Paul’s journey in Acts has always intrigued me. If you do not know what the book of Acts is, that is entirely okay. It is the first book in the New Testament after the four Gospels. It is a book about the journeys of Jesus’ disciples after his resurrection. It is all about how they converted individuals, were persecuted to death, and built a new foundation for the understanding of community and how to follow God. These are the stories of the innovators of the Christian faith. These were the first followers of Christ. These individuals led no life of comfort. There was no real middle ground of being lukewarm. Early in the book a few people who claim to be followers of “The Way” (original Christians) are struck down by God because they were lukewarm and halfhearted, still more consumed with their own gain and profit than the calling of God.
A lot of modern Christians look around at the Church today and yearn for something different. They ache for change in a culture that is consumed with self-gain and prosperity. I am one of these individuals. Well these people are often found saying, “I just want to be the Acts Church” I’ve said it before. So if you ever hear someone say that, they probably have good intentions, but do not entirely comprehend what their vocal chords are producing.
I often struggle with this concept of not knowing how to embody true community and a true body of believers in a cultural like what I live in, in the grand ole U S of A. I am not sure anymore that I want to be the Acts church.
I tell myself that if I was persecuted, doubt wouldn’t be an issue. There would be no half-hearted believers. No luke warm participants giving Christ a bad name. Sounds a little morbid. I mean I am not jumping for joy at the idea of being hung upside down on a cross, but I mean that’s what I thought I was signing up for when I committed my life to Christ. A life of sacrifice and temporary pain for eternal gain. But there isnt much suffering found in an air conditioned sanctuary with unnaturally comfortable pews. There isnt much struggle wearing a different suit every week while my savior hangs in a loin clothe above my head.
But that is a church building right. That’s not THE Church. How many times have you heard (even if you arent a Christian) that a church is just a building, but the Church of God is universal and extends beyond those walls. Preachers exclaim this with a thrust of their fist into the air. Then the preacher receives a chorus of Amens and Yeah, thats good, or maybe just a bunch of head nods like the room is shaking and the congregation is trying to adjust their sight.
But then it ends there. A church building stands perilously at the end of every street corner in America like a stable for crazy people. Us Christians, we love to be fed. mmmmhmmm. Feed me some of that trough slop every Sunday morning. And then I will go out and make the world a better place. Church is like a fix. But now I am bullying something that I am very much a part of, so I need to be careful. I do not hate churches in the US, do not misunderstand my words. I dislike that Christians subscribe to an understanding of what culture says church is and then do nothing to change those preconceived notions.
So I have said a lot of things but not followed a specified direction, but now I have one. So what is a church. Well a church is a building. That is what culture says it is. It is a place Christians go on Sunday or sometimes Wednesdays to hear a word from a Pastor or Preacher or Priest. Its a building with walls and sort of like a holding pen for religiosity. Anyone can join a church. (Well except for sinners but, hell why would you want to join one of those anyway?)
Now what is that other thing? The Church. With a capital C. What is that thing? Well its a cult. Well, its a collaboration of different people from different walks of life who are all racing head first towards a prize that is Jesus Christ. The Church suffers. The Church suffers together. The Church bears each others burdens. The Church bears the burdens of sinners and saints.
Again I say the Church suffers. If you are not suffering I question whether you are part of the Church. If your heart does not break for the outsider, the undesirable, the poor of SPIRIT, the lame, the confused. If you do not share their sufferings you cannot join the Church. I may not be persecuted in the way that Paul and Peter were in Acts. But if my fellow humans are being persecuted and oppressed, than I better be calling their suffering my own.
If you are walking out of a church building any day of the week and not feeling persecuted I think you need to turn around and walk back in. Because there are millions of people outside of those walls suffering. Go and suffer with them. Show them they are not alone. Show them what love really means. Maybe you do not actually know what love really looks like? Maybe you have gone to church every week for years. Maybe you go to a Christian college and still do not know what love means. True life died for you a long time ago. True love hung on a cross and poured out its blood for every sin, burden, pain, shame, and struggle. True love is Christ.
The first step in becoming a member of the Church is to suffer. If it is something you are not willing to be part of, but are more concerned with having a two car garage there are plenty of church buildings that will encourage and instruct you on how to prayer for financial blessings. But if you have been saved by Christ and are ready to become a part of something far greater than you, get ready to suffer. And get ready to experience love far greater than you could have ever imagined.
I do not want to be the Acts church specifically, but I want to be a part of the Church that suffers.
Step outside of the cultural narrative. Step out of what everyone else says a churchgoer is. Toss aside that image. And pick up your cross and follow Christ. The path is a narrow one. It is not easy. But oh, is it worth it. Why is it worth it? Why. Well because God said YOU were worth it.