The concept of ‘community’ is something I have frequently contemplated, explored, and drawn upon in the context of my job in academia, where much of the work I have done involves community-based research. Many theorists and social scientists have debated the meaning of community – which can be defined and interpreted in various ways and can essentially mean a whole range of things to different people. I love working with people and communities and believe community can be such a force for good. But within the context of what God has been doing in us as a church this year, I have been stirred to consider the concept of community more widely.
Community – as I have already alluded to, is a huge topic, so I am going to try to keep this post short and sweet! However, in doing so, I want to encourage you, if you equally feel passionate or prompted to further explore the Biblical view of community, to do so through prayer, studying the Word, and by faith. God loves to speak to us and bring revelation when we seek Him!
This stirring has partly been in the context of our praying for ‘revival’ over the past year at Powerhouse – our weekly prayer meeting. Like it says on the tin, these Sunday evenings have been powerful, and God has clearly been moving. Along with the recent ‘Foundations’ preaching series, I see 2018 as being a time of ‘refocusing’ of what we are about as Christians and as The Church. Not only has this been renewing, refreshing and life giving, for many of us at times it has been eye opening and challenging, leading to repentance and a fresh outpouring and revelation of God’s love and grace. God has been drawing us closer to partner with Him, involving us to not only experience more of His goodness but to advance His Kingdom.
One of the ways that God has started the journey or process of revival is by exposing idols, which are simply things we put before or above God in our hearts and lives, things we seek or worship more than Him which we hold on to or view as more important than God. There have been many testimonies amongst us of God exposing or revealing what our idols are including comfort, individualism, materialism, pleasure – many of which are a product of, and perpetuated by the Western society in which we live.
I want to pick up on the slightly disguised idol of ‘community’. We might not necessarily view community initially as an obvious idol because it is often seen as a good thing, and a solution to many problems in our society. For example, research shows how loneliness and ‘social disconnection’ is a huge problem in the UK. This is in the context of cities, like Coventry, where more people are living closer together, but are ironically experiencing concerning levels of social isolation, hugely impacting people’s health and wellbeing. So, building community seems like an obvious solution doesn’t it?
When we look at the Bible, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit live in perfect community, and throughout the New Testament we see the importance of being in relationship with other believers (e.g. Acts 2: 42; Hebrews 10: 24-25; Romans 12: 4-5). However, in reality, although we are called to be a body of believers, we need to be aware that the notion of ‘community’ comes with a warning – not only can community be characterised as ‘closed’, ‘defensive’ or ‘inward’ (as opposed to ‘open, ‘reflexive’ or ‘outward’), community can also be self-serving as opposed to servant-hearted (see Matt and James’ recent preaches). The following quotes from two theologians provide further caution:
‘He who loves community will destroy community; he who loves the brethren will build community’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
‘Community without mission is cancerous’ (Tim Keller)
What these statements point towards is making community an idol – one which we need to consider because it is easily concealed; I believe God wants to expose it, like many other idols in our hearts, to make more room for Him in our lives, so He can use us for His awesome and eternal purposes and plans (Ephesians 2: 10; Romans 8: 28-30). Pursuing the new commandment of Jesus – to love one another – is not always easy and requires the work and power of the Holy Spirit in us, but this is what we as Christians and disciples of Jesus, loved by God, are called to do (1 John 4: 7-12). Through doing this, a supernatural community is being built – the glorious Church displaying God’s love and glory and it is a privilege that we are invited to be a part of that.
As Christians, we are called to follow Christ, to be his disciples. God has shown us this year that the only way we can truly do this is by surrendering to Him, believing and accepting His unconditional grace and love for us. It is through this surrender, revelation, and work of the Holy Spirit in us that we can really live out following Jesus, and His commands. As Christians, we are called to ‘seek first the Kingdom (Matthew 6: 33); ‘to preach the good news’ (Mark 16: 15); ‘to make disciples of all the nations’ (Matthew 28: 19) – as well as many other instructions (e.g. see the ‘59 One Anothering verses’ in the New Testament). Moreover, as a church we, by faith, are seeking to live out the prophetic promises of Isaiah 61, which is exciting! In addition to meeting on a Sunday and our day to day lives, there are many ways as a church we are pursuing these things (e.g. Encounter). Another really practical way we do this is through our small groups – where we together live out our faith and mutually build each other up in the truth of who we are in Christ for the sake of 1) living in the fullness of the Kingdom ourselves and 2) partnering with God to see His Kingdom come.
Like Tim Keller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer state, ‘community’, as Christians, has to have a deeper meaning. John (13: 34-35) records Jesus saying, ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another’. Quite rightly, the world should stop and notice our love for one another, but also be prompted to ask why and how we follow God’s instruction to do this – firstly, because we are loved (1 John 4: 19) and live in this freedom, and secondly because of the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit in us (see Acts, Ephesians 3).
We need God to keep working in us individually and as a church. Let’s take every opportunity to join together as a community of believers in seeking God to show us how to live out our faith, to build each other up and encourage each other to be all who are in Christ, and how to be on Kingdom mission together.
Recommended further reading:
Letters to the Church – Francis Chan