This past week Alisha & I went out to see “The Greatest Showman.” It really is one of those feel good movies. As I watched the story unfold on screen, I was struck with how P.T. Barnum was able to pull all kinds of people together, especially people who were viewed as different, & give them a place of belonging in his circus.
That idea grabbed me because I think that’s what the church is supposed to be. A place that pulls folks of all kinds together, presenting them as equals because through Jesus we know that every person is a person of immeasurable worth.
But we know that our world is still divided & in a lot of ways the church is still one of the most segregated places in America.
What was true of the very first church, however, is that it was a beautiful combination of people from different backgrounds, different places in life, different ideas, different in every way all coming together in the name of Jesus Christ. The church wasn’t a place where differences were ignored or avoided but where the differences brought out the God-flavors of the humanity God created to come together as the body of Christ.
Luke says that there were people from every nation living in Jerusalem & when they heard the audible sound of the Holy Spirit descending upon a group of 120 believers in Jesus, everyone came running to see what was happening.
The crowd could hear the believers in Jesus who had been filled with the Holy Spirit speaking their language. This was amazing & confusing because… well here’s what Luke says:
“How can this be?” they (the crowd) exclaimed. “These people (the 120 believers) are all from Galilee, and yet we (the crowd of thousands) hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!”
After hearing Peter preach the first gospel sermon, after hearing Peter talk about Jesus who they had crucified, who had died a cruel death on a cruel cross, who had been buried for 3 days, but then who rose from the grave, was seen by more than 500 people over 40 days, & then ascended to Heaven… after hearing that they could be saved from their sin by believing in Jesus, Luke tells us that about 3000 of them were baptized.
It’s right after that moment that Luke begins to describe this church.
So this first church, or these first churches, weren’t filled with people who looked exactly alike, spoke the same native language, shared the same skin color or anything else. We’re talking about house churches gathering composed of jews & gentiles, male & female, rich & poor, young & old, slave & free… all different, a fellowship of differents, coming together to worship Jesus.
A Fellowship of Differents
I love what Scot McKnight says in his book A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together,
“Do you think these folks agreed on everything? (Impossible is the right answer.) Were they a fellowship of “differents”? (Yes is the right answer.) Was life together hard? (Yes, again.) That’s the whole point of what it means to be a church. The Christian life is not just about how I am doing as an individual, but especially about how we are doing as a church, and how and what I am doing in that mix of others called the church.”
“God has designed the church… to be a fellowship of difference and differents.”
This is how the church began. As a fellowship of differents. And according to Luke, what brought them together was greater than anything that might separate them.
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of AWE came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.
We live in a time when people are striving for real connection. For real belonging. And the church is the only place that offers that real sense of belonging.
We must remain committed to being a fellowship of differents. This is the power of the gospel. This brings power to our testimony to the world around us. That the ground really is level at the foot of the cross & when we gather at the cross of Jesus Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor. We are all united at the cross of Jesus where his love & grace saves us all!
Jesus said that the world would know we belong to Him because of our love for each other!
Our most powerful testimony to the world around us is how well we love each other.
A Celebration of Humanity
Alisha & I liked the movie, “The Greatest Showman,” so much that we took our kids to see it. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but throughout the film there is a theater critic who constantly gives Barnum a hard time by the name of James Gordon Bennett.
Towards the end of the movie, he looks at Barnum & admits that he never much liked his show but he thought that the people did. And then he said this… “You are putting folks of all kinds on the stage with you, all colors, shapes & sizes & presenting them as equals.” And then he called it a “celebration of humanity.”
P.T. Barnum pulled all the different people he could find & gave them a temporary sense of belonging in the circus.
Jesus came & brings all of us together & gives us an eternal place to belong in His church.