Christian Community – An Extended Family in Christ

And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”….So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:38-41)

People who have experienced God at work in their lives.

Back in the late 1960s and 70s, something very new (and at the same time very old) broke into the Christian scene. A small group of young people gave their lives more deeply to Jesus Christ and were then baptized in the Holy Spirit. They began to speak in tongues, to worship enthusiastically, share prophetic words, and pray for healing. And that small group quickly became millions. I am just old enough to remember how very different and controversial this charismatic renewal was. My aunt and uncle and a few of their friends attended some of the first charismatic prayer meetings of the Word of God in Ann Arbor – creating a bit of a scandal among my Baptist and Brethren relatives.  Today, charismatic Christianity has become almost normal, normal enough that we can forget how very different and challenging it was in those early days.

The charismatic renewal had no more than started when another work of God came along side of it: the covenant community movement. God has done a work in our lives, He is speaking to us, He is calling us to join our lives together, let us build a Christian community. What a radical idea, we thought, having no idea how very radical it was. We should not have been surprised. Throughout history, God has poured His grace and the Holy Spirit on people. Again, and again, this work of God leads to Christian communities: Anthony, Basil, Benedict, Francis, Sergius, Huss, Hutter, Schlink, Arnold, Teresa, and Clark to name a few. All these communities look a bit different, but also the same. God has done a work in us and among us. Let us give tangible expression to this work and invite others to share this grace of God.

An Extended Family in Christ

Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and every one who loves the parent loves the child. 

(1 John 5:1)

When people are born anew in Jesus Christ, they become part of a large, extended family. The family generally goes by the name of Jesus Christ, “Christian.” Some Christians, however, do not seem to be aware that they are in a family. And some Christians from one group really do not much like Christians from a different group. All is not well in the family.

When God does a powerful work in you and does a similar powerful work in your neighbor, people are confronted with the spirituality reality: we are one family in Jesus Christ. There is a great example of this in Acts 10. Jewish Christians (who saw Christianity as an Israel-only movement) saw the Holy Spirit fall upon some Gentiles and heard them speaking in tongues and worshipping God. Seeing firsthand God at work in these Gentiles believers made the Jewish Christians realize that Gentiles too were part of the family.

I have seen God at work in you, my brothers and sisters. I hope that you have seen God at work in me as well. Because we have been born anew in Jesus Christ, we are required (commanded) to love God’s other children and to treat them as our very own brothers and sisters.

Central to God’s call on the Work of Christ and the Sword of the Spirit is the revolutionary idea that we are a family: brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents and grandchildren – in Jesus Christ. God commands all Christians to love one another. His call to the members of the Work of Christ, I believe, is to give specific witness to the family-like relationships that exist among us, even when we come from different church communions.

A Renewal-Covenant People

Because of all this (God’s call to Israel, their failure to follow/serve Him, their present servitude) we make a firm covenant and write it, and our princes, our Levites, and our priests set their seal to it. 

(Nehemiah 9:38)

God called Abraham and his descendants (Israel) to a special task: to be the people through whom God would redeem and eventually set to right the world that had fallen away from Him. Israel, however, did not live up to that call and mission. Time and again they engaged in the worship of other gods, injustice, and sin. Eventually, God allowed Israel to be taken captive. God even abandoned the temple, the place where heaven and earth overlapped—where all Israel could literally stand in His presence. (You can read about God departing in Ezekiel 10:15-19.) In the passage above, some of Israel had returned to Jerusalem, but they knew this was not the promised restoration. They remained slaves, the temple lay in ruins, the Glory of God had not returned. What to do?

Well, one thing to do was to begin doing what God had called Israel to in the first place. If disobedience led to ruin, perhaps obedience would lead to restoration. Thus, the remnant of people who had returned to Israel gathered to make a covenant – a specific kind of covenant, a renewal covenant. The concept of covenant is rich in both the Old and the New Testaments. The word “testament” is just another word for covenant. (Insert here a VERY long article, perhaps a book or six, here on the idea of covenant in the Bible.) A covenant creates a long-lasting, stable relationship between people (few or many) and, sometimes, between people and God. That covenant relationship creates possibilities for life, mission, and power – far beyond that of individuals.

The Work of Christ is a covenant community. The Biblical concept of covenant is central to our identity. Our covenant, however, is especially related to the one we see in Nehemiah 10 (and in 2 Chronicles 15:12): a renewal covenant. When people look at our covenant and way of life for the first time, they often comment that this is just basic Christianity. And that is the truth. There is very little in our covenant that does not apply to all Christians. We simply commit ourselves to live a relatively basic Christianity TOGETHER—at this time, in this place, with these people – in the power of the Holy Spirit. And, this covenant relationship creates possibilities for life, mission, and power – far beyond that of individuals. I made my initial covenant commitment to the Work of Christ on my 21st birthday. That covenant commitment became the context of my life, and 45 years later my life has a richness, a purpose, and a fruitfulness that I could not have even imagined as a young man – and some bumps and bruises too.

People Who Promise to Do Specific Things

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…. praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. 

(Acts 2:42-47)

This passage from Acts is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, it is also a passage essential to understanding our life in the Work of Christ. These very first Christians had been brought to Jesus Christ—some of them may have seen and heard Jesus with their own eyes and ears. They had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Now they face the rest of their lives, just as we do—until Jesus Christ comes again. What did they do? They built a LIFE TOGETHER, a life that consisted of specific elements: devotion to scripture (i.e., the apostles’ teaching), devotion to Christian fellowship, devotion to breaking bread (at that time Communion and a fellowship meal were one event), devotion to the prayers, and devotion to the praise and worship of God. These specific activities, together with the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit, produced several results.

  • A common way of life
  • Formation of believers leading to maturity/morality/virtue
  • Communion with God in prayer, praise, and worship
  • A “good spiritual gift” to their neighbors (the word translated favor is charis: good spiritual gift)
  • Evangelistic fruitfulness

About this time last year, I was praying about what should be my primary goal coming into this new role as senior coordinator. The goal that the Lord laid on my heart very much flows from this passage: To build a Christian community where people encounter Jesus and are formed to live for Him as worshipping, missionary disciples.

While this is a word the Lord gave to me, I sincerely believe that it states well our mission as charismatic Christians and as an ecumenical, charismatic, covenant community.

Most Christian groups and most Christians, take something of a cafeteria approach to the Christian life. Here is what we offer, take your pick, and do what you want. The Work of Christ (and the Sword of the Spirit) takes a different approach, an approach very much based upon this passage from Acts (2:42-47). All members are committed to gathering when the community gathers, to daily personal prayer and scripture, to serve and financially support the community and its mission, and many more specific things. This is not a menu from which members take what they want, it is a commitment that we make to devote ourselves to specific elements, and then give a good-faith effort to do them now and for many years to come.

The specifics of our covenant are stated “poetically” in our covenant, are clearly listed in the document Elements of Good Membership, and are expanded upon in our community formation courses. This is what we are devoted to now and for the rest of our lives – until Jesus comes again.  What do we think these activities will produce? It is our hope that they, together with the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit, will produce several results.

  • A common way of life
  • Formation of believers leading to maturity/morality/virtue
  • Communion with God in prayer, praise, and worship
  • A “good spiritual gift” to our neighbors
  • Evangelistic fruitfulness

Lord Jesus, help us to be the kind of people You have called us to be, really and truly worshipping, missionary disciples.

1 thought on “Christian Community – An Extended Family in Christ”

  1. If disobedience led to ruin, perhaps obedience would lead to restoration.

    This is a beautiful, powerful statement. Thank you Jesus.

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