Is community real or ideal, imaginary or actual, a utopia of the mind or a pattern for how the church should be?
Where can Christians look today to see believers living the same way they did in the first church in Acts 2 and 4? They may have a concept of this, but does the concept have any reality to it? Most refer to that chapter in biblical history as an unattainable ideal. The thought that this is the way the church is supposed to be has probably never entered the minds of most people.
It is also easy to read about the holy nation in 1 Peter 2:9 and think of it merely as an ideal. In this sense, an ideal is a concept with no reality attached to it, or one that exists in the imagination only (i.e., a mental image). Therefore, this holy nation is reduced to nothing more than a spiritual concept. But this is not the Word of God. In reality, that holy nation had a vibrant social life. It is disturbing that this life, so well documented in Acts 2 and 4, is today disregarded and even disqualified.
However, in 1 Thessalonians 2:14, Paul praised the church in Thessalonika as one that closely followed the true pattern that had been established by the apostles in Jerusalem and all the churches of Judea. That pattern was community, and it brought persecution. To Paul, it was more than just a spiritual ideal: it was the pattern for how the church was to be established in every place. This pattern cannot be imitated without the same Holy Spirit who formed it in the beginning. The Scriptures give no other model for the Body of Messiah to be expressed to the world than it was in the first century.
Why do you suppose there is no resemblance to this archetype1 in the churches of today? There was only one designer of the original pattern -- He was both architect and builder.2 Have others been building without following the blueprints?3 If so, then the structure that has been built is of another design and from another designer and will not stand. Indeed, it cannot stand.4
The church, both today and for the past 1900 years, has not resembled that first pattern set forth in the Book of Acts. Yet continual excuses and debates are made as to why. This pattern, however, explicitly describes what life in the Body of Messiah was like -- the life that came by the direction of the Holy Spirit. There is no other pattern described in the New Testament for the church's foundation. In addition to the vivid description of this life in Acts 2 and 4, the evidence of its existence is found throughout the Epistles,5 supporting the fact that it was the only true apostolic foundation upon which the church could be established.6 It was the first and only authentic pattern for how the Church was to be.
So where is this pattern today? If it cannot be located, then where is the Church? The first communities were called "the Way."7 Therefore, the church of today can be no other way than the way it was when it was called the Way.
There is a false sense of security in considering this first pattern of the church as visionary, idealistic, or obsolete. If it is not real, then there is no accountability for not living that way. However, if it is real, and indeed all true believers are to live this way, then a sobering question must be asked: have they ever truly heard the Gospel?
Christians who merely dwell in their theological comfort zone of daily devotionals and weekly church services are not willing to ask this. It brings into question whether or not they are actually saved. If they had heard the same gospel,8 would it not have brought about the same dramatic witness we read about in Acts 2 and 4? What standard are we to judge by? Is it by the Word of God or something else?
Being saved from our sins includes coming out of the world where sin reigned in us. That is what it means to be born again.9 We start life over when we are baptized into a new social and spiritual life through the community where Messiah reigns.
That is why Peter on the Day of Pentecost said, "Come out of this evil and perverse generation."10 Those who believed and received his word responded accordingly. They literally came out of the life they lived in the world. They forsook friends and family who sought to prevent them from following Yahshua, the Messiah. They moved into the community where this new social order was being formed. They were like pioneers, establishing a new society and a whole new culture on earth where Yahshua reigned as their sovereign king. The one who follows Yahshua is not capable of living outside the intimate fellowship of the Body of Messiah. It is impossible for a disciple to grow in spiritual health outside the context of community, just as a viable11 seed is not able to live outside fertile soil. The church has to be that fertile soil for every disciple, and it takes a community to do this.
Perhaps this should be obvious, yet some say that community was the early church's first mistake. But how could this have been a mistake when abundant grace was upon them all and everyone's needs were met?12 Oh, that such a mistake might be made again!
Eventually, the pattern of the Body of Messiah in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 was abandoned by those who had left their first love and had soiled their garments.13 They chose a broader road to travel down.14 Due to their disobedience, the Holy Spirit was quenched and grieved, and eventually withdrew from their hearts.15 Divisions and schisms set in amongst all the churches, as it is to this day. Community life began falling apart, for it could not be maintained where love grew cold.
If they had judged the Body and themselves rightly,16 then the demonstration of God's love amongst them would have been an ongoing phenomenon for the whole world to see. But tragically, their light went out. Their lampstand was taken out of its place.17 They stopped living by revelation from the Holy Spirit18 and settled for a more comfortable lifestyle of ritual and tradition.19 Religious form filled their gatherings.20 They were no longer the light of the world and the salt of the earth.21 No longer was Messiah there. No one could serve Him, for He was no longer making His home with them.22 He could no longer entrust Himself to them.23
The system that God hated took over -- the Nicolaitan system of the clergy and the laity.24 A new religious system was born out of this darkness of separation and unresolved division. The bishopric system and the Pope supplanted the Son of God.
So how does one get back to the foundation and original pattern of the early church as put forth by Yahshua and the apostles? John 12:25-26 is the only way and the only place anyone can both follow and serve Him:
He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.
You must first hate your life in this world and obey His command to completely surrender all your own possessions.25 Anyone who claims to love Him and desires to serve Him must obey Him.26 Obedience to the Gospel27 is the only way you can gain eternal life. All other promises and all other gospels other than the one first spoken by the apostles and Messiah Himself will eventually lead to disappointment.28
Although the "rich young ruler" in Mark 10 came seeking eternal life, he didn't trust the One whom he thought could give it to him.29 It was soon evident that he loved his own life more than the eternal life he said he wanted.30 This rich young man asked what he had to do in order to have eternal life, and the Master gave him clear direction, but he would not do it. He didn't trust, and no one can be saved without trusting. It would have been possible with God for this young man to enter the Kingdom if he had only trusted in God's Son -- but he didn't, as revealed by his failure to obey Him.
In stark contrast, what Peter and the other disciples did has been preserved for all to read in Mark 10:28. This was the natural and fitting response from someone who recognized the worth of the Son of God. Verses 29-30 show that when the Gospel is obeyed, community comes into being. Obedience from the heart is the key -- it makes a community.
The Gospel has to be restored and defined according to the original pattern of the early church. Otherwise, there is no way to get back to the foundation set forth by Yahshua concerning the good news of salvation. If someone hears the Gospel and does not obey it, then he is judged unworthy of eternal life.31
The way the believers live in these communities must be seen by a watching world.32 The way they live together, caring for the needs of their brothers and sisters, proves that they are His disciples.33 It also proves that God sent His Son, and loved the world, even as He loved His own Son.34 These communities are located within towns so that people can see their daily life together.
Mark 10:29-30 paints a picture: homes full of disciples in a locality make up a clan or community, as in 1 Timothy 2:8. Many clans in a particular geographical area make up a tribe. The twelve tribes in their geographical areas make up the holy nation, in fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:1 and Malachi 1:5,11. They are not off in the woods or in some remote location, but on the contrary, they are where people can see their behavior and thus believe in their Savior.35
The Gospel makes no sense apart from living in community. Where else could all the commandments referred to in Matthew 28:19-20 be obeyed if not in the context of community?
In his "many other words"36 on the Day of Pentecost, Peter explained all the requirements of the Gospel. Without hearing and receiving these words no one could be baptized into Messiah's Body. What he said that day outlined discipleship37 and the forgiveness of sins through baptism into the Body of Messiah.38 This is what Peter himself had been taught by Yahshua. The result of his words was the formation of a community where "all who believed were together and had all things in common; they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need."39
What a graphic illustration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit among those who first believed! Thus, the church began. The foundation was set. It came as no mistake, but was the very intention of the Gospel.40 The cry of our Savior's heart, "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," was at last finding fulfillment. How else would His followers not worry about their food, shelter, and clothing as they were commanded,41 yet be taken care of by their heavenly Father, unless it were by seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness in this way? Of course, this was Yahshua's intention -- to establish the church as a community in order to meet all the needs of those who believed in Him.
The community described in Acts 2 and 4 was not the result of the apostles demanding that everyone give all their possessions to them for distribution. It simply shows what the first disciples did in obedience to Yahshua's commands in the Gospel.42 They obeyed and gave up all they had because of their love for Him and their trust in Him. Love dictated the pattern of community that was formed. Nothing else did and nothing else ever will. This pattern was not a legal mandate, but the natural outcome of those who had received the Spirit of the Living God. It was not an ideal -- it was real. Obedience to the Gospel produces the holy nation that Peter spoke of in 1 Peter 2:9 -- not be an idealized nation, but a realized nation.
That realized nation is the restored twelve tribes which the prophet Isaiah said would be raised up by Messiah, the suffering Servant of Isaiah 49:3-6 and 53:1-12. They are the spiritual seed of Abraham, the Israel of God that Paul spoke of in Galatians 6:16. They are "our twelve tribes who earnestly serve God night and day," as Paul said in Acts 26:7.43 Their tribal life in communities all over the earth is that Witness of the Kingdom in Matthew 24:14 that will provide the light to the nations and bring salvation to the ends of the earth, as Isaiah prophesied,44 in fulfillment of the "Great Commission" of Matthew 28:18-20. That holy nation of twelve tribes, the Commonwealth of Israel,45 will bear the fruit of the kingdom the Master spoke of in Matthew 21:43 -- love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.46 When that love is perfected in the unity of a fully formed, twelve-tribed nation, then Messiah will return for His bride, and she will be as radiant and glorious as Revelation 21:9-12 describes.