How often have you heard people say, "I want to go back to the way church use to be?" But what time frame were they talking about? Children today know the church only as it is now. Young adults probably remember the church of their sixth grade year, a time when we could have fun, a time when we hadn't yet entered life as adults. People I talk with seem to remember their favorite pastor as one they knew back in those years.
Most people I deal with in churches today seem over 50. They like the old hymns such as "The Old Rugged Cross," "In the Garden," "How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace." They grew up with these hymns and remember their loved ones being there with them.
I knew a pastor who, when his congregation commented about returning to the way the church used to be, told them, "OK." He explained how the church really had been. He referred to Acts 4:32-35, the scripture of the day, which talked of the early church. The congregation of Acts was "one heart and one soul." In other words, everyone believed in Jesus Christ and did not focus on themselves or their own personal interests. So far so good.
However, then "No one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common." When they joined a congregation, they gave up almost all their possessions. I say almost, because I am sure that personal items such as clothing were not shared in common. For us to emulate the early church, we must sell our cars, our homes; forgo cruises and parties. Our wealth must go into a common treasury to be administered by the church leadership. We would be blessed for what we give and do. We would testify and witness, evangelize the world for Jesus Christ, and "Great Grace" would fall upon us all.
In the church of Acts, no person among them was needy, for those who owned lands and houses sold them and laid the proceeds at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.
Wouldn't that be wonderful! You do what Jesus told the rich man: Take all you have, sell it, and give it to the poor, and then come and follow me, The rich man could not handle that thought of parting with his goods. So he turned and walked away.
Somehow I have a hard time believing that this generation would accept anything like what the church was. The closest example to a church like this was the Cloisters in Ephrata. Maybe if communes of the 60s and 70s had been comprised of faith groups, we might have other examples, but most were based on sharing the land and each other.
We may give lip service to what we want, but if the church today were like the church back then, we would not have churches closing for lack of funds. We would not have a shortage of funds to minister to the needs of others, yet everyone would have enough to eat and their basic needs would be cared for.
It also means we would not have the latest cellphone, the biggest and best televisions in our home theaters. Our faith would not be focused on what the Lord could do for us, but rather on what we could do for the Lord.
Now let us ask ourselves again the question: Are we really sure we want the church to be like it used to?
Behrens is the pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Williamsport.