Thompson finds this in Paul’s epistles. Hauerwas finds it in the Sermon on the Mount. N. T. Wright teaches much the same lesson built on the OT roots of Christianity. The prophets spoke of “the kingdom,” not “a personal relationship with Jesus.” Gentiles are saved, not by being grafted into Jesus, but by being grafted into Israel — a nation, a people, and a community. Our forgiveness is not so that we can receive a personal relationship with Jesus (although we do), but to qualify us to be a part of Israel/the Kingdom. In Acts 2, baptism was followed by remission of sin (“remission” is the same word used in Torah regarding the Day of Atonement), which was followed by being added to their number — becoming a part of the Jesus community.
The Jesus community, in Acts 2, did not retire to their closets to read scripture, pray, and practice lectio divina. It was not an individualized religion. No, they were immediately formed into a community that ate, studied, and shared resources together.
(Acts 2:42-47 ESV) 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
So why doesn’t it work anymore? Why do we so often fall short of our ideals? Why is it so very hard to make disciples?
I think it’s pretty simple.
- We live in a highly individualistic culture. Christianity is supposed to be lived communally.
- We have taken congregation autonomy and turned it into congregational isolation. Our fellow brothers and sisters in other churches in town are not there to help us make it to the end or to grow in being like Jesus. Rather, we’ve adopted the American capitalist model and made our siblings in Jesus into competitors — the enemy.
- We’ve taken the Eucharist and so watered it down that it means little more to us than sprinkling a bit of incense on an altar meant to a Greco-Roman pagan in Paul’s day. Less, really. The pagans thought their sacrifice mattered. We just take communion because it’s a command. It doesn’t do anything other than give us a 7-day dose of grace.
- We’ve destroyed the horizontal element of communion. We can’t even imagine how it might be possible to do it differently. In fact, many would consider it sinful to vary from our traditional practices — which aren’t remotely like First Century practice.
- Covered dish meals are just so much trouble.
What’s the cure?
- Teach the Sermon on the Mount, Rom 12-15, and similar passages regularly in small groups and classes. Explain how they fit into the overall narrative of scripture. These passages aren’t the new rule book, blueprint, constitution, or legal system. They are examples of how to become like God. They are a step toward becoming what we were always meant to be — a king or queen ruling as a part of Jesus over the universe: the Kingdom realized.
- Take communion in your small groups. Use freshly baked bread (no matzos) and wine. (The early church did. Who are we to try to be holier?) Do what the apostles and the church in Acts 2 did. Take it in groups small enough that you become bound to the people with your there. (And it’s okay to also take communion at church with the larger congregation. It’s okay to remember Jesus’ sacrifice twice on one day. Really. Trust me. God won’t mind.)
- Take it as part of a common meal — a love feast.
- Tell the story. Remind each other not just of the crucifixion but how the crucifixion honors God’s promises in his covenants, etc.
- Take communion at least once a year in a combined service with another congregation in town. Quarterly would be better.
- No less often than every Sabbath (seventh) year, invite every church in town to a common communion celebration. Tell the story together. Annually would be better.
Act like the First Century church. This is true restorationism. And it’ll change everything. And there’s no need for a whole new theology or to reject restorationism or anything. Just be the church we used to be.
And then, having restored the Lord’s Supper to First Century practice, then we can talk about how the rest of the mission is built on this foundation.