There are those wonderful passages at the end of Acts chapter 2, and then the end of chapter 4, that describe the life of the early church. These are now the signs of the living presence of the living God… Luke says, They devoted themselves to this… the implication is that we are to devote ourselves to this also.
So they devoted themselves to…
- The teaching – which means not only the gospel, but the doctrines that frame the gospel.
- The fellowship – that’s a common life – koinonea, the sharing of a common life. This is expressed in the breaking of bread and prayer together – which means they ate and worshipped a lot together in each other’s homes and in the temple courts. Breaking bread also has all those overtones of Jesus’ last meal where he talked about his coming death. So this is the beginning of the church’s corporate and sacramental life. The early church understood herself as a koinonea community. They were devoted to a common life together because they were bound together by Christ’s death on their behalf.
And this resulted immediately in…
- Signs and wonders, and
- Holding all things in common. People often scoff at the early church, ‘cos they had this crazy idea that they should just pool all their possessions, and if someone was in need – they could just bail them out. Actually, what’s going on is they’re realizing they’re a family. In the ancient world, families share. Often businesses in the ancient world were strictly in the family. If they had sons, they were apprenticed to them and they carried it on. And then brothers and nephews, and so on, would help with things. And sometimes women joined in with this as well. And the point is – they aren’t thinking of themselves as different families. They’re thinking of themselves as sharing a family identity. So they expressed this in terms of possessions and economics.
And then if you flick over to the end of Acts 4 this is repeated. And here we get a little hint at what’s behind all this. Chapter 4v34 says there wasn’t a needy person among them. What’s this referring to? Deuteronomy 15. Deuteronomy 15 is the law concerning the Sabbatical year – ‘Every seventh year you will grant remission of debts.’ The early church are living as the people who’ve had their debts forgiven… And what happens? The result is Deuteronomy 15v4 – ‘There will however be no one in need among you because the Lord is sure to bless you.’ The early church is behaving as people who say, ‘At last, this is what God always promised us. And we’re doing it. We are forgiveness people, therefore when we do this stuff, share all things in common, we signal that the Great Jubilee, the Great Sabbatical, the year of the Lord’s favour is here.’
How should we embody this today? This cuts right across our western individualism. There’s an enormous amount of this that we’ve just screened out, because it so clashes with our western worldview. We just don’t know what to do with it, so we gaze in wonder at the early church then quickly pass onto something else.
We need to take this deeply seriously. People say – they did all those miracles back then – that doesn’t happen today. Yeah, but they shared all their possessions with one another and lived a radically counter-cultural life. Maybe those 2 things have something to do with each other!
And then again, later at the beginning of Acts 6 we see the same thinking. Widows are being neglected in the daily distribution of food. This is a problem that only occurs because the early church is thinking and living as a family. If they weren’t living as a family, this problem wouldn’t have existed. In those days, before social security, widows were cared for by their family. This means, if you became a Christian – the church became your family.
And then finally at the end of Acts 11, we see the larger extension of this characteristic of the church. It’s what we saw in chapter 2, 4 and 6… only now it’s on a bigger scale… that the church is a community that lives by Jubilee, that lives as family, that fulfills Deuteronomy 15, that says, ‘There won’t be a needy person among us.’
This thinking worked for the community in Jerusalem. Now in Acts 11v19-20 – it’s working for the larger, universal church… so that, when one part of the church is in difficulty, the next part which can help them out – will send them money.
So how do we express this family identity in our western context where there is social security and so on? At Soma we’re trying to repent of our individualism and see each other as family – devoted to Christ and devoted to a common life together (koinonea) – not just in our missional communities, but across the whole of Soma.
- One practical thing we do is live by the 6 Rhythms. These are based on the Acts 2 passage. So for example, we try to eat and worship together a lot – in our homes and at our larger gatherings. Also we try to be a blessing to each other in many practical ways, and so on…
- One implication of this is that gathering together as a larger community on Sundays and at other times (like the camp) is just as important as gathering in our homes with our MCs. We haven’t understood our koinonea in Christ if we’re not committed to being family on a wider scale than just our small group…
- Another thing is doing ‘life on life’ with others in our MCs – thinking through how we can connect in different ways through the week. Like going on a walk with someone, sharing a meal, texting each other, praying for each other, knowing each others lives (joys and sorrows), exercising and sport. Basically, sharing life…
- Also in Soma we have the principle of shared leadership and an organic way of doing things… which means we’re less hierarchical and more open to many people speaking into things. So if you have an idea, share it with your MC – see what people think.
Actually… there are many levels of how we’re trying to express our family identity at Soma. This may mean different things for different people, and at different times, but the basic idea is we’re devoted to a common life together. Or rather, we want to extend the kind of life we have with our immediate families… to include our brothers and sisters in Christ.
There are still many questions as we try to work this out.
- What will all this mean for those of us who are away a lot with our work? How do we express that we’re family even if we’re apart a lot?
- Another question is, What are the choices we’re making, that we don’t need to make, that are keeping us from sharing a deep community life together?
- Or, How do we help people with isolation patterns? For example, those who have problems relating to authority, and so stay at a distance. Or people with patterns of criticizing others rather than engaging personally and constructively when there’s a problem?
- Or, What if a couple’s marriage is in difficulty – or there is some issue – so that it’s hard for them to be in community together as family? There seems to be a trend in our culture, of couples attending different churches rather than face the underlying issues of their relationship or the underlying issues of the way they’ve set up their life together.
- So these are all things we need to keep thinking through. What are your thoughts?
By Dave Miles