A few months ago, I posted a blog called “Community of what?” In this post I suggested that the kind of community that people need is only found through a common relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. I concluded that post by saying:
I believe that Christian community must be built upon our shared existence in Jesus Christ through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Anything else may be community, but is it the community that we need?
As I have been thinking about this, I’ve realized how easy it is to attempt to build community on anything other than our shared existence – shared life – in Jesus Christ. For example, consider the following definitions of “community” from Princeton’s wordnet:
- A group of people living in a particular local area.
- Common ownership.
- A group of nations having common interests.
- Agreement as to goals.
- A district where people live; occupied primarily by private residences.
- A group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region and interacting with each other.
In each of these definitions, those who are living in community share something in common, whether it is a location, or a possession, or an interest, or a goal. These last two (sharing interests or goals) can encompass many different concepts: such as personalities, ideologies, religious affiliations, hobbies, political parties, profession, etc.
Thus, community can be created around any of these concepts. And, as long as people are creating community, then they must agree upon the focus of that community – in other words, they must agree (either intentionally or unintentionally) upon the commonality shared by the group.
Many groups of believers claim (and believe) that their community is built upon their common relationship through God – that is, they are a community because they are family in Christ. They state that what they share in common is God himself. However, circumstances sometimes demonstrate that this is not reality.
For example, a popular (or unpopular) leader leaves, and the community falls apart. For some, this indicates that the community was based on a personality – an individual. Or, perhaps the community falls apart when a certain activity is stopped or started. This indicates that the community was based on a common activity. Other things have caused communities to fail: music styles, preaching/teaching styles, building concerns, finances, new (different) people. There are many ways that communities fall apart, and in each case, whatever causes the community to fall apart is the very thing on which the community was based – the thing which the people shared in common and in which they found their being – whether this is acknowledged or not.
Unfortunately, when people build community, they have no choice other than building the community around something that they share in common. When that thing is lost, the community fails. People become responsible for building the community, maintaining the community, and protecting the community.
When God builds community, he builds it around himself. The community may participate in a common activity (teaching, prayer, singing, etc.), but the activity does not define the community. If the activity ceases or changes, the community continues. The community may have a common goal (discipleship, missions, evangelism, etc.), but the goal does not define the community. If the goal changes, the community continues. The community may have popular and/or unpopular leaders, but the leaders do not define the community. When the leadership changes, the community continues.
When God builds community, he builds it around himself. If everything is removed except God himself, the community continues. Why? Because God is responsible for building, maintaining, and protecting the community through the work of the Holy Spirit.
How can we tell if we are living in a community built by God, or a community built by people? If removing or changing anything (other than God) would cause the community to collapse, then the community is not built by and upon God, the community is not being maintained by God, or the community is not protected by God.