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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 2.32

We were wondering about this in a small group yesterday: for how long did that picture of harmony in the post-Pentecost church last? It was clearly a special moment, so different from the tensions which fizzed among the 12 disciples when they accompanied Jesus in his earthly ministry; so different from the cracks appearing so soon after within the churches addressed by the letters of the New Testament; so different from the experience of many Christians today. The pressure to conform acts like the forced smile one is obliged to adopt for a photograph. Keeping the pose for too long becomes painful, so it's only a matter of time before the person cracks.

In the book based on his extensive research into why there are more confessing Christians outside than inside the church in Scotland, Steve Aisthorpe (Invisible Church, 2016) identifies one of the reasons people opted out was the lack of space for genuine enquiry. This owes more to the sinful human desire to control than to the divine instinct for freedom in grace. It was through dialogue that Jesus connected with people and those New Testament letters are replete with echoes of people "working out their faith" through exploring the issues of everyday life in the context of belief in God and hope for the future. Are we so arrogant and so weak in faith as to take it upon ourselves to control how fellow-believers think and what they say?

That attitude will lead us back into Pharisaism, the scourge of religion in Jesus' day and a monster that continues to raise its ugly head, even in the enfeebled churches of 21st century Scotland. Instead of looking over our shoulder we need to build each other up. Making churches "safe spaces" in which to enjoy unconditional acceptance provides the necessary environment for exploring issues of life and eternity. We should not be afraid because, assuming we believe what we profess, genuine enquiry is the pursuit of truth and truth is most fully expressed in Jesus. As the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, once explained in reference to tensions within and between churches, God is strong enough to hold together what humans cannot.



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