Doesn’t your heart burn when you read about the early days of the Christian church? “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. . . .” (Acts 2:42–47).
That young seedling of a church burst out of holy ground in the garden of God with joyful, beautiful vibrancy as the young Christians met, worshiped, prayed, witnessed, and cared for one another. Don’t you long for that experience? I do, every time I read it. I pray for it often, and I expect I will continue to pray for it during my earthly sojourn.
One Essential Factor
We often attempt to capture this kind of experience by trying various ways of “doing church” together. And I think this is a healthy, Spirit-inspired longing and pursuit (keeping in mind that no methodology has the power to produce what only the Holy Spirit can do). But there was a factor at play in the early church’s vital life that we tend to overlook.
It’s a factor we might not think to pray for, but one that helped provide the fertile environment in which the first-generation church flourished. That factor was a hostile culture and the desperate situations of many saints. When we pray for revival and robust churches, we may expect God to give us answers that look like Acts 2:42–47. But we become discouraged when we experience hostile rejection and desperation, not recognizing these as important parts of a spiritually fertile environment.
What We Often Overlook
When we take a careful look at Luke’s account of these seemingly idyllic early church days, a more complex picture emerges. We begin to see it in this description of generosity we love so much:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44–25)
What was happening that prompted this outbreak of possession-sharing? A significant number of Christians were experiencing significant material needs. Why? Because not everybody was having favor on them.