Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Community vs. Toughing it out

When God called his people out (Ekklesia=church=called out ones) he also called them in. He called them into fellowship, into service, into connection with each other, and into relationship. In truth, the first century church was much more united out of necessity. They practiced a form of communalism- though it wasn't mandated, people shared their lives freely, sold homes as the Lord spoke to their hearts, held a common purse, and served one another and the poor among them.

With all the talk of christian unity over the decades we really don't see much of it among us. This may be partially because there is a stubborn individual streak in us that refuses to join to the community. (The literature says that this generation isn't a generation of "joiners".) Of course, I am not saying that we should sell everything and hold the money in a common purse anymore. What I guess I am saying is that we need to get a vision that Christ has called us to each other. We form a community of believers- a faith community. Thankfully I have been blessed to be a part of a community like that.

My children have been partially raised by people in the church. The church was my entire source of child care when I needed babysitters. Men sat with my adolescent and young adult sons and daughter and talked to them about important issues in their lives- not preaching just caring like family. Some helped us move, or fix up our house. We have had the privilege to go on vacations with some of these and have eaten countless meals together. We have cried together, laughed together, and scratched our heads together over things we didn't understand. What a blessing!
So much of what Jesus teaches revolves around this concept of an alternative community of faith, that we often misinterprete the scriptures when we ignore the powerful community aspect that is in there. In Matthew 18.15-20 Jesus tells how to deal with a community member- a brother- who stumbles into sin. What discipline does he suggest for the unrepentant sinner? Removal from the community. For this brother to be cut off from community meant he had no access to the communion table, the word of life, the fellowship of saints, the life molding process of relationship. Hardly seems applicable to the mega church culture, eh\? How would you know if he continued to slip in among your thousands of Sunday visitors?
In Matthew 25.34ff we read that Jesus will judge the stingy and tightfisted who refuse to help a fellow community member. Though this verse is often freely applied to feeding the indigent and helping the starving masses, it clearly is intended to provoke an allegience toward the community. Those that are hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison- are those 'brothers' (v 40)who have been imprisoned for their faith or are persecuted. They aren't selling roses on the overpass! Compare Gal 6.10 where the community of God is prioritized in the good works of the believers.

When will the church of the 21 st Century learn that to ignore community is to develop a system of faith contrary to Christ's. The gospel of Christ prompts us to change our allegiences from our habits, beliefs, addicitons, and lifestyles that offend God and are detrimental to our souls. The community of God is the powerful system of relationships by which we challenge one another, pray for one another, and care for one another in our times of need. That said- the church is the ultimate support group. Why tough it out on your own?

1 comment:

Paul M. Harrison said...

I have always struggled with community and commitment to a group. I am fiercely individualist.

A book that has meant a lot to me is called "The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment" by Daniel Taylor. It is basically about risking commitment to God in the face of uncertainty with a chapter specifically on how reflective Christians can be in community without being suffocated in it.

There is a song from a band called mewithoutYou that I always found compelling yet also felt myself guarded against called Torches Together:

Why burn poor and lonely?
Under a bowl, or under a lampshade,
or on the shelf beside the bed
where at night you lay turning like a door on its hinges
(first on your left side, then on your right side, then your left side again).
Why burn poor and lonely?
Tell all the stones we're gonna make a building.
We'll be cut into shape, and set into place
or if you'd rather be a window,
I'll gladly be the frame.
Reflecting any kind words,
we'll let in all the blame
(and ruin our reputation all the same)
So never mind our plan making.
We'll start living!
Anyway, aren't you unbearably sad?
Then why burn so poor and lonely?

We'll be like torches!
We'll be like torches!
We'll be like torches!
Oh, we'll be torches together, torches together!
We'll be like torches!
We'll be like torches
with whatever respect out tattered dignity demands.
Torches together, hand in hand.

Why pluck one string?
What good is just one note?
Oh, one string sounds fine I guess, and we were once “one notes”
We were lonely wheat, quietly ground into grain
(What light and momentary pain!)
So why this safe distance, this curious look?
Why tear out single pages when you can throw away the book?
Why pluck one string when you can strum the guitar?
Strum the guitar!
Strum the guitar!
Strum the guitar!
Strum the guitar!
With no beginning, with no end
Take down a guitar and strum the guitar!
Strum the guitar if you're afraid,
And I'm afraid and everyone's afraid
and everyone knows it, but we don't have to be afraid anymore.

You played the flute but no one was dancing,
You sang a sad song and none of us cried.