The Call to Community
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:19-25).
I have long admired the work that Americans United for Life has been doing over the years, seeking incrementally to change the legal landscape of abortion in the United States. Given the broad reach of Roe v. Wade, it is an uphill struggle, because in the end abortion is not so much a legal battle as a cultural one. While fighting a legal battle may be necessary (and I believe it is), it is not sufficient. And so the question becomes, how do we influence culture?
Two texts from this past week speak, even if implicitly, to the church’s witness amidst cultural change. The first, from the book of Acts, describes the character of early Christian life, a life defined by community. Early Christians learned the Scriptures. They lived with each other in homes, sharing meals (and likely Eucharist), and praying together. They were a glad and generous people, willing to part with their possessions for others in need. They looked to God, because they trusted Him. Is it any wonder that day by day others were added to their number?
A woman in a crisis pregnancy is often alone, not having any idea there might exist a community that would gladly receive and help her. Is the local church known to be that kind of community? Where a woman senses that she will be welcomed without judgment by people who have the willingness and the resources to offer practical help, whether money or a home or a job or child care or whatever? She will certainly not find this at an abortion clinic. For all their rhetoric about choice, it is curious that Planned Parenthood offers no practical help to a woman who might want to choose life.
The second text is from 1 Peter, where Peter exhorts the church to suffer with grace. Jesus was accused unjustly, yet entrusted himself to God, and did not return like for like. As Jesus suffered, so does the church: It is called to suffer for doing good, knowing that it is a gracious thing in God’s sight. As He trusted God, who judges justly, so do we. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t just suffer—He suffered for the sins of others, even praying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The effect was immediate. One thief dying next to Jesus repented and recognized Him as king, and a soldier praised God and proclaimed Jesus as innocent (Luke 23). This kind of love, this kind of strength, is unusual, to say the least. And attractive.
One can get a sense of the animosity toward the pro-life world by comparing signs at the March for Life. Pro-abortion signs are often vulgar sloganeering, trading on caricatures of pro-life people as callous power-hungry (white) men obsessed with controlling the sexual lives of women they don’t know. Pro-life signs, with the rarest of exceptions, are not vulgar and do not seek to shame the other side. Which is as it should be. The testimony of Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood facility in Texas, bears witness to the power of kindness, as she was eventually won over by the kindness of those involved in 40 Days for Life. And the kindness is genuine, for we know personally what is like to have been blind, and therefore we don’t despise those who cannot see. Besides, as the proverbs tell us, “pleasant speech increases persuasiveness” (Proverbs 16:21).
It is not enough for the church to have the right perspective on abortion. Our call is to be a distinctive people, forming the kind of community into which women and men in crisis can be gladly received. In the end, the church is called to be a light to the world, a city set on a hill, which cannot be hidden. If we are being the church God has called us to be, the lines will be distinct—light will be seen as light, and darkness will be seen as darkness. The world needs to know of people who love and trust God gladly, who are generous as they love their neighbors, and even love and extend kindness to their enemies. Some will, of course, continue to choose the darkness, but some will be drawn to the light. It will happen little by little, community by community. But light will be seen for what it is.