By: Morgan Stoecklein
Often when we hear the word church, we might think of a building. We maybe think of a towering steeple, or that stale old church smell, or those cheesy vacation bible school songs. But when we look to some of the accounts of the early church, it isn’t describing a place at all, but a group of people. One description of the early church says: All the believers were together and had everything in common. Other versions explain that they met together in one place and shared everything they had. You can find this theme woven throughout the historical book of Acts. More formally known as The Acts of the Apostles, it tells of the founding and spread of the Christian church. The church, is chronicled as being of one heart and one soul. A fellowship that’d make Bob Marley proud. No one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but, again, they had everything in common. They were human, just like us, but they found it in themselves (or maybe in something beyond themselves) to put their neighbor, their brother, and their community, before themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, this same group of people had their fair share of issues and found a number of small and large details to debate. Individuals and groups were in “sharp dispute” more times than one, not far from where our communities, our neighborhoods, our nation finds itself today. And like our communities today, they found points of tension and division. Sound familiar?
I could think of quite a few things that are dividing our nation today. And 10 years ago we could have come up with a list of different things. And in 10 years we will, unfortunately, be able to do the same.
But despite their disagreements the early church created a powerful sense of unity among the people. But, how? Here are just a few notable things that we can learn from our early church brothers and sisters and how they approached conflict, division, and disagreement:
- They listened
They listened to people who had “done their research.” In Acts 15, Barnabas and Paul took their conflict to someone else. Someone much wiser than them, and someone who knew his stuff: James. And along with James, a whole council of people. An unbiased council. Do you have that person? Those people? It’s important that we find that someone who will not just validate our opinions but challenge our beliefs. It’s important so that we can grow, learn, empathize and act.
It’s one thing to have these people in our lives, but it’s another thing to actively listen to them. Proverbs, a book filled with wise teachings for daily life, says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Perhaps differing viewpoints in our lives could be used for us to listen to, consider, and even consider change in our own behavior. Unity can only thrive where communities are willing to listen, and people are willing to be wrong.
2. They met and toiled over coming to a conclusion
The church also made an effort to come together and find a common ground. Simple as that. They could have just called it quits right then and there. But they made the decision and took the time to seek a resolution. It takes resolve, vulnerability, patience and often wears on our health in every sense of the word. But, it’s worth it. How can we make that same effort? If we are afraid to confront disagreements, or we’re too exhausted to strive to understand others with differing viewpoints, we can’t reach true unity. Steps to a harmonious community take effort, but it’s worth the priceless result of true fellowship.
3. They parted company
There came a time when it was okay to say “that’s all for now.” Key words: for now. What can we learn from this? I think it’s important to note that after disagreement we shouldn’t cancel each other in perpetuity, but just say “Okay, we’ve covered a lot of ground on this topic. Let’s come back tomorrow.”
I’m currently reading a book that covers the topic of listening. The Author, Kate Murphy, states that “Research shows there is an inverse relationship between amygdala activity and activity in areas of the brain involved in careful listening.” The amygdala is the area of our brain that lights up when we perceive a threat. In short, when we are angry or frustrated with our adversaries, our amygdala is lit up, and the part of our brain that is meant for listening is “out of order.” Sometimes, we need to take a break, because if not, we are risking sacrificing our relationships over a difference of opinion. Sometimes we need to take a breather.
4. They treated each other as they would treat themselves
We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt more than we give others. It’s our human nature. That’s why when other people on the road give us the middle finger or honk 2 seconds too long, it was “for no good reason.” But when someone cuts us off, or the car in front of us is delayed after the light turns green, we feel anger and frustration inside. It’s against our nature to give others the benefit of the doubt as we do to ourselves, but it’s in the best interest of our community to refrain from jumping to conclusions and chose unity.
We’ve been made for unity. Perfect unity came in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before earth even came to be. I think we have an innate desire for community and interdependence despite a world that is valuing individualism more and more. I think we desire what the early church had. We desire what our grandparents, in some ways, had. To know that if we need an egg or a cup of sugar we can count on our neighbor to the left, and to the right. It feels good to be supported, loved, and cared for by a group of people, and it feels just as good to have a community of people to support, love, and care for.
Unfortunately, deep down, I’m not always willing to do what it takes to experience true unity. Sometimes I want to be right, or sometimes I want to be first. Can I take the time to empathize and can I, in meekness, “change my mind.” Can I humble myself to listen, learn, and take on inconveniences that provide a better life for my community? Can I muster up the courage and energy to address a disagreement with someone and reach a conclusion? Could we possibly live like we have everything in common?