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Fine line

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. Acts 4.32

Many of us in church today are haunted by the image of the first church: sold-out for Jesus, spiritually fizzing, devoted to each other and to the poor around them, leaking the aroma of Christ and performing wonders wherever they went. We are so lukewarm, selfish and impotent by comparison.

Even the briefest scan of the New Testament letters (the oldest literature in the New Testament and so pre-dating the writing of Acts) confirms that it didn't last. What got in the way - the devil, human nature, the realities of life? Certainly by the time Paul, Peter, James and John put pen to paper, the churches they address come across so much like our own, struggling with those familiar issues of personal sin, poor leadership, lacklustre praying...

Is the answer to submit to a more authoritarian interpretation of discipleship, forcing our way back into the "first church" mould? There is something compelling about the total commitment that it exudes because it reflects Jesus' own teaching and example. Yet it can so easily slip into abuse.

While it is true that Jesus demands total loyalty and modelled servant leadership, depended entirely upon The Father and loved sinners to death (his own!), his summons is a choice. He eschewed physical conflict and insisted that our involvement was not a matter of work but of grace. Anything that smacks of manipulation - be it pressure to conform or guilt-tripping when we don't - amounts to a denial of Jesus and an abuse of power.



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