I must confess there are some words I absolutely hate. One of them is ‘community’. It’s not that this word is inherently evil in any way, it’s just that it has become a word we Christians use to alleviate ourselves of the responsibility of submission, obedience and obeisance to God. I hate the word because ‘community’ has become the latest Christian buzzword that is touted as being the solution to church lethargy despite the fact that it means nothing.
To use another Christian buzzword, let’s unpack the idea of community, shall we? I decided to do this after working on some research a couple of weeks ago. The research in question led me to a video of a Christian conference held last year after which participants were interviewed about their impressions of what they had learned. If I had a dollar for every time I heard the word ‘community’ in that video I would be a very wealthy man. But here’s the problem: lots of people talk about community without ever defining it.
For the record, here is an abridged definition of the word according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (follow link if you want to see the entire definition):
“A unified body of individuals as a state, commonwealth; the people with common interests living in a particular area; an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location; a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society; a group linked by a common policy; a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests; a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society .”
In a very broad sense I can understand how a church is a community of sorts, based on the commonality of salvation in Jesus and Biblical doctrine. But ‘being’ a community is not the same as ‘doing’ community. And therein lies the rub. Far too many of our churches are focused on doing community as though it is some spiritual tonic that will turn lazy, non-committed Christians into powerhouse believers ready to turn the world upside down.
I’ve got news for you: it’s not going to work.
The idea of community as a purpose for ministry is nothing more than a reason to continue the hipster, metro-sexual church practices that are the norm today. Focusing on community rather than submission to the Almighty God may produce church members who feel good about themselves, but not the kinds of Christians that stand in the face of adversity and declare their allegiance to the King.
What a Church Should Look Like
I suspect that the idea of community is taken from the book of Acts, specifically the last six verses of chapter 2. As the thinking goes the community of believers should spend time together, talk together, have meals together, support one another, meet one another’s needs, etc. Don’t get me wrong, all of this is true. But those who push for community leave out some very important things described in Acts 2:42-47:
42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
46 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,
47 Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Did you notice the first thing these new church members did, as listed in verse 42? They continued in the apostles doctrine and fellowship. The single most important thing any church family can do is study doctrine together. Jesus himself said that the Word of God is truth, and that it sanctifies us (Jn. 17:17). He told his disciples to continue in his word and, in doing so, they would know the truth and be set free by it (Jn. 8:32).
Today’s church community treats God’s Word and the doctrine it contains as no more important than the latest streaming video on YouTube. It is not diligently studied as it should be; rather it is used as an overview of basic principles that can be combined with modern psychology and marketing methods in order to grow a church.
After doctrine comes the breaking of bread and prayers. And what follows these? Fear. A combination of doctrine, breaking of bread, prayers and a fear of the Lord created a church that looks like what many of today’s Christian leaders are hoping to achieve. The difference is that they were willing to put the effort into doctrine, breaking of bread and prayers while today’s Christians want to skip all three and head right to community.
I have been thinking a lot on the idea of community lately because, from my understanding of the Scriptures, it cannot be justified according to modern interpretations. What we call community looks nothing like what Scripture describes. A church that has no regard for holiness or sanctification is not a church that fits the Acts 2 model. A church that has no regard for the authority of the Word does not fit the Acts 2 model. The church that ignores doctrine, refuses to call sin what it is, and fails to worship God in genuine humility and obeisance is not an Acts 2 church. It is a social organization with the primary goal of generating positive emotions.
The best way I can describe my perceptions of the modern church is by referring to it as “Christian psychotherapy”. Today’s church is all about making us feel good about ourselves and our place in the world. We want encouragement without criticism, joy without sorrow, progress without struggle, growth without sacrifice, favor without humility and results without effort.
If you believe in the modern concept of community, I challenge you to justify it Scripturally. And when I say justify it, I don’t mean with just one or two verses taken out of context to prove your point. Any truth you can find in Scripture can be justified in multiple places throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
If you can justify modern community, then have at it. I can’t.