A short history
These thoughts come from many experiences and specifically new events in my home church. I was blessed to grow in up a church that I still consider as close as family. My youth pastor was like a second father and who else but my pastor would allow a young senior in high school to take a class on Jonathan Edwards and his “Religious Affections”? I am deeply moved every time I remember the passion and heart with which I was shepherded. And every time I thank God for their passion I praise Him for their dedication to preach the whole counsel of God, without shame or apology.
I moved away to college and struggled to find the same family committed to the Lord’s teaching, but was still blessed to live among other believers. The single most memorable and life-changing factor in my college years were the relationships with people. I lived in Chicago for one semester, where I was blown away by the community of Park Community Church. I found believers, accountability, friendship, and the familiar challenge to seek God and His Word first.
On June 24, 2007 I was baptized in front of my “home” church community and was again overwhelmed at God’s grace in providing me with such a family.
On July 12, 2007 I moved to Austin, Texas to serve in a volunteer position at St. Edward’s University. The Lord prepared the way for community at First Evangelical Free Church, and within weeks of my arrival I was living with a godly couple from church, involved in the Singles ministry, connected through a small group, established membership, started to serve on the middle school ministry team and found several other outlets through friends and over coffee. Stepping into community here is by far the most important decision I have made in Austin, apart from my own personal discipline in quiet times with the Lord.
I recently picked up Dietrick Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” and I’ve been refreshed, encouraged, and challenged to find the uncompromising community that is about Christ. Bonhoeffer reminds us that Christian community is not a right. We have done nothing to achieve fellowship… in fact if it was up to us we would never experience the joy and blessing of community.
“…it is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians. It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing.” (Life Together p. 18)
Having grown up in such an amazing community, I often forget that is completely a gift of grace that I am able to participate in community at all. Bonhoeffer talks about how even the physical presence of other believers is more than a great comfort – it’s elemental; part of the very nature of our being created by a triune God. I know I’ve written on relationship and the Trinity in the past, but this is not a topic one can wear out. How amazing the grace we receive as we sit in community. How amazing!
Community only in and through Christ
With every page I turned in “Life Together,” I was moved with its timelessness. I haven’t finished the book because I keep re-reading paragraphs and reminding myself that this work was first published in 1954. Some of the very issues D.A. Carson addresses in his book, “Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church” are found in the lines of this little book, from a man who was desperate to restore God’s picture of community in a disillusioned country following a maniacal leader.
I can say it no more clearly than Bonhoeffer himself,
“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. …It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.” (21) Amen!
Christian community exists because individuals have had unique encounters with Jesus Christ alone, experiencing the sentence of sin and the sovereignty of salvation through Christ. The individual becomes astutely aware of his need for righteousness while at the same time knowing that it will not come from himself (for he is dead), but from outside of himself.
“Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word. Help must come from the outside, and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ…”
And God has put His Word in the mouths of men! We need each other so that God’s Word can be spoken into our lives – we “meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.” God lets us do this by giving us community!
That said, the model of many “Christian” communities today is much different. Instead of explaining the necessity of understanding Christ and salvation, we want numbers, seekers, and open doors – none of which are bad things in themselves, but if we forget the essence of the community that reflects God’s design we are dancing in dangerous territory. Even the word community has become stale in its overuse – people understand the need for relationships, but the application outside of its original, biblical context leaves present- ‘Christian community members’ lacking what true Christian community should produce.
Too many churches try to promote and encourage Christian community without first understanding that true Christian community exists with believers in Jesus Christ, where their fellowship is firmly founded. This, more than anything else, will draw seekers. The first church in the book of Acts engaged in radical community and they added to their number daily! But, they did not set out to dazzle the critics or duplicate their non-believing counterparts… No, they were clearly about the Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made for each one of their souls. There is no better way to be relevant or culturally sensitive than to share the miracle of God’s grace in salvation and His grace in allowing His children fellowship in a community.
This is getting quite lengthy (not surprising). It is at these times I can sympathize with our straw friend the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz who so desperately wanted a brain. I feel as if I’m running after something that will always be just out of my reach. Yet, even as it slips out another time, I am blessed to have glimpsed, even partially, the fleeting thoughts because I know that they are part of a Truly bigger whole.
I will hopefully return to this soon!