The early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles show a community that in the name of Jesus enjoyed and shared the good things, and carried the message that God’s goodness was accessible to all. Members shared wealth, food, healing and supportive relationships. Although the sharing of food in Jesus’ memory was central, its members continued temple and synagogue worship until they were expelled from these as unorthodox.
Church then did not mean a weekly service of worship, but membership of a dynamic community focused on receiving and sharing God’s goodness.
The church has often gone wrong by prioritising what it called spiritual goods over what it called material goods, and relegated its sharing of material goods to “charity,” which most of its members did not need: now members worship and some of them provide charity which outsiders receive. This is a far cry from Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners.
The church often asks why so few come to worship. There are many reasons, but one may be that often nothing much happens; a ritual takes place but nothing wonderful happens. Some churches make up for this by charismatic ecstasies and dubious miracles. But where something does happen, for example where very poor and needy people find dignity and grace, the church is a vibrant gathering where something good is enjoyed.
The Sikh custom of “langar” that is, the community kitchen is a challenge to the church. There, at least once a week, Sikhs gather to eat a simple meal together, and anyone is made welcome. They have done this for 600 years as an expression of God’s goodness. Too often Christian “cafes” are not communal meals in which members participate but charitable ventures run by volunteers. The joyful equality of sharing food together is absent.
There are similar issues with the church’s traditional task of healing. Of course the church should not see itself as a substitute for the National Health Service nor as a remedy when scientific medicine can find no cure. But given that health is restored as much by spiritual as physical factors, there is a huge role to be played by a competent spiritual community. The church has not much sought this good, and is not competent to share it, leaving it again to churches that specialise in deception and abuse. Were the church to offer a skilled and honest healing ministry, people would come seeking this good, and church members would benefit from attention to their own ‘dis- ease’ of mind or body.
Yes, I’m saying that the church’s business is the discovery, enjoyment and sharing of God’s goodness, using Jesus’ ministry as a guide and challenge. Goodness is a basic currency; the church should learn to use it again.