L for Λάоς
With this article we have performed a sleight-of-hand trick with the letter L. We have chosen a New Testament Greek word to look at instead of an English word. (We can do this because the New Testament was, of course written in Greek) Laos is Greek for ‘people.’ So this month we are looking at ‘ό Λάоς Ψέου’ - the people of God.
Another English word for ‘the people of God’ is the Church. Unfortunately, we use the word Church for lots of different things. While it is used for the people of God, it is also used for the building in which the Christian community meets, and sometimes gets confused with the institutions of Christian religion, especially the bishops and clergy. I want to argue strongly that the most important and basic understanding of “Church” is that of the community of Christ, the people of God, you and me together.
In its earliest days, Christianity was as much about a community of people it was about a set of beliefs. The disciples were those who followed Jesus; they were not a group that had a definite set of doctrines. In fact, according to the gospels, the disciples frequently misunderstood and got things wrong. Nevertheless they were still members of Jesus’ group of followers his community. ‘Belonging’ was as important as believing’. This was only natural as the first Christians were Jewish and so were immersed in the Old Testament idea of God choosing himself a special people.
After Jesus had ascended, the disciples began to try and make sense of all the experiences and pieces of teaching they had received. They began the long process of determining what they believed about Jesus of Nazareth. But initially, the communal aspect of the people of God never diminished in importance. We see a snapshot of the early life of the Church in this passage from the Acts of the Apostles:
Care and Worship
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all as any had need. 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, praising God and having the good will of all the people. [Acts 2:44-47]
It is clear from this passage that the early Christians lived very close to one another. The community was very important indeed and it was focused upon sharing and worship. They held all of their possessions in common and made sure no one was in need. They also worshiped with other Jews in the Temple, while practising the uniquely Christian act of worship, the Eucharist, in their own homes. Caring for each other and worshipping together are two of the most important acts for the Christian community.
Sharing the Good News
Another interesting passage comes from the end of Matthew’s gospel. It is known as the Great Commission:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:16-end]
According to the tradition in Matthew’s gospel, the Christian community, the people of God are to ‘make disciples’. This necessarily involves looking to other people and reaching outwards. We are not called to be on insular community, focused only upon ourselves and our’ own cares. We are called to take the Good News of Jesus outside the community and tell others.
The number of ways in which we share the Good News are as numerous as there are people on the planet. As Saint Francis told his monks one day, “Tell everyone you meet the Good News of Jesus Christ, and where necessary use words’
Looking three ways at once
From these short passages we can conclude that the people of God, the Christian community, should be looking in three directions at once. Clearly this is a difficult thing to do (and it may be why the Church often gets things wrong). First, we should look ‘upwards’. We should be attentive to God in our worship together and our prayer lives. Second, we should look inwards. We should be a loving and caring community, looking out for each other. Third, we should always be looking outwards. God will always give us opportunities to show His love and spread the Good News.
St. Paul Preaching in Athens