A few days ago a student asked me if I thought the church today could be like the church in the Bible. After dispensing my usual sarcastic response (“You mean like the church in Corinth where people have all kinds of sexual immorality and get drunk at the Lord’s Supper…yeah, we could probably do that“) I decided to get serious for a moment. I knew he was asking about the church as reported in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-35. In those texts the church is described as being a place where everyone shares everything, no one has any needs, and lots of people are coming to know Jesus.
All of this probably lasted about five minutes (again, the cynical side of me which often works with the sarcastic side…). But just because we consistently fail to reach the ideal does not mean we should quit. I doubt I will ever fully conquer lust or greed or pride or, well, you get the idea. That is no reason to dive headfirst into such things. Rather, it is all the more reason to persevere, to seek to overcome with the help of the Holy Spirit.
So if Acts 2 and 4 present the ideal of what the church should be, can the church community today do those sorts of things?
Originally, I was going to post about how I don’t think I can vote for any of the presidential candidates. Some of the reasons can be found in the following articles in articles like this one, this one, this one, and perhaps best in ones like this. My point is, as a Christian, I see no hope in either political party.
The presidential election is often presented as: if you elect this person, he/she will fix all the problems. If you place your hope for a better future in this person and his/her running of the government, you’ll be saved. That may not be the explicit message, but it is right there under the surface. It is almost like another gospel, parallel to the Biblical one.
One of the primary conservative mantras is that the government ought not be a “nanny state”, giving people all kinds of handouts. The argument is that it is not the governments’ job to pay for your college or health care. But I do wonder, for people who truly need help, why wouldn’t they look to the government? Who else would they look to?
Of course not.
And maybe that’s the problem.
I am not here to figure out how all this works in the big picture. I am also certain, to be fair, that lots of desperate people do seek help in their local church communities. My bet is that the majority of people in our culture do not think “the church” as the first place to go when they are in need of help.
Perhaps it is best if I start with a place I know a little about: Penn State Berks in Reading, PA. Sometimes I have a dream about what the Christians on campus could do.
What if anytime someone was sick, Christian students brought them chicken soup?
What if when people were depressed, in need of advice, they came to the Christians?
What if the Christians had a reputation for dispensing the best advice on relationships?
What if the Christians on campus simply met the basic needs of others?
What if the churches in the area helped students in need pay for their tuition? Rather than going deep into debt with student loans, what if the churches helped?
College students do not have too many resources, financial that is. Further, campus ministry is a limited community to one segment of society. We could dream about what local churches could do:
What if the elderly, rather than relying on the state, received help from the church?
What if high school kids, rather than going into debt, got scholarships from the church?
What if the church, instead of waiting for the government to fix things, simply did it ourselves.
I know many of these things are already happening, both on campus and in church communities across the country. That is awesome. May we continue to do more. Also, I think if we do it as the church we bring a certain humility to it. Those in power, such as presidents and presidential candidates, are practically forced to sound optimistic. Their message must be that we can do anything. Christians realize, due to the reality of human fallenness, we can only do so much. Without God’s help, we can do very little.
Christians may work to end poverty and human trafficking and other evils. We may even experience some success. But we also recognize there are limitations. We recognize without God’s help we cannot make the world new. By the power of the Spirit, it is our job to start moving that direction. Just because we cannot reach the ideal does not mean we ought not strive.
Kind of like my own individual battles with lust, greed and pride. We know the goal individually and communally, so let’s, with humility, move towards the dream.