Getting Back On Track
If Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live life with, who shared openly their search for God and allowed anyone, regardless of behaviour, to seek too, and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little more like Heaven, would you be interested? - Hugh Halter
When you look at the first century church, and even their leaders, things were a lot different than they are today. Church, by definition, was a community of people, rather than a building. These people were drawn to the life of Jesus, their rabbi (teacher) for more than his teachings, because what he taught was not only challenging, but would cost many their lives. Yet, they came by the thousands to join this community.
What was it that drew people to Jesus and his community?
Everyone was welcome. The most marginalized people of the time were children, women, shepherds, and the sick. In Matthew 19:14, when the disciples were becoming annoyed by the children, Jesus calls them over. With uncustomary grace, Jesus often spoke directly with women, in Luke 8:48, using an unmistakable term of endearment, "daughter". Lowly shepherds were among the first to be told of Jesus birth, and lowly women were the first to discover and share the news of the resurrection of Christ. Even Paul, who set out to kill Christians and likely was involved in the killing of one of the Apostles, not only was welcome, but played a leading role in the community. This was a community that welcomed everyone.
Everyone was on equal footing. Galatians 3:28. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Jesus had women in his entourage, and there is strong evidence that women were involved in the ministry of the First Century Church. Pricilla, Phoebe, Chloe, Nympha, and Apphia are a few in a long line of women who supported Paul in one way or another. And though slaves continued their indenturement, they too were welcomed and even advocated for (Philemon 1:10-18). Although the disciples had spent years together with Jesus, they still deserted him on the night he was captured. They were still learning. As apostles on mission, they argued and fought, still not absolutely sure of themselves. They were sojourners in this world: traveling and learning together to build Christ's Kingdom.
It was a sacrificial community. Richor poor, they pooled their resources and supported one other. James 1:27 describes it like this, "Pure, unstained religion, according to God our Father, is to take care of orphans and widows when they suffer and to remain uncorrupted by this world." One of the purest demonstrations of the gospel at work, it to move towards the hard places and broken people, not to retreat away from, or to use them like the corrupt world does. If you've ever struggled, you know how impactful it is to have someone reach out to you and wrap their love around you, to give you a hand, pull you out of the mire and share what they have with you.
Forgiveness. Everyone was undeserving, yet Jesus came to pay the price for all sin, no matter to what degree. Any iota of sin means that you are far below the standard of perfection that Jesus is. Those who truly understood the weight of this, were willing to give everything to have a relationship with him. John says it best, "There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." You can't deny someone love and devotion when they've given it all for you.
HOPE. Jesus gives a message of hope to the disciples , "When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am." First John explains it to the early church like this, "Yes, dear friends, we are already God’s children, right now, and we can’t even imagine what it is going to be like later on. But we do know this, that when he comes we will be like him, as a result of seeing him as he really is." They lived for the family reunion of the future.
This is the community -the church- that drew people into itself. In our self-absorbed, self-fulfilling, self-gratification-seeking world, we may have lost our way. How do we get back on track?