At a SXSW event this last week I had the chance to speak with some Christian Tech Leaders at an event on Faith and Technology. As we spoke and heard talks discussing how to create and use the newest forms of online content and media to further the Kingdom of God, I was struck by the statement of one of the more dynamic speakers at the event. After illustrating the different ways to engage culture with the Gospel, we then discussed the idea of the American Church living out the culture of the church in Acts 2 and 4, specifically with regard to “sharing everything they had.” His remark caught me by surprise, “if the Church would do that, we wouldn’t need the rest of this.”
It was a statement that has stayed with me even to now. The idea that simply by practicing a culture of sharing, recognizing God’s role in our provision for ourselves and others, the Church could change the world. That initially sounds a bit naive. But didn’t it already happen once?
Sometimes I forget that consumerism and materialism are not new -isms. Stuff has always been there, and the temptation to accumulate as much of it as can be gained right there alongside it. The first church had to fight this same tendency, the desire to acquire more, to find their security first in themselves rather than the God who created them. It is not that they did not have things, in fact it is real to consider that many of them did have things, and some had many. But it seems that they saw their things as offerings, as potential power-ups for fellow followers of the Way to share in the beauty of relationship in the body, in the church, together. They did not stand in the way of God using anything they had been given to bless anyone around them. The eagerness to see God’s love guiding all parts of their lives together must have been a sight to see, and it must have been a powerful witness to the rest of Jerusalem and other parts of the Empire of the love and resurrection of Jesus. It must have been scandalous. His Church was responding to His love.
In jumping back into the present, I wonder what this scandalous love would look like in our context today. Why are we less willing, while having much more, to share the things that we have, even in the context of our churches and communities of which we are daily a part? I love Ragan Sutterfield’s discussion of “The Commonwealth of the Body”, where he looks at the value of dependence among the believers, and what a difficulty that is in a culture of hyper-individualism.
“We fear commonwealths in large part because they require cooperation more than control, they mean that others may have a claim on the same goods we do. We want to control the demands and requirements of our life, we want to control our use and disuse of our goods, but when we must cooperate with others around such things it requires more work, it requires compromise and sacrifice, it requires most of all slowness.”
Dependence is difficult. To be in a place where we can trust God with all that we have, is the definition of dependence, yet the irony is that we are simply recognizing what we claim to believe is already true. Still for me, the difference between knowledge and action is often miles a part. The comfort of convenience versus the responsibility of relationship is a choice we make each day. We have to choose to share, our lives and our stuff, to take up our cross and love without end.
How does this look today? Sharing starts with a heart for others. We have to ask God to give us eyes for others and what we can offer them. We must be willing to be the hands washing feet, because through our vulnerability and emulation of Jesus, our serving gives others license to do the same. This creates a dynamic shift in thinking, making available what we have to pursue and love others we know, our stuff as the means to deeper community, rather than isolation of individuality. I love the concept of the church as the body, since we exist to serve each other, and only function together, dependent upon each other. In the past week, two churches here in Austin have set a goal of having each member of their body post 32 items of spiritual, personal, or practical significance together in a community on ActsofSharing.com. In order to demonstrate and emulate the selfless love of the church in Acts 4:32, they are making available valuable items for each other when they are needed.
C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” To love is to risk, the chance to be hurt, the chance to be treated unfairly, to be rejected. We share in the risks and joys of loving one another because God demonstrated this love before we had ever responded to Him. In John 13:35 it says: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I pray that we, as the bride of Christ, might reflect His love for us in how we love each other, with all that we are, and all that we have. Then, perhaps, we’ll see something we wouldn’t have believed even if we were told.