Church & Ministry

Doctrine and Practice of the Church: Sharing Life Together

The Church after Pentecost

Read Acts 2:42-47. What details do you see about the fellowship of the church after Pentecost?

In the book of Acts, soon after Pentecost, there is a description of the life of the church. “All that believed were together, and had all things common.” Many people sold property to support the community life of the church. They were meeting frequently for worship at the temple and also meeting for fellowship in their houses.

“In both the Scriptures and the creeds Christian fellowship is represented as a means of grace” (Wiley & Culbertson, Introduction to Christian Theology).

At a time when the work of the Holy Spirit among them was at its highest, the community life of the church was at its deepest. For those early believers, being part of the church meant much more than attending services on Sunday. The believers shared life together daily.

Life in the Family

The church is called a family (Galatians 6:10, Ephesians 3:15). Believers are called children of God (Galatians 3:26, 1 John 3:2), and call each other brother and sister (James 2:15, 1 Corinthians 5:11).

Let’s imagine the family as it has been understood in most parts of the world until modern times. The network of relatives formed a clan, which was part of a tribe. The extended family provided protection, access to justice, land possession, employability, marriageability, education, old age support, orphan support, and widow support. Imagine a world where all of those things were hardly available outside of family connections.

In that kind of culture, everyone in the family followed the same religion. Religion was not considered an individual choice. Children were trained in the family’s religious traditions.

Many converts to Christianity were rejected by their families. They lost everything that normally was provided by the family. The church became their new family. That’s why they called each other brother and sister. The people of the church helped each other and depended on each other.

“For the church is God’s family, where by birth and blood we also belong – a community of heritage and love which we enter by the new birth, saved by Jesus’ blood” (Larry Smith, in I Believe: Fundamentals of the Christian Faith).

How would things be different for a church that shares life every day?

Pastors should know that serving the congregation through the week is just as important as leading the worship service. All kinds of spiritual gifts and abilities are be needed, not just the gifts used in church services. There is a way for every person to serve. People of the community will see what it really means to be part of the spiritual family.

As a family of faith, the church commits human resources and finds divine resources to meet needs of every kind for those in fellowship, demonstrating to the world God’s wisdom in every aspect of life and inviting the unsaved to be converted and enter the family.

Aspects of Shared Life

If people are sharing life together, their time together will include the following aspects.

(1) Ministry is planned and accomplished together.

In many churches, a small team is responsible for all of the planning and work of the church. Everyone in the church should be able to participate in the work of the church, even new converts.

(2) Needs are met together.

If a person has a problem, he should be able to depend on friends in the church for help. That doesn’t mean that a person should be allowed to be irresponsible, but if he is doing what he can, the church family should be ready to help.

(3) Work is accomplished together.

A strong relationship is developed when believers work together helping someone in the fellowship. They may also work together to support their own families.

(4) Leisure time is spent together.

People of the church should get together for times of enjoyment when they eat, visit, and do activities they enjoy.

(5) Special life moments are celebrated together.

Not all cultures celebrate the same special events of life. Some of the special times people celebrate are birth, reaching a certain age, beginning school, finishing school, being baptized, having birthdays, getting married, having children, having funerals, and other special times. People in other religions usually have special ceremonies and ways to celebrate these times. The church should also have a way to share the special times of life together.

It is interesting to see the purposes served by tithe in the Old Testament. Tithe was not just to support the temple and those who conducted its worship. Tithe was also for relieving the financial needs of widows, orphans, and foreign immigrants (Deuteronomy 26:12). It was also for having special parties (Deuteronomy 12:17-18). The uses of tithe show us that all aspects of life together are relevant to the church.

Fellowship and Economics

Read James 2:15-16. What do these verses imply about Christian fellowship?

Sometimes people live as though financial needs are unrelated to the fellowship of believers. But Scripture tells us that being part of the family of faith means that we should respond to needs.

Fellowship means sharing life, which includes sharing spiritual experience. The Greek word Koinonia, used in the New Testament, is often translated “fellowship” and the word is used for any kind of sharing. It is sometimes used for sharing of financial resources (2 Corinthians 9:13, 8:4; Romans 15:26).

The first-century Christian community in Jerusalem had nobody who was lacking what he needed (Acts 4:34-35), because people shared what they had.

In the first generation of the New Testament church, when there was discrimination in the church’s administration of financial assistance, though unintentional, the ministry was in danger of being hindered. When the problem was corrected, the gospel continued to multiply converts (Acts 6:1, 7).

A Christian writer named Aristides wrote the following at about AD 125.

They walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. He that has, distributes liberally to him that has not. If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof and rejoice over him as it were their own brother: for they call themselves brethren, not after the flesh, but after the spirit and God; but when one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them see him, then he provides for his burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs; and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him. And if there is among them a man that is poor and needy, and they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.

Julian the Apostate, the Roman emperor (A.D. 361-363) who persecuted the church, made this statement about Christians: “The godless Galileans feed not only their poor, but ours also.” [1]

A church is only fulfilling half of its responsibility if it preaches repentance but does not invite the repenting person into a family of faith where he learns how to sustain his new life. For example, if the church tells a woman she cannot be supported by an immoral relationship, the church should also tell her how she will find support in the family of faith.

In some parts of the world we see congregations that demonstrate this kind of Christian community. This total fellowship results not only in care of the members in financial matters, but also a great empowerment for ministry.

These churches of the poor [in Bolivia] have what we could call a stewardship for survival. Popular churches planted among the poor cannot depend on a tradition, on the help of the state, on the endowment of rich benefactors, or on a body of professional ministers. They have to be fellowships where members join forces to make the community live, grow, propagate the faith, and survive. The stewardship of the totality of life is experienced as total missionary mobilization. What seems to be more difficult to obtain in the case of developed and established churches is lay mobilization – total participation in the holistic welfare of the Christian community. Among the churches of the poor, such mobilization is the normal lifestyle of the community. No other form of life and ministry is possible. [2]

The example set by these churches shows us something else, also. We might assume that a church must have a lot of money to take responsibility for its members. But, this kind of community is being demonstrated in churches of the poor.

“[Show desire to be a Christian] . . . by doing good especially to them that are of the household of faith . . . employing them instead of others, buying from one another, helping each other in business; and so much the more because the world will love its own, and them only” (John Wesley, “Rules for the Society of the People Called Methodists”).

The people of every society already share life financially through the public economy. We buy the things we need and work to earn money. There is another kind of economy that works in a family. The work that each member does for the family is not measured in dollar amounts. Each person is expected to help in the ways that he can, without a strict accounting being kept. Help is given in the context of the family relationship. It is not expected that every member will be able to do the same things or do work of equal value, but he should do what he can. If a member of the family is unwilling to do what he can, he will be confronted about it and may not get the help he wants from others.

The economy of a congregation should be more like the family economy than the public economy. For it to work, relationships in the congregation must go beyond surface friendliness. It means that questions will be asked when a person asks for help after being irresponsible with his own resources or after being unwilling to help others.

A congregation learns ways to develop this relationship among their people. They have to be able to explain the church to people who never help anyone but ask for help. They have to teach people who cannot cooperate with others. They have to confront those who feel free to follow their own inclinations on ethical matters and do not respond to pastoral correction.

What are some examples of ways that members of the church can help each other? (gardening, child care, employment, crisis situations)

Practical Directions

Read 1 Timothy 5:3-16.

This passage gives practical directions about how the church should support members who have needs. There is no question about whether the church should be concerned about the needs of its members. Verse 16 says that people should take care of their family members so that the church can take care of people who have nobody to help them. The apostle assumes that financial care of members is the church’s responsibility.

Obviously, if every member became financially dependent on the church, the church could not help anyone. This passage gives practical directions so that the church can help the people who really need it.

This passage speaks specifically of widows, but the principles could be applied to other people also. We know that the church has responsibility for others: James 2:15-16 implies that we should respond to the need of a brother or sister; James 1:27 mentions both widows and orphans.

Three principles about the church’s financial support of members:

(1) Family has the first responsibility.

Family members are responsible to help relatives in need so that the church does not have to support them (5:4, 16). If a person will not help his family, he is not a believer (5:8).

If a pastor sees that someone in the church has a need, he should find out what the person’s relatives can do to help.

(2) A faithful member deserves help.

A widow deserves help if she has lived as a faithful Christian who has helped others (5:10). The same principle would apply to others besides widows, if they are in need and unable to provide for themselves.

(3) A member should do what he can for himself and others.

A Christian should do what he can to be a blessing to others (5:10). If he does not have employment, he can find other ways to help people. A person who is not willing to work should not be supported by the church (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12.

This passage tells us much about the life of the early church. Here Paul deals with a problem. There were people who were depending on the church for support so they would not have to work. They spent their time visiting people and spreading gossip.

What does this tell us about the church of that time? They were taking care of their members. The church had a sense of responsibility to make sure that nobody in the church was hungry. They were like a family.

Because they were like a family, it was possible for a person to be lazy and depend on others. Paul told them that they should require everyone to do what he could do. If a person is not willing to do what he can, he should not be allowed to eat the food provided by others.

It is wonderful when the church is like a family that meets all kinds of needs. For that to happen, the church must have principles to follow. The church must have requirements for those who depend on the church for support. Without requirements, the church will soon become too burdened with lazy people and will not be able to continue meeting needs.

Pastors and deacons must guide the church to function as a family. They must respond to needs with love. However, love means that they are willing to speak the truth. If a person is not taking responsibility, someone must be willing to talk to him about it. If a person does not help other people and do what he can to support himself, the church should not continue to support him.

It is right to ask questions when someone asks for help. Is he willing to help others? Does he work when he can? Does he use his money wisely? Does he take responsibility for his family?

Many people come to the church to ask for help. The church must have a way to show care for people the first time they come, even before the person shows responsibility. Then, there must be a way for the relationship to develop. The person should know what he should do to become part of the fellowship of the church.

Seven Summary Statements

Write a paragraph about each of the following “Seven Summary Statements” (a total of seven paragraphs). The paragraph should explain what the point means and why it is important.

  1. The work of the Holy Spirit in the church brings members into a close relationship of sharing life together.
  2. The church is a family that shares life every day and works together to meet every need.
  3. The church invites the repenting sinner into the family of faith where he learns to sustain his new life.
  4. When the church functions every day, there is a place of ministry for every believer .
  5. Church time spent together includes ministry, needs, work, leisure, and celebration times.
  6. Christian fellowship includes sharing of material resources.
  7. The church does not have to help people who do not do what they can to help themselves and others.

Writing Assignment

What are the various ways that the people of your church share life together beyond worship services?


Footnotes

  1. Christians were called “godless” or “atheists” because they believed in only one God, and that he was invisible, rather than believing in a multitude of visible idols.
  2. Samuel Escobar, in The Urban Face of Mission, by Harvie M. Conn and others, 105.

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