Formations 10.24.2021: The Church

Acts 4:32-37

When we imagine our ideal church, maybe we think of the utopian dream church that Luke describes in Acts 4:32-37. Wouldn’t this be church at its best? Everyone believes the same things. They’re united as one. They share common belongings so that no one is left out or needy. They glorify the resurrected Jesus and experience his grace. Generosity abounds.

Don’t you wonder how long this lasted?

Let me tell you: it wasn’t long. The very next chapter describes a couple who act like many humans—for their own benefit and security. Ananias and Sapphira sell their property and keep back some of the proceeds instead of giving it all to the church. They also lie about what they’ve done. One at a time, as they try to explain themselves to Peter, they fall to the ground, dead. And just like that, the utopian dream turns dark: “And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11).

How quickly this beautiful fellowship turned into a gathering of suspicion, greed, and fear. When we think of the church, we know from experience that it’s no utopia. It can be exclusive, contentious, selfish, and petty. The mix of personalities, feelings, and personal interests can ignite into conflict. So why do we still gather as the church? Why is it worth it?

Jesus knew his church wouldn’t always meet the ideal. In his instructions about how to be the church in Matthew 18, he talks about accountability, sin, and forgiveness. He also says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt 18:20).

This world is harsh. It’s sad and difficult and scary. As Christians, we need the encouragement and support of other believers to navigate daily life. The church can be terrible, but we can work to make it beautiful. When Bible study teachers work hard to create a welcome atmosphere, even over Zoom during a pandemic, Jesus is there. When a beloved church member dies after a long illness and the congregation cares for the grieving family, Jesus is there. When a youth group sits in a circle listening to each other’s prayer requests and questions, Jesus is there. When all kinds of people are welcomed in with great joy, Jesus is there. When the congregation lifts their voices in worship to God, Jesus is there.

Is church worth it? Yes, I believe it is.

Discussion

  • Have you ever experienced the utopian church described in Acts 4:32-37? Do you think this kind of fellowship is sustainable in our era and culture? Why or why not?
  • Have you ever experienced the darker side of the church, where people argue about theology, shun others, and behave selfishly? How did you deal with this?
  • Why is the church worth it to you, in spite of its human nature?
  • When have you known that Jesus is there with you and your church?
  • How can you and your church continue to keep Jesus at the center of your fellowship?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.

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