Is there an ideal church somewhere? Almost certainly not. And if we are honest, we should admit that at times there is a very large gulf between what the Church should be and what the Church actually is.
Ecclesiastes tells us not to yearn for ’the good old days’ (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Nevertheless it is hard, when we read Luke’s description of the very first church (Acts 2:41-47), not to feel that we have lost something. In that first community of believers, in Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God had come in power – and this was what it looked like: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who 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, praising God…”
What did the first believers do?
They immersed themselves in the apostles’ teaching – do we read our Bibles?
They met together regularly and frequently for worship, prayer and fellowship – do we?
They demonstrated their love for one another by meeting each other’s needs, often through sacrificial giving – do we?
And the awesome reality of God’s presence among them was palpable:
God gave them great joy.
God gave miraculous signs.
God gave a continual stream of new converts.
Is it really surprising that outsiders wanted to join their community? Wouldn’t you want to be part of a church like this? The main attraction must have been the quality of their relationships – with each other and with God. Money was much less important to them than people (I John 3:17). They lived in such an atmosphere of praise, joy and generosity that growth was natural, inevitable – and apparently effortless.
But such fellowship is costly – in time as well as money. Is this the reason why we fail to imitate them? Our present-day church life is so superficial in comparison that it is hardly surprising that it fails to have the same impact.
It is very easy to ‘knock’ our churches, knowing that they are far from perfect. To be honest, the early Church had problems as well; that is why most of the New Testament was written. But that is no excuse for complacency. The Church is not an entity distinct from its members, that we can poke fun at or complain about. As we have seen, the Church is US – whether we like it or not. So what are we going to do about it? “You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Revelation 2:4,5)