Thursday, March 5, 2009
Some Scary Reminders About the Importance of Community
Regardless of how often I mull them over, some passages in Scripture just seem bizarre. As you might have guessed, the vast majority of these are in the OT (the witch of En-dor anyone?). There are, however, a few standouts in the Newer Testament. At present, two passages come to mind;
1. The story of Ananias and Sapphira (Ac 5:1-11).
2. Paul's statement about sickness, death, and the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 11:28-30).
God kills people for lying...and the people he kills are living in the New Covenant? People die because they don't take communion correctly? These passages are incorrigibly odd to me.
There's a common thread in each passage; both speak of attending to needs in the body of Christ.
In Acts, the egregiousness of Ananias and Sapphira's action is underscored by the preceding context (cf. 4:32-37). The nascent church holds all possessions in common (v. 32). Land/house owners gladly sell their property and offer it to the apostles for distribution. As a result, not even one believer is in need (v. 34).
And then, things go south.
In 1 Corinthians, the more affluent members in the community are depriving needy people of sustenance, taking portions that "befit" their social standing. Paul roundly condemns such behavior, as their is to be equality in the body of Christ (1 Cor 11:17-22). Those that fail to discern the body (which I think refers to the believers who make up the body of Christ; cf. Robert Banks, Paul's Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting, rev. ed. [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994]; 59) are eating and drinking at their own peril. Instead of glutting themselves and reinforcing societal norms, they should wait for everyone to arrive, so that each member's needs might be provided for.
Here's what I glean from these peculiar passages;
1. The church is the context in which impoverished believers have their physical needs met.
2. When this doesn't happen, God starts taking people out.
Jesus wants us to embody the gospel by generously giving to poor brothers and sisters, and to do so with no expectation of reciprocation. Quite simply, how we treat these family members is how we treat Jesus (cf. Matthew 25:31-45).
Frankly, I'm glad God hasn't taken me out for my failures in this area. At the same time, I hope not to put God to the test.