What Bible verses do you know that help inform a discussion of community (we call it Church).
Jesus summed up the Law as two commandments. The first is to love God with all you have. The second is to love your neighbour as yourself – again, love your neighbour with all you have. We are good at talking about these two things, but the emphasis here is not talk, but action. The constant challenge before us is to not talk about spiritual disciplines, but to practice them. Knowledge of God is not the same as following God. He is our general, leading us into spiritual battle. In the same way, talking about helping people, and saying, “go and be warm”, does nothing. Going out and helping at a soup kitchen, donating resources to different organizations, and intentionally being aware of the needs other have is what God calls us to. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, the only difference between the sheep and the goats is what they did and didn’t do.
But you can’t have one without the other – knowledge without action is useless just as action without knowledge. They are two sides of the same coin, and derive from the basic paradigm of our faith – Love God, love our neighbour. Loving God without loving you neighbour is an impossibility, and loving our neighbour without loving God grants nothing pertaining to eternal life.
Gordon MacDonald has written a couple articles in Leadership Journal on True Community. His first article is subtitled “What ‘we’ learn that ‘I’ will never know”, insinuating that there are some things we ONLY learn in community. He goes on to say this about community:
“Community is about two or more people who make a deliberate choice not only to “accept Christ” (as we often say) but also to accept one another. To commit to each other in this context is no incidental event. It requires discipline, humility, selfless love, grace, and the heart of a servant. It demands staying power, flexibility, and loyalty.”
With that as a starting point, let me leave you with three thoughts. First, a church with Christ but no community is destined to fail in its mission within the kingdom of God. If you don’t have community, if you don’t foster relationships, you end up with lonely and disenfranchised people. These people will respond in several different ways. Some become increasingly disengaged until they leave the church, never to return. It is almost as if they were inoculated against the church – they got just enough to get a taste of it, but because they never fully experienced the real thing, church becomes a caricature, and they reject the caricature. Others fill the void with power struggles, and making unimportant things the focus. If a mother has a daughter in a bad relationship, is it better to pray for that daughter and mother, or worry about a cracked dish in the kitchen. Is it more important to allow a person to express their dreams, fears, doubts, secrets and uncertainties; or to just be concerned with the up keep of the building? Yes, we need to be good stewards of what we have, of what God has granted us, but never at the expense of community, of the people IN the building. This building is useless without people in it. And so we pursue community. Love God, love your neighbour – Just like this coin. Knowledge and action; don’t just talk community, live it – just like this coin
Let me ask you a question: whose responsibility is it to develop community? Whose responsibility is my own connection to the broader community? What is the role of God in building community? The role of us?
And here is the second point – we all bring something to community, and we all take something from community. We are all responsible for the community, and we are responsible for our connection and role within the community. If all a person does is come to get, they become overstuffed. The Dead Sea is the way it is because it has no outlet. It is the lowest point in the area, and so everything flows in but nothing goes out. It became useless to all life, animal and vegetable, because of the increasing salt levels. We become Dead Seas when we only come to get. Coming to get is not a bad thing – we all need things from one another. We don’t grow if we don’t get – but if it is all we do, it becomes a distortion of the real thing. Community and maturity says we have to also give to others. Give and take are the different sides of the same coin. You can’t have just one – you need both.
If you follow the discipleship path, when you accept Christ you need to come and learn and grow – but at some point you leave the spiritual nursery and you transition to coming to give. You have learned about who you are in Christ, knowing your gifts and you look for ways to use them in the kingdom of God. There is a synergy, the sum being greater than just the addition of the individuals. I spent many summers at camp, and built hundreds of campfires. You can’t stick a match under a log and cook on that. You need kindling and fuel and oxygen. You pile tinder, stack small pieces around that, then lean larger logs to that. Then you light it and you have a great campfire – it doesn’t work with just one log by itself.
The third point is this – Christian community is about Jesus. Stanley Hauerwas says “Christian community is not primarily about togetherness. It is about the way of Jesus with those whom He calls to Himself. It is about disciplining our wants and needs in congruence with a true story, which gives us the resources to lead truthful lives. In living out the story together, togetherness happens, but only as a by-product of the main project of trying to be faithful to Jesus.” A church is only a church if it is a community focussed around Jesus, and our commitment to follow Jesus. Too many churches get lost in their journey because they start focusing on self, on maintaining the structure and the traditions that have been established. But the body of Christ is much more than that.
The body of Christ forms around the reality of God, that He is active in our lives and in the world. But this reality isn’t just talk and singing on Sunday morning. It is about the things He speaks to us about on Monday and Friday; about how we were generous with a young cashier when they packed the potatoes on top of the bread; about how we extended grace to those who laughed at us, or hurt us, or mocked us, or in their own selfish way tried to make us feel inferior. But how can you make someone feel inferior who is created in the image of God? What can mere man do to you, when God sheds His love abroad in your heart?
“If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)
The body of Christ meets and gathers around this truth. We are citizens of two worlds – this humanity, and the spiritual. Christ and community together are the church – two sides of a coin.