The Missing Element, 3

Posted: September 28, 2011 in On Being Apostolic
Tags: , , , , ,

I think it’s fairly obvious to anyone familiar with contemporary Pentecostal (Apostolic) culture that the creation of anything remotely resembling the kind of community we read of in Acts 2:42-47 will face incredible challenges. The socio-political structure of our post-modern western world is very different from the world of Acts 2, and duplicating the kind of community we read of the primitive church possessing may well be impossible for us. To my thinking, though, duplication isn’t the goal…shouldn’t be the goal. The idea is to find contemporary application for the principles discovered in Acts. And there will be challenges on the way.

I recently asked the focus group in our assembly what they thought the greatest challenges to authentic Apostolic community in our age would be, and their answers are right on the money. Distance is one. We live in a very mobile society, and the distances that separate us will be a challenge to community…after all, you can’t have community without togetherness. Time is another. Time is the most valuable thing we have…worth even more than our money. We recognize instinctively that community will require our time, and we’ll find that difficult. Philosophy is another. North Americans are individualists, but community will require that our intense individualism be dialled back. Tough one, that. Lack of discipleship is another. Frankly, most North American saints I know haven’t been discipled. They’ve been taught, but not discipled…and the two are not the same. Having been discipled would go a long way toward preparing believers for the experience of community, because the process involves sharing, submission, and togetherness…things that community also involves.

But these challenges can be overcome. The philosophical and attitudinal challenges to authentic Apostolic community are in the particular arena of the Spirit…and it’s amazing what a fresh baptism of the Spirit can do. The practical challenges of time and distance can be at least partially addressed by technology and planning. And, I think it’s important to be reminded that authentic Apostolic community in post-modern western society will not look exactly like community in first century Jewish culture. It can’t. The duplication of what we read in the book of Acts is a misguided effort. (That’s roughly like insisting that everyone who crosses the Atlantic must do so in a replica of the Mayflower…but that’s for another post.)

The greater challenges…far greater…are the challenges we’ll face once we’re actually living in community. Life as an authentic Apostolic community will throw us together in ways that we currently don’t experience, and the issues that arise will be very…um…difficult for us, if I may understate the case.

There’s the challenge of intimacy. When you’re actually with someone you learn things about them…sometimes things you wish you didn’t know. You may discover that the smiling, well groomed, and very well mannered people you worship with on Sunday have another side, complete with fangs and capes. Sometimes they say bad words…loudly. Some of those wise-looking old gentlemen may be really cranky and miserable. And sweet, kindly Sis. Babbage may turn out to be domineering, controlling, and…gasp…bossy!

I don’t want you to know me. I don’t want you to know that I’m failing, fallible, and petty. While I understand intellectually that you recognize my humanity, I don’t want you to know just how particularly human I am. I’d much rather preach and teach, smile and shake hands, then retreat to my own private sanctum…my frailty unknown and pride of image intact. Authentic Apostolic community won’t allow that, because community is intimate…you will know me in my stained and tattered weakness.

The next challenge is directly related to the first one, and that’s the challenge of accountability. Those living in community hold each other accountable for the norms and mores of the community…that’s just what happens. That Sis. Babbage is domineering, controlling, and…gasp…bossy may not be tolerated by her community, and she may be held accountable by other members of the community for her inexcusable manner and behaviour. The challenge of this is that we are so individualistic that the only powers we consider ourselves accountable to in any real way are those who may deprive us of our liberties. In other words, we’re really only accountable to those with a badge and a gun…and that’s about it.

Minsters in our movement seem especially leery of real, personal accountability…speaking generally, of course. We pick and choose who we will allow to ‘speak into’ our lives until one of them ‘speaks’ something we don’t like. Then we’ll turf’em and find another…someone a bit more sensitive to where ‘God is leading us.’ (Eyes rolling…) Spiritual leaders are notorious for surrounding themselves with people weaker than themselves, and rarely will have a staff member whom he or she will allow to hold his or her feet to the fire. When was the last time we sought to bring on ministry team members who weren’t in thrall to us or enthralled by us?

But being accountable to the community is a highly Biblical concept! In His instructions regarding dispute resolution among His followers, Jesus placed the ultimate power of arbitration in the hands of the church community. (See Matthew 18) Further, Paul left the determination of whether prophecy was of God or not in the hands of the…you guessed it…church community. (See 1st Corinthians 14) In fact, the descriptions of the Church as a body and a building imply strongly that individual believers (ministers or no) are accountable to the community.

Finally, accountability leads us to the third great challenge of community…and that’s the challenge of vulnerability. I hate that word, despise that word. It drips of weakness. It sounds so…so…open. But when Sis. Babbage is held accountable for her domineering, controlling, and…gasp…bossy ways, that’s the very thing she’ll be challenged with next. Likewise, when I’m held accountable by the community I’m forced to decide between vulnerability or pride. Openness contains the potential for pain and agreement requires humility, so it’s far less threatening for me to respond in pride and self-preservation. In the Gospels, however, Jesus taught that such a response results in bondage. I am left bound to my weakness, bound to my pride, and hobbled in my relationships with my brothers and sisters.

I have few close friends, and being a flaming introvert is one reason for that. Another reason, though, is that I can be hard to take. If a friend comes to me filled with excitement about something he’s seen in Scripture, or about some idea that he has for his ministry, I can be pretty…um…harsh. My mind immediately begins to analyze and find the flaws in logic, the weaknesses in the plan…and shortly thereafter my mouth begins to inform my friend of said flaws and weaknesses. It’s not a good way to be.

All of my friends are smart…smart enough that eventually the flaws and weaknesses will become apparent to them anyway. If such information is sought, that’s one thing. But to just freely open my mouth and “blah-BLAH-blah-BLAH-blah” all over their excitement…well. Like I said, I have few close friends.

Several years ago I was doing this very thing; “blah-blah-BLAHing” all over one of my friend’s ideas. He was passionate about the idea, and I, being just as passionate about how flawed and weak it was, didn’t have the sense or sensitivity to just shut up. So, a full blown argument ensued…replete with yelling at each other in the confines of the rather small car we were driving in. (Pentecostal preachers can yell pretty loudly.) I won. He was stumped. He stopped talking. We drove silently in the car, the tension thick between us. After a while he said, “You know what? You’re a jerk…a real jerk.”

Seems kind of funny as I read it, but it wasn’t then. Then the reality of it struck me; I was a jerk…a real jerk. I had cut my friend’s excitement into little bloody ribbons, and that’s not what he needed me to do. Not then. When the awareness of the truth of my ‘jerkiness’ washed over me, I had a choice to make. I could revel in the pride of my ‘rightness’ despite the wounding of my friend, or I could be…ugh…vulnerable and actually confess to my ‘jerkiness’, and seek my friend’s forgiveness. No saint am I, but I chose the latter.

I still struggle with being a jerk…a real jerk…from time to time, but life in community will hold me accountable and relationships will demand that I be vulnerable enough to recognize the truth in what’s brought to me…and then deal with it.

Yeah…authentic, Apostolic community will be challenging…very challenging. But we can’t continue to ignore the potential of what could be the greatest work of the Spirit our world has ever seen; a group of very different people of very diverse backgrounds who live as one.

Comments
  1. Ed Arbeau says:

    Dennis,

    I really, truly, authentically, did “laugh out loud” when your preacher friend, within the confines of the small car called you a “real jerk.” There are a few people, and only a few who I can think of right now with the courage to let you have it like that. ha. A great article. The challenges presented by your focus group comprise the “real deal” for sure. Distance and time to me are two of our great challenges. Around Kingston, we’re trying to PRAY MORE and DO LESS kind of thing. We really are. I think we’re gaining HIS attention too. Is that ever neat!
    Thanks for the great article!
    Your friend, Ed

    • Dennis Munn says:

      Thanks for reading, Ed. Simplicity has an odd feel to us who have cut our ministerial teeth on resource intensive programming. Yet, to paraphrase Mordechai, simplicity is for such a time as this.

      Check back from time to time!

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