When the apostles started the first community, it was not an experiment. It was not supposed to be temporary.
The air-conditioned auditorium was full of people. The man sat quietly, listening to the drone of quiet conversations. He had been to many conferences before, and even helped lead some. But now he was there to get answers himself, and he was sure the respected speaker would have the wisdom he and all the others present longed to hear. They had gone through some very difficult times together. Some of them could hardly look at one another anymore. Like the woman next to him — she kept avoiding his gaze. He wasn’t sure why.
It hadn’t always been that way. In the beginning many of the people sitting with him had been his friends. They had loved him, and he thought he had loved them. But it didn’t seem that way anymore. He was confident, however, that the distinguished speaker would be able to resolve matters. As he took his place at the podium, the conversations stopped and a solemn hush filled the large room. Everyone was attentive.
“Brothers and sisters,” he began, “some of you have been with me for years and I am grateful for your loyalty and support. Our mutual endeavor in living together has taught me much, which I will be including in the new book I am writing. I know many of you have sacrificed a lot in order to support this work of God: careers, families, homes, possessions, and even personal savings. I will always be grateful to you for your sacrifices. I too have given up much. I know when we started we were young and idealistic and we thought if the early believers could do it, so could we. I think we have all given it our best shot. Yet, I know and I’m sure you will agree, that what we attempted has failed. It was too difficult to maintain. So, today I am officially releasing you from any further commitment of this kind. The experiment is over. You can all go home. We are officially disbanding.
Be sure to put into practice the things that you have learned during these years. These experiences will make you a better witness for Christ. All of you, I’m sure, can now see, that what took place in Acts 2:44 was unique only for those circumstances and that culture. It’s clear to all of us now that it is unreasonable to expect the same pattern to apply to 20th century America. It is inappropriate to our lifestyle and society. God will bless you for your many sacrifices, and I’m sure He will use you all greatly in the future to further Christ’s work as you continue to trust Him.”
The man in the audience heard little else the speaker said. The words, “experiment, experiment” echoed again and again in his mind. No one ever told me this was an experiment. I’ve got nothing to go home to, he thought. I’ve got no home, no job, no career. I left these things years ago. I thought we were trying to obey the things Jesus said, not trying some experiment. Now what am I going to say to my wife and children?
The man felt sick, betrayed, insulted, and tricked. How could God’s love have failed him so miserably? Hadn’t He told them He would care for their needs if they sought His kingdom first? Though the speaker continued speaking and commending his audience for their noble effort, the man rose from his seat and headed slowly for the door, disappointed and bitter. That day something childlike in him died.
Community is not a light matter. The apostles weren’t doing something novel or whimsical when the Church began. It wasn’t an experiment and it wasn’t temporary. Rather, it came forth as a result of the deep, deep love they had for their Savior and for each other. For three and one-half years they had eaten together, laughed and wept together, hardly knowing where they would sleep from one night to the next. They had always been together.
When the Master told them that one of them would betray Him, the One they had come to love so dearly, they could hardly believe it. But it happened, just as He said. Everything happened to Him just as He said it would.
The apostles were earnest when they stood together at Pentecost. They were not trying to get people to experience something new and different. Their Master hadn’t used them as guinea pigs. He wasn’t trying to find a nice or different lifestyle people could enjoy. He desired the company of those men and any who would follow them. He believed in them and trusted them. He loved them so much. He had come to rescue them and show them how human beings should live. They received His faith to utterly abandon their lives and follow Him wherever He led them. Forsaking everything to be with Him was the only response they could possibly have, because they believed His love and His purpose for them was more valuable than any earthly thing.
So the message they preached that Pentecost to the Jews who had gathered for the feast was the same message their Master had been putting into them for three and a half years. Peter began to tell them who the Master was and how they were guilty of crucifying the Christ sent to save them. Then, when they were pierced to the heart by these words and begged to know what they must do, Peter told them how to be saved and what it would cost to follow the Master. They would have to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, calling on the name of the only One who could save them, forsaking everything and cutting themselves off from the perverse society they lived in. Then they could be part of the new social order that included the twelve apostles and more than a hundred other faithful disciples who had devoted themselves to the Master.
The Scriptures record that three thousand people received faith that day to make the right response to the good news of the kingdom — complete and utter surrender to the Lord of Glory. Everything they had they lavished upon Him in the only way they could practically do it — by lavishing it on His people.1 Of course, there was no other way they could love and care for each other as He had instructed them to do.2 Together they could show the world what real love was. And, oh, how they loved and needed each other — just like they had loved and needed Him! It was obvious by the life they lived. You can read about it in Acts 2:41-47 and 4:32-35. This is the standard by which all who claim to believe in the Son of God must measure themselves.3
If you love people, you don’t leave them or tell them to leave you when things get hard. You don’t pass off your failure to love as just an experiment that didn’t work. The Master loved His disciples even when they were unlovable. Their faults and sins didn’t cause Him to reject them. He didn’t send them home when they failed to respond to His love, and when He said things that were difficult to understand and hard to put into practice, they didn’t walk away from Him. He imparted faith to them, and they could do nothing else but keep following Him. Even when what He said became unpopular and dangerous, they stayed together. What else could they do? Where else could they go? He had the words of eternal life!4
If you truly love someone (like a husband might love his own wife), then naturally you want to be with that person all the time and share everything you have with the one you truly love. That is the kind of love that Peter wrote about:
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22)
Fervent means “hot, burning, glowing.” Of course you want to live with the people you have that kind of love for. You want to eat with them, work with them, listen to them, speak the truth to them, submit to them, meet their needs, protect and defend them, and tell everyone how wonderful they are. You can’t imagine living a lonely, solitary existence apart from them.
But we have been told that you do not have to love like this, and so true love is replaced by some tawdry imitation, much the same way a harlot’s love supplants the binding lifelong commitment that a man and his wife should share. The shallowness of a harlot’s love is always disappointing, and what’s more, she takes your money and leaves you empty. True love should never degenerate into merely doing what pleases you or makes you feel good, or fits into your busy schedule.
To love Him and to know Him requires the surrender of all you are and all you possess. You are absolutely unworthy of Him and His glory and will not taste of His marriage supper if you love your possessions more than Him.5 Hanging on to your possessions betrays your lack of faith, and without faith it is impossible to please God. Paul understood how little importance possessions had in comparison to knowing Him. So does everyone else who comes to know Him.6 How easy it is, especially nowadays, for wealth and possessions to replace the value and need for relationships. It’s been that way for other societies too, right before they were destroyed:
Behold, this is the guilt of your sister, Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it. (Ezekiel 16:49-50)
Sodom’s love of wealth and easy living was the perfect breeding ground for moral decline. It showed what was most important to them — material comfort. Their actions betrayed what they really believed and their toleration of ease eventually led them into a life of wanton pleasure and perversion. It is that way, too, in this day, even within the churches of Christianity.
It is easy to give your mind to believe the Bible, and quite another thing to give your body to do what it says. Men have created many elaborate traditions, interpretations, and doctrines to reason away the words that are not so palatable to them. They do this in order to justify their obvious lack of faith and obedience. The Christian lifestyle is not based on faith; it does not require you to abandon all that gives you security and to put your trust in God. Instead it teaches men to hold back. But realize this: whatever you hold back will hold you back from the kingdom of God and you will not see life. Any attempt at community will fail unless it is founded upon the faith He supplies to give up your own life. There is no basis to trust others unless you receive the faith to trust Him entirely. Simply living together with a bunch of people will not save your soul from death. Neither will giving up your possessions.
We in the Community know first hand how absolutely wonderful it is to live together in unity and share everything we have with one another. It hasn’t disappointed us in the least. We want everyone to know the reality of our Master’s love. He’s given us the faith to live together and stay together, and we love it. If you are the young man whose story this article begins with and you are reading this paper, or if you are sincere and desire the life of the Son of God,7 please, please come and see. You won’t be disappointed this time, for we have found the real Savior.