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 2:44-45)So in the first century when wealth was far more concentrated than it is today, under a repressive regime that actively was persecuting the fledgling church, Christians took steps to ensure that no one in the Body had any unmet needs. In the midst of persecution like none of my likely readers can even begin to imagine, the church was caring for one another materially, one heart and one soul, and even as a matter of historical facts were materially aiding not just Christians but also non-believers. Love lived out in generosity was the defining characteristic of the church.
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. (Acts 4:32)
Fast forward two thousand years to America. Here in this country the church is culturally accepted, free to operate and worship, with millions of professing adherents.
How can we read the New Testament and then blithely overlook our brothers and sisters in need while hoarding money in church bank accounts, repaving parking lots or re-carpeting sanctuaries, upgrading our existing audio visual systems to an even better audio visual system to entertain the goats, or raising millions of dollars to remodel church buildings that sit mostly empty during the week? How can we open our Bibles and not be forced to turn away in tears, red-faced with shame at how willfully unfaithful we are?
The first great commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul and mind and the second great commandment is that we love another (Matthew 22: 37-40). People know we are Christian by the witness of our love for one another (John 13:35). In 1 John 2: 4-6 we are taught that we show that we love God by keeping His commandments. How can we seriously stand before God and say we are Christians while at the same time ignoring the needs of our brothers and sisters? I love you but I can’t spare a nickel to help you out? I love you and I know you are in need but that money is set aside for a future operating expense or to add a new wing onto the building? Seriously? That is a lie and it is high time that the church in America faces up to the fact that for all of our high minded theology, our overt religious lifestyle, our pious bleating, we regularly lie to others and to ourselves and even to God by claiming the benefits of the name of Christ while refusing to love one another as He commands.
Our brothers and sisters in distress don’t need more sermons or better worship experiences or new painted lines in the parking lot. They need us to show sacrificial love to them. We aren’t doing that and by and large we haven’t for a long, long time. God is not impressed by our religion. He is not impressed by our political influence. He is not impressed by our manmade whitewashed temples that ostensibly honor Him but actually become idols to stoke the fires of our vanity. When the end comes, what will tell Him when we are faced with the reality of our disinterest in loving others other than on our terms? What will the “church” say to Christ when He separates the sheep from the goats and tells religious professors that He never knew them? Will they point to their churches? Will they show off the new sanctuary? Will they try to curry favor with how impressive their attendance numbers were or how much they had saved away in the bank? The words of Christ in Matthew 7: 21-23 and Matthew 25: 31-46 should shake the foundations of our religious establishment but that same establishment assumes that those on His left will be Muslims and atheists. Those people. When I read it, His words seem to be saying that those on His left will include many of the religious folks throughout the ages who were too busy heading somewhere to be religious to worry about a brother or sister in need. The wrath to come will fall just as heavily on the theologian and clergyman who doesn’t love others as it will on the Muslim, Buddhist or agnostic.
We need prophetic voices to call the church to account, to call us to repent in sackcloth and ashes and fasting for our unfaithfulness in this matter. What we get instead is exactly what we want, masters of self-promotion who care little for the downtrodden and the least of these except when it suits them and fits into their schedule.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:16-24)