Sunday, April 18, 2010

What is Community?

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 1Cor 1:10

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. Acts 2:42

And all that believed were together, and had all things common; Acts 2:44

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. Acts 2:46-47

What is community? The first Christians apparently understood the community life of believers. It was ingrained in their lives. Being Jews, they had a strong-group world view. Joseph Hellerman in his book When the Church was a Family, defines strong-group perspective this way: "In a strong-group society the person perceives himself of herself to be a member of a group and responsible to the group for his or her actions, destiny, career, development and life in general." In the typical Jewish home fathers were the heads of the homes. Wives were the caretakers of the home, and children were to hearken to the words of the fathers. Family ties were strong. The family took precedence over individual desires. It was normal for siblings to make decisions not based on what they wanted to do with their lives, but what was best for the family.

This commitment to family was taken one step further to the community. Families helped other families. They supported one another. So when we read in Acts that the first believers were "with one accord", "were together", "had all things in common", it was not something that was uncommon for their culture. They had simply stepped out of one "family" and into the "Family of God". They understood the strong-group family perspective.

Jesus illustrates this clearly in the account from Matthew below:

"While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." Mt. 12:46-48

Here Jesus broke with the blood family and established God's family. Since people of that time already understood strong-group family culture, it was not a difficult shift for them to embrace their new family of believers. Now, the blood of Jesus was what tied the family together not their earthly family blood. For those of us in the west, this is not our culture nor is it our lifestyle. We are very independently minded and individual focused; not community focused. So for the most part you do not see much community life in Christianity. We attend our buildings on Sunday mornings and sit in our pews. Then we go back and do whatever we do. There is very little interaction outside of the building.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with a building. When believers gather, unless you meet under a tree, in a cave or under the stars, there is going to be a building or structure involved. However, what most of us do is have very little interaction with one another outside of the meeting place. Does the church recognize this need for community? How important then is community? The apostle Paul seems to make it clear that the main purpose for the saints to gather together was for mutual edification. See Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Cor 14:26, Col 3:16. Each one of these verses speaks to the saints teaching, admonishing, considering, loving, encouraging, and edifying one another. None of this generally happens while sitting in a pew. There has to be more.

Our lives as believers need to be intertwined with one another. If we look at your standard church corner First Church USA, ask yourself what is important to these churches. Examine what they do and you will find the answer easy. Nice buildings are very important. Having a preacher or pastor is very important. Singing songs and preaching sermons are very important. But, if you eliminate even one of these things, First Church USA will struggle. It's like a three-legged stool. It will tip over if you remove one leg.

Church life is so much more than having a meeting on Sunday morning, or even Sunday and Wednesday evening. If your family is not intimately involved with other saints on a regular basis you are missing out on one of the greatest blessings God has for us as believers. Ask yourself the following questions:

Define or what is a healthy family?

Define or what is healthy community?

Can you have healthy family without healthy community?

Can you have healthy community without healthy families?

Why do believers need community?

How does culture affect community and family?