“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were given their testimony to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what they sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (ESV)
One of the things lost to the churches today is this sense of communal sharing. But it is clear that the first Believers, those who called it “The Way”, did consider all things to belong to God. They had no material desire nor thought as anything as being worthy of holding onto. They had a deep desire to turn over all worldly excess as offerings to God for the better use of the community as a whole.
They thought as one being, a gestalt, each having a distinct purpose within the community yet a part of the whole. This is also dealt with by Paul when he speaks of the gifts in several of his letters. The problem with church communities today is that we have forgotten this unique oneness that was obvious to the first church. We have been seduced by the world to think of worldly possessions solely “ours” and spiritual things as God’s. Profit, hoarding, materialism has overridden the desire to be “Community of One Mind”. We have set aside the commandment to love each other as we love ourselves and reject the poor.
Oh, we give tithe (reluctantly), or we give to charities. But we do not give with Charity, the Agape Love that is unconditional. We even go so far as to preach that the poor deserve their fate because they are “lazy” or “uneducated” or “to stupid to know how to manage their money”. This is a lie of the world. The poor are what they are, not because the deserve it but because they have been made poor or kept poor by our negligence to uplift and support their need. We have rejected their gifts because they do not meet our expectations. We do not recognize the gestalt they bring to the table of community.
With the sense of interconnected community there not only is more effective ministry, there is a greater expression of the Holy Spirit. Those communities that give without reservation, are blessed far greater in the Holy Spirit in their everyday lives. They have less stress, greater humility, stronger drive and are much happier than those communities that worry about how to pay bills or complaining about giving. Those communities that have to remind people of tithing, take special offerings, have “fund raisers” to make ends meet are lacking in the Oneness of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Prayed (according to John) that we be one as He and the Father are One. That applies not only to being in one accord as believers, but to be on one mind as community.
What we lack, as believers in the 21st Century is the oneness in giving. The breadwinner of a family does not say to the children, you do not earn money, so you do without until you can contribute to the family, but that is what has happened in our society and it has spilled over into the church. As we are Family, as in the Family of God, we are also family in community. And as family, it is just that those who have much to offer, give freely and joyfully.
In the Community of the Faithful, these offerings, this sharing, should be voluntary, not mandatory as was the Tithe of the Old Testament. As the First Church, gave according to their ability and laid it at the feet of the Apostles, those who can give generously, must do it freely, willing and without regret. No one demanding they give a percentage, but according to the ability to give gifts to God. If it means sacrifice, then it should be a sacrifice of Love, not duty. And those who can give nothing, should not be coerced into giving from their meager earnings but to receive gifts from the Community. The church I belong to doesn’t tithe but asks instead that those who can give greatly do so and those who live paycheck to paycheck or on fixed incomes, give lightly even if only $5 dollars. For no family should do without to honor God as duty. God does not ask that of us.
As a Community of Believers, no family should do without. As a family of Community, no member of Society should do without either. As a Church, and as a Society, No member should be left outside while other bask in warmth and over abundance. If we are to live in a society that claims faithfulness to God and thereby Jesus (as many claim), then we as a society should assure that no member go without. And that is perhaps why we are failing as a nation,not because we have so many in need but because we fail as Christians to offer at the feet of the Apostles, freely, gifts so that none are in need. There was a time when churches ran the shelters, food banks, orphanages, “Welfare programs”, and hospitals. There was a time when doctors were church leaders and even pastors. There was a time when all charity was dealt with by the religious community, both ordained and laity. Governments did not have to deal with those in need because the churches took care of the people. But as much as the churches do help today, there is not enough to go around. Ant that is because we no longer think of ourselves ads being of one mind with Christ and the Holy Spirit. We think of church as a place to get fed but not to feed others, to feel good about ourselves but not to help other feel relief. We go to church to surround ourselves with people who think, dress, live even look like ourselves. What we should be doing is creating a community that brings outsiders in to include, encourage, build to to be like us but to add to us what we are not. For it is not a gestalt if everything is the same. It is a gestalt if new is added and what is built is made stronger, greater than it was.
Many are fearful of adding new, especially if the new is the poor and needy. But let me say this: The poor bring humility where there is Pride, Simplicity where there is complexity, Grace where there is vanity, wisdom where there is “book knowledge. Peace and meekness were there is conflict and arrogance. But most of all they bring acceptance and gratitude where there is denial and selfishness.
So let us build this community of One Mind, one Spirit, one Community of Faithfulness and let us then be wholly and holy in Christ Jesus. Let us turn away from the traps of worldliness and rebuild at the feet of the Apostles,the Community of the Way of Jesus Christ. It is time to rebuild our Faith as Community