I invited Amy Butler, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, DC, (soon to be pastor of Riverside in New York) to be our guest. She and I had a conversation about the promise of the church in our time. Rather than lamenting its cultural marginalization, we sketched out reasons to be encouraged. Signs of renewal abound, and with clear focus, the church can be an authentic demonstration of a cross-signed community. Stewardship is a key to healthy congregations, and the spirituality of giving must be taught.
The early chapters of Acts narrate the first steps of a fledgling church. As witnesses to the resurrection, their life together expressed a radical reorientation. Here is how Luke summarizes their practices:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common . . . (Acts 2:42-44).
The next section of the text specifies what it meant for them to have all things in common. Simply put, they placed their resources at the disposal of those who needed them. Food and possessions became general goods, the real meaning of commonwealth. Not surprising, the church grew as a response to generosity.
I recently heard Luke Timothy Johnson offer a brilliant reflection on “Being and Having.” One of the most arresting statements was: “Our giving is a response to others; it is not determined by what we want to give, but what others need.” Further, he stressed that our “sharing of possessions is an articulation of our faith in the living God, and there is no end to it. It is never done.” He is correct. When we recognize that we hold our resources in trust for the sake of others, we are living into the vision of Acts.
I am grateful for those with capacity to make large gifts to Central; I am also grateful for those who make Central a part of their monthly stewardship, year after year. Glad and generous hearts empower our vocation in theological education, and Central’s donors participate in this holy work, having things in common with students, faculty, and staff.
Molly T. Marshall
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