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Vision for Community
On the day of Pentecost, Jesus displayed his Lordship as the ascended King by pouring out his promised Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter proclaims that this means the resurrected Jesus is the promised Son of David who is now ruling over all things from God’s throne in heaven. The good news is that God’s kingdom has come to earth in a new way and the ascended King Jesus is making all things new.
This good news includes the promise of a new relationship with God by his Spirit to all who repent and believe in Christ. And it includes the promise of a new world that has already come on earth and will one day come in its fullness when Jesus returns.
This good news also includes the promise of a new humanity on earth through which God will carry out his mission to make all things new. Jesus calls this new humanity the church. He refers to it as a new society on earth that is like a great city on a hill. It’s a new and better society that stands in stark contrast to all the oppression, injustice, and brokenness on earth today.
Augustine refers to it as the City of God that is replacing the City of Man. It breaks down all barriers between people of every tribe, tongue, and nation. This new community is meant to be a foretaste of God’s kingdom to come when Jesus returns, as well as the instrument through which God’s kingdom comes on earth today.
The Apostles’ Creed calls this new community the communion of saints. This phrase means that when you are united to God in Christ by faith, God also unites you to all the members of his mystical body, the church, from all generations, with Christ as the head. And since all followers of Christ are members of his invisible body, each member contributes to the good of all and shares in the welfare of all.
So what did this new community look like when it first appeared on the day of Pentecost after the preaching of the gospel and the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit? Luke records it for us in the book of Acts. In Acts 2:42-47 we find an amazing picture of this new community:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
The Greek word used for the fellowship in Acts 2:42 is the koinonia (Τῇ κοινωνίᾳ). There is a definite article before the word in the Greek New
Testament so it translates as the fellowship not just fellowship. It can also be translated as the communion or the community.
The use of this word in the New Testament conveys a deep level of community and participation with others. The first century Christians’ devotion to the fellowship was on the same level as their devotion to the Apostles teaching and to the breaking of bread (probably the Lord’s supper) and the prayers.
As we look closer at Luke’s record of this new community, we see two interesting patterns emerge regarding their meetings.
First, they continually met together for public worship in the temple. In Acts 2:46 we read, “And day by day, [they were] attending the temple together.” They were also regularly meeting together in smaller gatherings in their homes. Acts 2:46 continues, “and breaking bread in their homes.”
The temple was where they came together for public worship. But they also met together more informally in their homes.
Later in Scripture we find references to their meetings as “house churches.” In 1 Corinthians 16:9 Paul writes, “The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.” And in Romans 16:5 Paul writes, “Greet also the church in their house.”
In Acts 20:20 Paul refers to both their public and private meetings: “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house.”
But it wasn’t just their meeting together that transformed their lives and world. It was their love for each other. One tangible display of their love was their sacrificial generosity to the poor among them:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35)
As a result, the non-believing world could not dismiss the Christian message. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Francis Schaeffer called the love Christians have for each other “the final apologetic.”
We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.
This experience of deep community cannot happen by merely meeting together for public worship. We must also meet together for informal gatherings, often in our homes. It’s not possible to have significant relationships and love people we don’t know. And we cannot know people with whom we do not regularly meet.
Devotion to the fellowship requires a group of people who know each other well by regularly spending time together.
Although the Bible doesn’t command us to structure the local church in groups, it presents us with a call to community that requires groups of people in meaningful relationships.
Granted, the organic nature of the first century church was significantly shaped by its highly communal Jewish culture. Some cultures today are still very communal. However, many cultures are not communal, but individualistic, especially in the Western world.
So when community life doesn’t happen organically, a devotion to the fellowship requires intentional organization of churches into smaller, nurturing communities.
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