Monday, August 02, 2010

Descriptions of the Church

Monday, August 2, 2010 -- Week of Proper 13, Year Two
Samuel Ferguson, Missionary Bishop for West Africa, 1916
More about today's commemoration at our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:


Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 979)
Psalms 80 (morning)       77. [79] (evening)
Judges 6:25-40
Acts 2:37-47
John 1:1-18

Luke's description in Acts of the day to day life of the early church catches my attention this morning.  Part of what he says is treasured and practiced by the church today, repeated regularly in our baptismal covenant.  Another part of it is less well known and less practiced.

Beginning from the day of Pentecost, Luke says that the new movement "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."  That phrase still describes the Church today, and it is enshrined in our Baptismal Covenant.

The Baptismal Covenant is a complete and concise description of the Christian life.  Each time we celebrate the sacrament of belonging, we reaffirm our commitment by answering these questions:

Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

Our answer to each question is, "I will, with God's help."

It wouldn't be a bad idea to open each day with such a recommitment as a reminder of our calling. 

This section of Acts that we read today which includes the first of these questions concludes with this description of their corporate life:  "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."  In those days the Church as a Jewish movement continued to gather at the Jerusalem temple, but they celebrated the Eucharist in their homes.  The earliest churches were home churches.  Such a heritage reminds us of the connection between altar and table, between our prayers at Eucharist and our communion at our meals at home. 

But there is another phrase that pops out at me which has rarely continued to be a characteristic of Christian community.  "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need." 

It seems that the early church practiced a form of communal living.  Elsewhere in Acts there is story of Ananias and Sapphira who sold a piece of property and kept some of the proceeds for themselves, bringing only part of the sales price to the apostles.  Upon the discovery of their deceit, each of them fell dead.  (The next verse in this story includes the first use of the word "church/ekklesia" in the history that Acts conveys.  The word means "assembly.")  I recall the report one Roman officer made to the authorities, describing the life and practices of the suspect cult of early Christians, saying that "they feed their own widows and ours."

There is a continuing tradition of monastic communities where members release personal ownership and all are given whatever is needed.  Some people, especially those who do not have a family to inherit from them, will convey at their death their wealth and property to the church.  But for the most part, we no longer sell our possessions and goods and through the church distribute the proceeds to all, as any have need.  Our teaching encourages and urges every person to contribute a deliberate proportion or percentage of their income to the church, with the tithe being a biblical model.  With that stewardship the church maintains its structures and mission, including significant outreach ministries, but we no longer distributes our "proceeds to all, as any had need."

I wonder how different might our history be had we enshrined that early practice of communal ownership in our corporate life as consistently as we have honored the tradition of continuing in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers.  My guess is that the church would be smaller in number, but maybe deeper in commitment.

Lowell

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Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.


Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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