the weblog of Alan Knox

Thinking about community again…

Posted by on Jun 19, 2007 in blog links, community | 8 comments

John at “Hungry and Thirsty” wrote a very thought-provoking article called “Dying for Community“. He quotes a Harvard Medical School study which says that loneliness stresses the heart. John says:

And it makes sense. After all, God created us – in His own image; and at His very core, God is community. Described as three persons in one, often referred to as Father, Son, ad Holy Spirit for our understanding, but far beyond the roles those titles embody. Infinite, unified, interpenetrating community. Diversity and unity in an intimacy best demonstrated in perfect marital sex, but still far beyond any such mortal metaphor.

That’s why we long for community so much … Our hearts were made to need it. The deepest longings of our hearts point us to God’s design. They point us to God. They point us to community within God, depending on Him and interdepending on each other.

Apparently, our physical bodies respond to community. As John said, we were made for community. But, not just any kind of community, we were made for a community that finds its center – its reason for being – in the triune, interrelationship of God.

Similarly, Jake from “blue skies and the open road” wrote a post about community called “We Need to Come Together“. Jake also discusses community based on our shared identity in Jesus Christ. He says:

Quoting Hebrews 10:25—“not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near”—Rich points out that this speaks more to the church just meeting together on Sundays for worship. This togetherness needs to pervade the life of the church. I think he’s bang on. Community and fellowship in the church is a hit and miss thing, and far more miss than hit. As the church, we have something that no other group of people has—we have a shared identity in Jesus Christ. This identity brings us together and binds us as brothers and sisters through time and space, nation and culture. It even bridges the gap between Ford and Chevy lovers.

So what went wrong? Why are we more divided today than ever both within our local churches and the church universal? I think a lot of it can be attributed to a lack of understanding of the nature of the church as well as a lack of awareness of our identity. True community is hard to find. There a lot of churches that appear to have community, but don’t. I make it very clear for the record: a clique does not constitute a community. Communities are inclusive, cliques are exclusive. Having firsthand experience with this, I can attest to the dissatisfaction and lack of joy in being a part of a clique, especially being on the outside of it. But this is not even as bad as those churches who suffer from divisions and struggles.

I agree with Jake: Heb 10:25 is not about Sunday meetings, at least it is not only about Sunday meetings. If a group of people only meet together on Sundays, then they do not have community. I also appreciate Jake’s statement that “a clique does not constitute community”. Exclusiveness has no part in the body of Christ.

But, what are we doing when we define church by our membership lists? Are we not excluding members of the body of Christ – members who we need and members who need us? I do not think it would harm the community that finds its identity in Christ if that community opened itself up to all believers. In fact, I think that community would find itself becoming more and more healthy.


8 Comments

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  1. 6-19-2007

    I agree that it is unhealthy to define the church by its membership lists. I see membership more as a descriptive term, rather than a prescriptive term.

    However, I believe that at least some degree of formalization is necessary, based on a confession of faith, in order to carry out the function of body life. Membership carries with it a stated submission to authority in the church. The good stuff in James 5 happens when there is recognition of the roles of elder and member. It doesn’t have to be a clique or a country club mentality in order to recognize membership in a local body.

  2. 6-19-2007

    David,

    I appreciate the comment. You said that “some degree of formalization is necessary”. Can you help me see where Scripture describes the necessity of fomalization based on a confession of faith and submission to authority in the church? I’m assuming that if these are necessary, then they should be clearly explained in Scripture.

    I certainly agree that “it doesn’t have to be a clique or a country club mentality to recognize membership in a local body”. I don’t think we would disagree on that at all, though we might define “membership” a little differently.

    -Alan

  3. 6-20-2007

    Thanks for the link back, Alan.

  4. 6-20-2007

    If I may, I’d like to exchange the word “formalization”. “Recognition” is a better word. Because recognition is necessary. I Corinthians from chapter 11 on describes a lot about membership and body life. If there’s no recognition of who is a member, there’s no way to see who is an apostle, a prophet, a teacher, etc. Not to mention elders and deacons.

    So we don’t have descriptions of formality in scripture. But it is apparent that the churches knew who their members were, both the city churches and the house churches. Elders were chosen to oversee the churches, so if you were a member, you were under their oversight.

    I’m not a Baptist, and so I don’t adhere to the formality that some Baptists support. I have, in fact, argued against it. However, if a church is bigger than, say, the number of people that you can call to mind to pray for at any given time, you’re going to need a list. That’s what I meant by necessary formalization.

  5. 6-20-2007

    David,

    You can certainly change “formalization” to “recognition”. I agree that the believers recognized one another. But, I don’t see anything about a list. Instead, it seems that someone becomes a “member of the body” in 1 Cor 11 and following completely by the work of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps there are others ways to recognize believers than checking for names on a list?

    -Alan

  6. 6-21-2007

    I guess what I would appreciate is a bit more of a thesis. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a church that excludes fellowship with people based on the membership list. Maybe they’re out there.

    Unless I’m mistaken, God doesn’t have a problem with lists and identification (see the book of Numbers). I agree that some churches abuse the idea of membership (club mentality, setting a “high bar” of doctrinal agreement, clearly defined roles, etc). That’s not what I’m advocating here. It also shouldn’t be a bar to fellowship, or even sharing in the Lord’s supper between people from different local (or “house”) churches.

    But in the practical outwork of the body of Christ in its local expression (and I believe that the body of Christ is a practical, real, no-kidding, not-just-“spiritual” reality), we find it useful to the point of necessity to use a list. That’s all I’m saying. I’m not putting forth a scriptural mandate of a particular legal practice. I leave that for the Church of Christ.

    From here, I need you to explain; “Perhaps there are others ways to recognize believers than checking for names on a list?”

    Auras? Dress codes? Secret handshakes? (kidding, but I’d really like it if you were specific)

  7. 6-21-2007

    David,

    First, I agree completely with this statement that you made: “I believe that the body of Christ is a practical, real, no-kidding, not-just-“spiritual” reality”. That is a wonderful statement… I especially like the “no-kidding” part.

    I do not think it is necessary to use a list in the “practical outwork” of this statement, however. In fact, I believe a list actually does nothing for you. From your previous statements, I think that you would agree that just because a person’s name is on a list, it does not mean that person is a part of the body of Christ. And, just because a person’s name is not on a list, it does not mean the person is not part of the body of Christ. The list does not add anything to the working of the body of Christ – unless the list is used to exclude some from fellowship, or allow others to imitate fellowship who are not actually part of the church.

    How do we know if someone is part of the body of Christ? Do they confess Christ? Do they desire to walk with him? Are they maturing in Christ? Are they becoming more like him? Do they love other people? Do they repent when they sin? Are they trusting God and his grace for salvation and sanctification? So, how do we know if someone is part of the body of Christ? We must get to know them.

    -Alan

  8. 6-22-2007

    Alan, Great post and quotes from the other blogs!

    Community is often used by the false to pull people in, though it’s really a facade of and is pseudo-community, since real community finds its true definition and meaning in God.