One task to which Jesus is calling us as Christians is to build up our churches. Right now, our churches are generally nothing more than a loose association of individuals who gather together on Sundays for an hour of pleasantries before leaving and forgetting about everyone else for another week. These companions of our community are not relatives, friends, neighbors, or colleagues. In effect, they’re nobodies.
In rich contrast to this, Jesus calls each church to be nothing less than his alternative society and culture. He wants us to be the provisional representatives of the Kingdom of Heaven right now already on Earth. Do people want a taste of life in the age to come? Do they want some assurance there even is an age to come? Do they want to experience what freedom, truth, love, and vitality are really like? Do we? Then let us respond with gratitude to the gracious call of Jesus to live together as witnesses to him.
One way we witness to our freedom in Jesus for sharing his truth, love, and vitality is by taking care of our own. Luke gives us some idea of what this means:
44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:44-47, New American Standard Version, here and following).
32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need (Acts 4:32-35).
From these two passages, we learn that the earliest Christians were not simply a loose association but a meaningful community. They shared their wealth with one another, ate meals together, praised God, enjoyed unity of mind and heart, and witnessed to the resurrection of Jesus.
Churches as meaningfully alternative communities, taking care of their own, practicing mutual aid, continued for centuries. Julian (331-363), a Roman emperor (361-363) seeking to revive a declining Olympianity against these increasingly robust churches, wrote with some frustration to an Olympian bishop:
Are we refusing to face the fact that Atheism [Christianity!] owes its success above all to its philanthropy towards strangers and to its provisions for funerals and to its parade of a high puritanical morality?…It is a disgrace to us that our own people should be notoriously going short of assistance from us when in the Jewish community there is not a single beggar, while the impious Galileans [Christians] are supporting not only their own poor but ours as well (quoted in An Historian’s Approach to Religion  by Arnold Toynbee, 100).
Julian sincerely believed in the six conventional but false and destructive gods of Olympianity: (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god of consumption. He referred to Christians as atheists because, in his day, it was still plain that they witnessed to Jesus as a different god and declared that Julian’s gods were no gods at all. Worse, their point of view was increasing in popularity despite the state’s persecution of them. Demonstrated Christian love simply disgraced routine Olympian indifference.
We can’t say the same today. Today we Christians may have the name of Jesus on our lips but our hearts are far from him. We’ve ended up worshiping the same Olympian gods as Julian—called Julian the Apostate by the Christians of his day because he had been raised a Christian by his parents. We’ve joined him in apostasy by abandoning Jesus for his gods. He would be so pleased. We witness to this by our Olympian indifference toward other members of our congregation. Now our own, like Julian's, are notoriously going short of assistance.
Miraculously, Jesus is calling us to better days. Once again, solely by grace, he is inviting us to repent of our devotion to Julian’s false gods and to return at last to him. With him, he is enabling us to take care of our own once again. He is enabling us to see him as our head and our companions in church as members with us of his body—for our good and his glory.
Copyright © 2018 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.