“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46-47 NRSV
It might be appropriate to refer to this text as a “day in the life of the early church.” I am fascinated to read the opening chapters of Luke’s second work known as The Acts of the Apostles as it captures the movement of God’s Spirit amongst common folk in transformative ways. While it is easy for some to focus upon the miraculous amongst early Christ followers, I am often struck by the genuine sense of community that existed as people became yielded to the Spirit. As I continue to offer reflection upon our mission as Little Rock Original Free Will Baptist Church, I move us toward an aspect that may be tempting to overlook when compared to the other identifying markers of this congregation. When we think of the work of evangelism (reaching people for Christ) and making/equipping disciples for ministry, fellowship may seem of lesser importance. However, to lose the fellowship/community dimension of being the Church performs a terrible disservice to the Body of Christ.
In his work entitled I Am A Church Member, author Thom Rainer addresses the Church as a living/active community of faithful individuals who desire to pursue and represent Christ within the world. As an illustration of his understanding of the Church, Rainer goes to great length to emphasize that we are more than an organization. That is to suggest, we are more than a social club in which we pay monthly/annual dues in order to reap certain benefits. As I have heard stated throughout my life, “Church is more than something you go to; it is a family you belong to.” It is family not in the traditional/biological understanding of the term, but rather an assembly/gathering of men, women, and young people who have a common goal of loving God, loving people, and doing the work of God’s Kingdom. While these elements of ministry are expressed in a variety of ways, their common source is the Risen Christ who abides with us as we seek to continue his message. Certain dimensions of this work may occur at an individual level in the sense of making the decision to follow Christ or being nurtured personally, but much of what we are about as the Church occurs in the context of community.
I am reminded of a statement made by English poet John Donne when he rightly observed how “No man is an island.” It is a simple, yet profound quote that indicates this life that we live is not something we travel through alone. We do not live in isolation, but are surrounded by others who make life possible. Within the faith community the word koinonia captures quite well what occurs (or should occur) when we become a part of the Body of Christ. Koinonia is a Greek term which indicates there is a connectiveness between persons or participation in something around which common values exist. As the Church, our common values are those essentials upon which our faith is built and which offer a sense of direction toward which we are moving. You may notice in much of my speaking and writing, I use the language of “we” to describe who we are as Little Rock. I truly believe that in order for the Church to exist, it takes all of us. We are people needing people.
I recall a story I heard a few years ago that may help illustrate this point. On a cold, winter day a certain pastor was going through his community making pastoral visits. In addition to the sick on this particular day, he chose to pay a visit to a gentleman whom he had missed in worship for some time. Following a brief/generic type of conversation, silence grew between the two men. As they warmed themselves before the fireplace, the pastor began to poke at the fire and pulled forth a glowing ember which he shifted to one side. The two men stared at the blazing fire while periodically making glances toward the ember. In a matter of moments the glow of the ember began to dim until there was no more. Without saying a word, the pastor stood to conclude his visit. At this point his parishioner broke the silence by thanking the pastor for his “fiery sermon” and told him that he would see him the next Sunday. It is such a simple example, but yet powerful in that it conveys the certainty of people needing one another in order to “do church.” Without the support of the burning wood, the ember faded just as those who disassociate themselves from life in the faith community begin to struggle in their Christian growth.
This communal aspect of church is seen quite well in the story of the early Christian movement. Time and again, we read of believers who were devoted not only to a cause but also one another. They shared time together, worshiped together, ate together, and in the process added to the faith by doing life together. This sense of being together must be rediscovered as the Church seeks to remain faithful in our calling to be a light to the world. In the simplest of manners, those first Christians became a strong witness as a result of the time spent together. Fellowship, community, togetherness, however we wish to address it, is vital as we do the Lord’s work in this day and time. In this context, we learn much about one another, how to coordinate ministry in connection with others, and it provides a model for how we seek to relate to others within our mission field.
Together in Community,
The Reverend Kelley Smart