“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts (2:46).”
And that unassuming, perhaps even mundane, account of what actually went on in the homes of this community, that was variously accused by compatriots in their pagan, Roman world of being atheistic, cannibalistic, politically dangerous, and anti-social, is always followed by a plausibility stretching statement of the hundreds and thousands more that were constantly being added to their number.
However plausible those numbers sound, we know that the movement grew very quickly, which was especially impressive given that at a given time you could be excommunicated from your family, lose a job, be locked up, or even executed for associating with this dangerous group. Some historians estimate that the numbers reached as much as 10 percent of the Roman Empire by the beginning of the 4th century—not bad for a movement built around a messiah revolutionary who led by far the least successful revolution in history.
My take home point here is that the book of acts describes a pull that this movement had on the ordinary people who came into contact with it. By that, I mean it grew rapidly because people were attracted, drawn, seduced by their vision of a peaceable kingdom where everyone used their time and resources to care for everyone else, no one was without, and all forms of violence were renounced. Their movement grew quickly because people wanted to see what all the gladness and generosity was about.
Too often, since that time, Christians have tried to push people into their movement. It’s not the carrot of a more joyful way of living but the stick of eternal condemnation that prodded people into church in the medieval Catholic world. And most present day protestants have basically shifted around some of the details about how you purchase your ticket to one eternal destination or the other but the overall trip itinerary has basically stayed the same.
This blog isn’t long enough to list everything that’s wrong with this, but one of the main issues is that Christians have basically said, “this isn’t something you’d want to be a part of unless you’re scared.” By using a stick (hell) rather than a carrot (a more joyful way of life) Christianity has basically conceded that there is nothing inherently interesting enough, attractive enough, good enough about our movement that you should want to be a part of it.
Now, growing up through the cracks of this official version of Christianity, like dandelions growing through the pavement, there has always been a small, quiet group who disagree with the stick wielding curmudgeons with whom everyone is familiar. This small and much ignored group still clings to the much earlier version of the Christian movement, the more Jesus-like version called the Way.
Castle Church is founded around the idea that nobody needs to be pushed into being a part of this thing. We think that anytime people gather around the genuine character of Jesus, gladness and generosity ensue, which has a magnetic draw on anyone who is looking for a life of meaning and joy. When people first hear about the Castle Church vision, they often make well-meaning though someone trivializing jokes about “using beer to get people into church,” as if we’re plotting some bait and switch where we get your attention with an India Brown Ale before hitting you over the head with a Bible.
But the vision is about far more than that gimmicky reduction. It’s about creating a space of genuine gladness and generosity, which cannot exist where people are putting on a front or measuring each other up. We all crave that sort of authenticity in our relationships, but for one reason or another, it’s easier for most of us to let our hair down and be real around a good beer than around a grand marble altar in an imposing chancel. Maybe there’s a reason why, when Jesus gathered people around his table in order to inaugurate a movement of gladness and generosity, he more or less told everyone present, “have a drink.”
Cheers and Peace,
Jared Witt (Twitter: @realjaredwitt) is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community.