Christianity, properly understood and practiced, is an inconvenient faith. It puts a squeeze on life as it’s currently practiced in North America. In talking with people about the Christian lifestyle employed in Acts chapter 2 of the New Testament the question is: Is this minimum church or maximum church? There’s a few ways to “skin the cat” as we seek to understand and apply what we see there:
Pragmatic argument- This Church described in this chapter clearly rocked their world and transformed their culture. The Church living and worshiping in North America is not putting a dent in the unchurched stats or the social health indices (e.g. divorce, abortion, poverty, unemployment, etc.) To steal a line of thought from former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin: You can’t have the Church Jesus wants with the participation levels that our cultural Christianity allows. Something’s gotta give.
Theological argument – The early church was the direct descendent of Jesus’ and the apostle’s teaching about the Kingdom of God. They were the recipients, as today’s Christians are, of God’s Holy Spirit who empowers his people for holiness in mission as a community that worships God through Christ making disciples of all nations. They seem privileged in that many of them had seen Jesus and experienced miraculous proofs of Christ’s rule after his ascension. In another sense we have the same privilege and responsibility as they had since we have the same Spirit and the same commission.
Psychological argument – The community formed by the Spirit that we call “early church” for short had a beautiful unity that was hugely beneficial in buffering their status as a persecuted minority within Judaism and a marvel within Greco-Roman culture. Their daily life with each other involved shared meals, shared needs, and shared joy in the rhythms of Jewish worship and daily life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has called this “Life Together.” Many Christians are seeking the same joy and same effectiveness through “Life Separate” and wonder why it’s not happening. Their joy came through time spent and time wasted together. In our on-the-go-always-on culture we have minimized time-wasting with all our time-saving gadgets. To afford these we work ridiculous hours and drive ridiculous distances to our employment that makes this hamster wheel pace possible and necessary. Our physical burnout and spiritual overdraft prevent us from doing the “hard work” that is required by “Life Together.” This prevents us from contagious joy and community that energizes our batteries and activates our faith. When did you last have time to grab dinner with another Christian? Could one of your “veg out” nights be spent with someone else who needs you or could be an encouragement to you?
Asking these questions of ourselves and our unquestioned routines could be the avenue into “an inconvenient faith” that becomes a rich “life together” that is beautiful and powerful for the cause of Christ’s Kingdom of transforming mercy and grace.
Resources for thinking through our lifestyle:
Making Room for Life by Randy Frazee
Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Burton Maines
The Mustard Seed Conspiracy by Tom Sine (or anything by him)
Real Love, Real Life by Andi Ashworth
The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter
Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Any of Jean Vanier’s works on Community