faith communities should be places of devotion to teaching, praising, performing miracles, and expanding the kingdom, while being places that give and receive support, prayer, and accountability.
It seems to me that this "early church model" is not so simple as we think! Yes, we need to support one another and carry each others burdens, but we all have a lot of burdens! There is a lot of suffering and it extends way beyond our church communities--how do we walk with everyone?! I don't really have a relationship with that person who shared her pain in that Sunday discussion group… so what then? And when do we have time to perform signs and wonders? It's wonder enough to be able to maintain any type of community in our here and now! I guess if those regular ol' disciples were able to pull it off, we can continue to be inspired and to pursue this kind of church.