The church is full of hypocrites. That’s one of the top reasons people don’t give Jesus serious consideration for their spiritual journeys. One aspect of this truth that has subtly invaded our Christian communities has been on my mind lately: our inability to live in true, hardcore community.
I was chatting with a church planter whose young non-traditional church has a strong emphasis on community. They meet as three separate groups in homes and other places and come together every few weeks as an entire body. Each group meets for a meal once a week. He told me that they started off their church by forming a spiritual family that offers community and belonging.
A family is the group of people you spend the most time with. They’re the ones who know you and notice when things in your life aren’t right. They also know when you’re pretending to be something you’re not: when your words don’t line up with your actions. And, they’re the ones whose lives are interconnected with yours because of a shared situations and dreams. Genuine community is rare for churches because we are too easily swayed by one thing that God takes very seriously.
The book of Acts tells the story of the early church. Community was important to the spread of the Gospel. It was key to giving the world a taste of what the Kingdom of Heaven was really about. There are a few points in Acts that describe the activity of the baby religion. At the end of chapter four Luke writes about Barnabas, a man who sold his property and give all of the proceeds to people in the group who were in need.
Ananias and Sapphira felt like they had to measure up and did something that is cancerous to a group of people who are trying to be real. They lied about the extent of their generosity by telling Peter they were presenting all the money they got for the sale of their land. So, God killed them.
It doesn’t say that God condemned them to hell. He was just scaring the hell out of the rest of the group. The Almighty takes our pretending far more seriously than we tend to realize because he knows that it’s the first step backwards in faith.
We say, and even believe, that we are saved by faith and not by what we do or what we’ve accomplished. And yet we continue to do all we can to convince people that we’ve got it all together. If we really lived in a community they would see the truth. We do it because it’s our way of convincing ourselves that we belong.
For instance, I’d venture a guess that there are couples at your church who are struggling to keep their marriages together and still manage to pull off the image of a perfect family whenever the spotlight is on. That’s not community. That’s a performance. It’s pretend living, and you can only take it so far before real life catches up with you.
The answer is vulnerability. It’s the willingness to be real about who we are so that we can travel our spiritual journeys together with clarity and purpose. Ananias and Sapphira should have been truthful about the fact that they weren’t up to a Barnabas-type generosity just yet. They had seen it as the price of admission to a group they already belonged to and they ended up paying a higher price in the end.
It’s probably a western culture thing; individualism and the American dream. Get over it. Community is that important to God. It probably should be that important to us.