Unquestionably, it was the building of community under the auspices of the Holy Spirit that made the early church so strong as is evident in the book of Acts. So powerful was their witness that their opponents, in Thessalonica’s fear of this burgeoning force destined to be known across the world as the Church of Jesus Christ, sought to place Paul and Silas on trial unjustly, as best summed up in Acts 17: “When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17:6 NRSV). What made the church in the book of Acts so strong? It was their sense of community. It was a community of believers so united and supportive of one another as they rallied around the cross, that they literally turned the world upside down.
Note how Dr. Luke describes in Acts 2 what the Common English Bible labels as a community of believers: “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42–47, CEB). Note the pattern of key words in the preceding verses: believers, devoted, shared, united, met together, community. The early church was made up of a community of unified believers who were devoted to God and each other; they regularly met together and shared resources, i.e., they tended to the needs of each other, whatever those needs might’ve been. In this environment were many wonders and signs that were manifested.
I believe that it is amid this COVID-19 worldwide health crisis that God is giving the church an opportunity to return to functioning in community as it did in its early days of existence. He is calling us away from the insularity, isolation and, indeed, selfishness, and self-absorption, fostered by this current era of social media overload.
So, the question is: Will we as a church answer the call?
I challenge each of us, beginning today specifically, to spend more time personally checking on each other instead of babbling on and sifting through eye-glazing and mind-numbing social media posts. Try it and see what happens.
Finally, to my members, when a leader of a connection group reaches out to you this week or next, please be open and try the process to see the spiritual benefits of practicing community in a new and unfamiliar dynamic. If done properly, it will bless your soul while saving others and will help propel the church into its finest hour.
Bishop Lambert W. Gates, Sr.