Can the church reclaim its place as a shared community of faith?
Plato records his remembrance of Socrates being charged for corrupting the youth of Athens and teaching about false gods. In the trial, Socrates is condemned and given the option to live as an exile from Athens or to drink hemlock to end his life. He accepts the death sentence because he views death as a better alternative than leaving the city that gave him life and understanding.
Three days before he is to die, a close friend comes and offers to help him escape. Socrates explains again that Athens is his home, the place where he has learned about life and the place he has wanted to teach more perfect ideas.
Socrates believed that life assumes greater meaning in community, an idea with universal appeal, except in America where rugged individualism has survived since our pioneer days and community may not be highly valued.
That may be especially true when people consider the church.
That was the case of my mother when I was a child. She taught me about God and the powerful work of Jesus, but church attendance was optional even though her childhood was marked by fond memories of the Sundays when her parents and siblings spent the day at church — worshipping, having dinner on the grounds, more singing, visiting, playing with neighbor children and then a closing worship period. She never found a duplicate of that community.
I, on the other hand, found a meaningful community in the church. In San Leandro, Calif., I found great teaching when I was in the sixth grade in the person of a great preacher and a powerful, elderly grandmother who knew the Bible better than I ever will. I found it again at the East Side Church of Christ in Tulsa, Okla. There I found a spiritual community that loved me, supported me and encouraged my intellectual and spiritual growth.
I preached my first stumbling sermon when I was in the ninth grade. The praise and compliments are still fresh in my mind. That amazing community nurtured me and helped me think about leadership and service.
Throughout my life, I have been blessed to share the life of communities eager to honor God, care for each other and imitate Acts 2:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. … All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts … And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
Try to imagine that church.
Such a community changed the world. In 50 years, the church spread around the Roman world, creating similar fellowships among Jews and all nations. And those focused communities prepared their members to endure hardships and death for the Christ who brought these communities into being.
When most of us consider the shared life of the early church, we can’t fathom making time in our calendars for more community. Families are overbooked and have little time for serious communication and healthy interaction. Jobs require much more time and concentration.
So how can individuals and families share in a community of faith like that described in Acts 2?
There is no easy answer, but we all really need a community of faith that helps us be godly people in an increasingly pagan world. We need each other to support our children as they develop faith in God and a sense of mission for their lives. With marriage constantly under attack, couples need other couples who can encourage, speak the truth in love and love without judgment.
Creating a meaningful community of faith requires faith in God and determination to bring his joy and peace into the lives of all members of the community. In most cases we do not need to sell our goods to care for each other, but we must give time, love and empathy.
God has always wanted communities of faith to change people and the world.