Thursday

Where Does the Money Go in Church - Part 2

We've seen that one of the ways money was used in the New Testament church was to provide the necessities of life for oneself and one's family.

Beyond this, early on in Acts, we see money being used to help other believers in the local church. The key passages are well known and both describe life in the Jerusalem church:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:44-45)


All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:32-33)


Both passages begin with a description of a state of mind and finish with a description of certain activities that arose from that state.

In chapter two we are told by Luke that this group of believers "devoted themselves" to four things:

1) the apostles' doctrine
2) the fellowship
3) the breaking of bread
4) prayer

This devotion then found expression in a way of life in which "all the believers had everything in common" and in which they "gave to anyone as he had need."

Evangelical commentators have sometimes got their proverbial knickers in a twist over this passage. Prompted, perhaps, in the mid-20th century by a fear of communism, many of that century's commentaries go to considerable lengths to argue that this "common life" was extraordinary, experimental and non-binding on believers in every age.

Presumably, these helpful commentators would not take such a view of being devoted to the apostles' doctrine, but would see that as an excellent example to be followed by Christians today.

Actually, devotion to the four things that the Jerusalem believers were devoted to will tend to produce similar ways of thinking in believers of all ages.

Apostolic doctrine
  • Apostolic doctrine was soteriological - focused on God's act of salvation in Christ - and tended to produce worship and thanksgiving.
  • Apostolic doctrine was also eschatological - focusing on the coming of the Kingdom of God and the passing away of this present evil age - and tended to loosen ties to the things of this world.
  • It was also communitarian - emphasizing God's plan to bring Jew and Gentile together into one new man in Christ - and tended to produce unity and equality
  • Finally, this doctrine was ethical - love being the fulfillment of the law and the greatest command - and highlighted one's moral responsibility to one's fellow man
The fellowship

In a similar, but perhaps more direct way, the church's devotion to "the fellowship" was an obvious way in which their mind set was shaped with regard to the sharing of possessions.

Fellowship, at its most basic level, means "sharing" or "common-ness" , the word (koinonea) being the root of our English words common, community and communism. These early believer were, according to Luke, "devoted" to this practical idea of sharing/participating together/being community.

Sharing their possessions was a natural outworking of this devotion.

The breaking of bread

There is not a consensus among scholars as to the precise meaning of this phrase and, in particular, the extent to which it refers to the "Lord's Supper" of bread and wine.

The phrase is used by Paul in his Corinthian correspondence with reference to the remembrance of the death of Christ through the act of eating bread and drinking wine. I have also argued elsewhere in this blog that the early church did in fact share the bread and wine in the context of an actual meal with real food present. This was certainly the case when the original meal was eaten by the Lord and the disciples the night before his arrest.

What is clear is that the phrase "the breaking of bread" does refer to eating food together and that it was a practice that the Jerusalem church was devoted to.

Prayer

So much has been written and said about prayer in the early church that I feel there is little I could add to the wealth of understanding on the subject.

Perhaps there is just one perspective that may be relevant. It is that the devotion to prayer enjoyed by these believers was present in the context of community life - in fact, perhaps the most extraordinary and beautiful community life recorded in Scripture.

Perhaps you're different, but personally I find it more natural to pray (even for long periods of time and into the night) when I am living in community with brothers and sisters who are devoted to the apostles' doctrine, devoted to the shared life and devoted to eating together often and remembering the Lord's death and resurrection.

I would go so far as to say that were you and I to be living in such a community, prayer would flood out of us. The healthy peer-pressure would be irresistible!

This began as a post about sharing possessions. It is still about that, but as an expression of devoted lives.

Christians sometimes get very nervous about sharing possessions with those in need. Sometimes it's because we don't see it as the overflow of a life devoted to sharing the truth of the gospel, sharing food, sharing the Lord's supper and sharing prayer.


1 comment:

Multifuncional said...
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