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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Community

Many thanks to Dave Clark and Jim Jenkins for several of the ideas that have gone into this post.


We have, it seems to me, grown far too comfortable with present arrangements.

A friend told me years ago that we in America today tend to view life as a TV dinner. Life is this neatly divided tray – one section holds work, one section holds home, one section holds recreation, one section holds church or “religion”, and so on. The Biblical worldview, he taught, views life as a pot pie – every element is mixed together. He was attempting to emphasize the fact that my relationship with Christ isn’t contained merely in the “church” area of my life, but that it has to do with every area of life. This is a common theme among Evangelical teachers nowadays. Biblical Worldview is sort of the hot topic, with innumerable books and study programs to go with it.

“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matt. 22:37-40). One area where this recent approach to understanding the Scripture has seemed to fail thus far (in my limited experience) is that it, like what was being taught in Evangelicalism prior, fails to address, among other things, the huge problem of Western Individualism. In the pot pie scheme, I have the different areas of my life neatly divided, with no crisscrossing of the various areas. That includes no crisscrossing of the individuals in each area, for the most part. Everybody knows where the lines are drawn, except for the few individuals who don’t get it for whatever reason and sort of struggle to deal with it. In the new Worldview setup, my relationship to Christ affects everything. So my business ethics are shaped by the Scriptures, my recreational time is shaped by the Scriptures, my home life is shaped by the Scriptures, and so on. But the various areas of my life still remain divided. This is most evident in the relationships I have. I have people I work with. Then I have my family. I have my friends I hang out with, some of which don’t even know each other exist. Then there are the people at church, with whom I have the common refrain, “See you next Sunday.”

At this point, let me head a more personal direction. Does this strike anyone else as a bit odd? I recognize that an element of this is inevitable. If I were married, I would rather not have a situation where anyone could just come in and jump in the bed while my wife and I were sleeping at night. And I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about walking out of the bathroom after taking a shower in the morning to find half a dozen of my friends have let themselves into my house and are watching TV in my den.

Nonetheless, I do think what we are missing is a genuine sense of community. The Church should be the first to take the steps in correcting this. The Scriptures, after all, are full of admonitions to love one another, and they give us concrete examples and straightforward directions on the ways this should take place. What I see instead in the Church is that Christians are continuing their love affair with all the things that separate us. A good analogy here is C. S. Lewis’s statements about people being so used to making mud pies in the slum that they can’t imagine what it would be like to have a holiday by the sea. A similar analogy would be that a person who has only ever had a cheeseburger couldn’t imagine what a filet mignon tastes like. People who don’t have community have something they’re missing, but they might not even know they’re missing it. It’s something you have to experience to understand.

I’ve become aware that in some corners of the Church there has been an attempt to emphasize community. The attempts I’ve seen, however, have usually carried with it cult-like elements, such as the uber-leader who seems to have a direct connection to God that no one else has, or else clearly contains heretical teachings, such as the denial of penal substitution among the Amish. These sorts of things are common knowledge, to the point that if you told somebody you were moving someplace to live with a group of people, most people would look at you wide eyed and wonder when you fell off your rocker.

In the orthodox churches attempts have been made to correct this through home groups, cell groups, and other local church involvement. While these things can bring some semblance of community, they are destined to be a big failure unless they can morph into something more like real community. Being involved in programs at church is the exact opposite of true community. When the program is over, you and I go back to our “normal lives” (that is, in fact, what we call them). And our normal lives don’t involve one another. And while the Bible may be studied in these groups, real relationships can’t be based only on studying the Bible. Community is about living life together.

Church leaders may seek to take care of single people by getting them busy doing things. But this philosophy is the same thinking that says if I fill my stomach with enough vitamin supplements, I won’t be hungry for real food. I think we all know that wouldn’t work. And in my experience, this only lasts until the person either burns out and leaves the church all together (bars are far more fun and have more community) or gets married. In the marrying case, that of course ends all church involvement altogether, except for Sunday morning attendance (well, most Sundays, anyway). It is no doubt different being married, with the added responsibilities of caring for your spouse and children. But I’m convinced that married people need community with people outside of their family too, though it may not be immediately evident to them.

I don’t know all the answers to these problems. I know the segregation of people according to age and marital status is a huge part of this. I know that the influence of commercialism on the church is a big problem. But you can’t make people be a community. You can’t make people do anything, for that matter. I do know my calling is to obey the “two commandments”, though working this out in practice is often hard. And I find in my own life a growing used to things to the point that I have given up on much of what I once hoped for in these matters. That being said, I will no doubt raise the question of community on a regular basis on this blog anyway. May the Lord have mercy on us all and guide us in understanding and applying His word.

1 Comments:

Anonymous William Chad Newsom said...

This is a good and thoughtful post, with the honesty to admit that answers are hard to come by. I think that genuine community, even in the church, is, at this point, at least a generation or two away, but we may be able to at least lay the foundations of building such community in our time. Perhaps we will enjoy some of the fruit of this labour, in our dotage, if nothing else. It's a long journey to that place, so it's best to start sooner rather than later. Much discussion is needed, to avoid such problems as the doctrine/cult temptations Kerry mentioned. Talking about all this may seem like a very small step, but it is a beginning, anyway.

4:59 PM  

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