Sunday, April 8, 2018


The community of believers were of one heart and one mind.
Acts of the Apostles 2

The family picture album is a very important part of remembering and sharing the history of the family: births, baptisms, first communions, confirmations, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, going off to college or the military, Thanksgivings, Christmases, Halloween parties, beach vacations and proms. Smile! Look this way! Stand up straight! Say cheese!

As wonderful as a family picture album is, it never tells the whole story, does it? Unless you were really weird, you never got the camera out to get a shot of Mom the moment she was diagnosed with cancer, you probably didn’t get a shot of Granddad taking his last breath or Grandma in her coffin, you didn’t get a shot of dad in a drunken rage, uncles and aunts not speaking to each other or old girls friends that didn’t work out, you probably didn’t get a shot of Dad when he lost his job or the response on your parents face when they found out that your unmarried sister was pregnant. 

In Acts we have an album of snapshot of the early church. We have that beautiful passages about everybody meeting for prayer and the breaking of bread, sharing everything in common and attracting members every day. But Acts, unlike most family albums, is disarmingly honest and includes some not so beautiful snapshots of the early church.

Not everything was sweetness and light. Keep reading and you will see another side of the very early church.  (1) We read that people sold their property and possessions and divided them according to each one’s need, but we also read that the Greek speaking widows complained that the Hebrew speaking widows were getting a disproportionate share of that division.  One of the couples, Ananias and Sapphira,  made a pledge to sell their property and give it to the church, actually held back some of the proceeds and later lied about it. They both dropped dead for lying. (2) Even Paul, before his conversion, we are told, was out rounding up Christians and having them jailed for heresy, even holding the coats of those who stoned St. Stephen to death. A new convert by the name of Simon, we are told, was so amazed that the Holy Spirit was being conferred by the laying on of hands, seeing a gold mine of opportunity, offered to pay money for that kind of power. These are a few of the not-so-flattering snapshots of the church, even at its beginning, that Scripture has the courage to include. (3) Paul calls Peter twp-faced for acting one way around Jews and other around Gentiles.

We read in another place about Saul and Barnabas running all over that known world proclaiming the word of God, taking John Mark with them. If you read that passage without reading the rest, you would miss the fact that John Mark quit and came home. On the next trip out, Barnabas wanted to forgive him and try him again. Paul refused. They had a few strong words, and behold, the first team ministry ended in a fight. Unable to resolve their disagreement, they had to split up.

If we imagine the church was perfect in its infancy, we can actually get a distorted picture of the church in its reality at its beginning. When we idealize our history and make it sound so perfect, we erroneously conclude that the church today has wandered so far as to be nothing like it “should” be, and because it is not as it should be, it is OK to leave it!   If you do not know of the other early church snapshots, you might be tempted to be critical and even bitter about the weaknesses of the church today.  I believe those who leave the church because it is “not like it used to be” simply do not know how the church “used to be!”


I remember talking to a man one day who wanted to tell me that he did not go to church any more because it had so many problems. He went down the list of all that was wrong with the church, as if I didn't already know. When he finished, I went down my list of all that was right with the church. Finally, knowing that I was not persuading him and nothing but a perfect church would please him, I said to him, "Well, if the church were ever to become perfect, we wouldn't want you back any way because if you came back, the church would cease being perfect again! (I think he got the point, finally.)

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