“The greatest proof of Christianity for others is not how far a man can logically analyze his reasons for believing, but how far in practice he is willing to stake his life on his belief.” (T. S. Eliot)
Scripture Reference: Acts 2:42-47
Some people go through life feeling as though they cannot fit in anywhere. They might have a quirky sense of humor that no one really gets, or struggle to find the right words at the right time and end up making conversations awkward. There are people whose parents abandoned them at a young age, or died suddenly, leaving them to be whirled through a dehumanizing cycle of foster and group homes. In less dramatic instances, some people have just grown weary of having a rolodex full of people with whom they share weak ties, mere acquaintances at best. They are missing an important piece to their lives and they know it, they feel it. They are missing a family.
The love and interdependence that comes from being part of a nurturing family is not just important for human beings, it is necessary for our healthy survival. Psychologist Harry Harlow conducted a series of experiments involving rhesus monkeys in the 1950s and 60s which scientifically undergirded the need for nurturing. His experiments were controversial, cruel even, but nevertheless hugely insightful. Baby monkeys were removed from their natural mothers within a few hours of birth and taken to be “raised” by two surrogate mothers. One surrogate was made of soft terrycloth but supplied no food, and the other was composed of wire with a bottle for the baby monkey to feed from. The results were enlightening. The baby monkeys spent considerably more time with their cloth mothers than with the wire mothers who were able feed them. They curled up to their cloth mothers for comfort, and when placed in a room to explore they would only do so if the surrogate mother was present. Harlow concluded:
"These data make it obvious that contact comfort is a variable of overwhelming importance in the development of affectional response, whereas lactation is a variable of negligible importance."
The impact of Harlow’s research can still be felt today, as it helped influence key changes in the way orphanages, adoption agencies, social services groups and child care providers approached the care of children. Loving relationships are necessary for thriving. This is every bit as true for humans as it is for monkeys.
In Acts 2:42-47 we are given a glimpse into the interior life of the earliest communities of Jesus-followers. And the striking feature of their communal life was they lived as though they were a family because that is precisely what they believed themselves to be. The Christian community is described in idealistic terms, with Luke summarizing their communal life as being "devoted to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship." This devotion took concrete form in the people's:
- eating together daily
- praying together
- worshiping together daily in the Temple
- sharing their resources with those among them in need
- and performing signs and wonders.
This unity was attractive to people outside of the early church, as Luke concludes the section saying, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (v. 47).”
Perhaps the greatest catalyst of the early church attracting Jewish non-believers into its ranks was the fact that they were visible. They did not hide from the danger of certain persecution which would immediately spring up from the Jewish leaders. They did not gather in holy huddles away from the world, but broke out of the homes in which they shared their meals and attended the Jewish temple together daily, praising God with glad and generous hearts. The Christian community was conspicuous, out in the open for all to see. Some loved them, others hated them. But everyone saw them.
The church must be a place where broken people can find loving, nurturing relationships. This means we must clean-up the infighting within our congregations, and work to bridge the gap between “our church” and other churches. We must be willing to share our goods with those who are in need among us and be available for people during their darkest moments. We should be eating together regularly, praying together, and worshiping together. And we should be doing this publicly, so that the world may see that God has given us glad and generous hearts and made us part of a loving family, his family.
I pray that people observe our family, recognize in it something bigger than themselves - bigger than all of us - and that the Lord will add to our number those who are being saved. The true reward comes when a person says in all heartfelt honesty, “I finally feel like I am a part of a family that loves me.”