the weblog of Alan Knox

The depths of community…

Posted by on Sep 6, 2007 in community, spirit/holy spirit, unity | 13 comments

Today, it is fashionable to talk about community. Everyone wants community. Followers of Jesus Christ want community. People who do not follow Jesus Christ want community. In discussing the desire of “the younger generation” for community, Dallas Willard said:

That’s an expression of their loneliness. But most of them don’t know what community means because community means assuming responsibility for other people and that means paying attention and not following your own will but submitting your will and giving up the world of intimacy and power you have in the little consumer world that you have created. They are lonely and they hurt. They don’t know why that they think community might solve that, but when they look community in the face and realize that it means raw, skin to skin contact with other people for whom you have become responsible…that’s when they back away. (HT: Provocative Church)

If Willard is correct, and I tend to think he is correct at this point, then I must qualify my earlier statements. Everyone wants community, as long as the community is comfortable for them and of immediate benefit for them. People are willing to pay the price for a certain kind of community, as long as there is a tangible return on their investment. However, once the cost becomes too high, or the return becomes too small, then we naturally return to self-sufficiency and self-reliance and leave the community to fend for itself.

What is the cause of “backing away”, as Willard calls it? What causes the cost of community to become too prohibitive or the return from the community to become too small? There can be only one answer: sin. And, not the sin in the community, although sin will always be present within the community – we should never be surprised about that. No, it is the sin of the individual that causes him or her to “back away”.

Whether this sin manifests itself in self-centeredness, selfishness, anger, impatience, etc., the root of the sin is almost always pride. It is pride that causes the individual to consider himself and his desires and his opinions above and more important than the others within the community.

There is a depth to community that can only be plumbed through the empowerment and submission to the person of the Holy Spirit. The scriptural exhortations to consider others as better than yourselves, to confess your sins to one another, to accept and welcome one another, to bear with and forgive one another, to care for and give to one another, and – as Jesus put it – to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him can only be understood and realized via the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the life of a child of God.

There is a misconception that community is built around uniformity: people who believe alike, act alike, respond alike, desire alike, etc. However, uniformity will not create the type of community in which God calls us to live. This is evident in the constant exhortation for believers to bear with one another, forgive one another, have patience with one another, and consider others as more important than themselves. Thus, the authors of Scripture recognize that there would be relational frictions between believers. This relational frictions Willard describes above by the phrase “raw, skin to skin contact”. The way that someone responds to relational frictions demonstrates whether or not they are living in a Spirit-enabled, Spirit-empowered community, or if they desire to live in a uniform community.

People normally and naturally respond to relational friction with anger, impatience, divisiveness, selfishness, defensiveness, pride, etc. These responses are manifestations of sin. This type of response may reduce relational friction, but it will not maintain community.

However, through the indwelling and enabling of the Holy Spirit, it is (super)-naturally possible to respond to relational friction with understanding, acceptance, patience, humility, forbearance, perseverance, and even joy. This type of response will not immediately reduce the relational friction, but it will maintain community. In fact, true community is only possible in the presence of relational friction and a Spirit-controlled response to that relational friction.

Let me say that again: true community is only possible when those within the community – or at least a majority of those within the community – respond to relational friction through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Also, if there is no relational friction, then there is no community. There are either surface acquaintances, with the real friction hidden beneath, or a cult-like uniformity where those who disagree are excluded from the “community”. Neither of these is a community.

If we want to determine whether or not we are living in a Spirit-led, Spirit-enabled community with other believers, we can begin by examining how we respond to relational friction, that is to “raw, skin to skin contact”. If we respond by demanding our rights, privileges, wants, expectations, etc. then we are not living in community, but we are allowing sin to hinder our relationship with other believers, which demonstrates that sin is also hindering or relationship with God. If, on the other hand, we respond to relational friction in Spirit-created humility, joyfully allowing others to usurp our rights, privileges, wants, expectations, etc. then we are demonstrating that we are maintaining the community of the Spirit.

One thing before I finish this post: It is not the goal of the believer or a group of believers to create or maintain community. Instead, it is the goal of believers to demonstrate their love for God by loving others. As believers demonstrate their love for God by loving other believers in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, then Spirit-created community will ensue. Also, as believers demonstrate their love for God by loving non-believers in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit-enabled mission will ensue. Either way, the goal is to love God by loving others.


13 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-6-2007

    That’s the “one another” challenge in a nutshell.

    However, you said:
    Let me say that again: true community is only possible when those within the community – or at least a majority of those within the community – respond to relational friction through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

    I’ll attest that it can begin with only a few in that community. It’s happening here. It does take a great deal of patience. But God can use a few in the community to change the whole thing.

    All together now, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going. . .”

  2. 9-6-2007

    David,

    Yes, I think that community can begin with a few. Many times, there will be a larger number of “acquaintances” (I’m not sure what term to use) hanging around a community, perhaps even playing the part of community. However, it is during those times of relational friction that we see who is actually part of the community, and who is only hanging around the community.

    This does not mean that we exclude those who are not part of the community. Instead, I would suggest that it is important for those who are part of the community to welcome and accept others, even if they are not welcomed and accepted in return.

    But, you are correct. God can use a small group of Spirit-led individuals to foster a desire for community within a larger group. Whether or not those in the larger group becomes part of the community or not depends upon whether or not they are willing to submit to the Spirit and humbly respond to relational friction.

    -Alan

  3. 9-7-2007

    great post, thanks Alan! The irony is that to be in a community is to practice being in community and so many people therefore refuse to even jump that fence…

  4. 9-7-2007

    thanks for the shout out.

    bill from provocative church

  5. 9-7-2007

    Paul,

    So true. Thanks for the comment.

    Bill,

    My pleasure.

    -Alan

  6. 9-7-2007

    Great stuff. I pray more and more will awaken to these truths.

  7. 9-7-2007

    Is there any application that we can draw from Jesus’ practice of community?

    (this is a very rough sketch)

    John – the disciple that Jesus loved

    Peter, James and John – inner circle, viewed transfiguration

    12 Apostles – broader inner circle, heard deepest teachings, explanation of parables

    Disciples – outer circle, heard parables, followed

    The crowds – gathered, some became disciples, some did not

    In a healthy church, there will probably be many “communities”. The test is upon those who are genuinely part of the “community” to hang in there during the relational friction with those who aren’t.

    The tendency that I have seen is that those who think they “get it” to insulate themselves from those who don’t. The call of the gospel is for those who “get it” to remain faithfully connected in love to those who may just sort of “get it”. Those who say they “get it” and then withdraw to their own community don’t get it.

  8. 9-7-2007

    Here is a description of Spirit filled Christian community worth pondering.

    “He explained that, in the world, the powerful are as it were on top of the pyramid, controlling and oppressing the many social strata of people beneath them. In Christ, however, this pyramid was inverted, so that all the weight of humanity’s oppression fell upon His shoulders. The saints, Father Zacharias pointed out, willingly “go down” to identify with Christ and bear the burden of the world’s sorrow. They undertake to suffer with Him the pain of humanity’s alienation from God and subjection to sin.”

    The heart of a Spirit filled community is a forgiveness that is willing to take on oneself the burden of the sins of others without trying to shift the pain caused by that sin back where it came from. We can bear this burden when it rests, not on us but on Christ in us.

  9. 9-7-2007

    Bryan,

    I also pray that God keeps teaching me these truths.

    David,

    Thank you especially for your last two paragraphs. They are excellent additions to this post! Those living in community by the power of the Spirit must be willing to accept those who are not.

    C Grace,

    Thank you for your comment also. It is another excellent addition to this post! You are absolutely right that the Spirit inverts everything.

  10. 10-14-2009

    Bro. Alan,

    I was sent this article by Bro. Lionel and I had the following two responses which he said I should send to you. Respond at your leisure:

    1st Response:

    “Perhaps I missed the point but is this saying that unless we aren’t getting along and not agreeing then we don’t have community. Must we constantly be disagreeing and “rubbing each other the wrong way” in order to have authentic community? That doesn’t sound right to me. That’s my initial reaction.”

    2nd Response:

    “We’ve had some “doctrinal” disagreement but it’s never gotten disagreeable. I’ve had to encourage others to share their views even if they were different from mine because we all come from a background where that was a big no-no. But nobody has left feeling as though they weren’t heard or that their views were not respected. The article seems to suggest that the only true community is where the Hatfields and McCoys reside. I guess I just didn’t get it.”

  11. 10-14-2009

    Lawrence,

    The point of this article is to stick together in spite of differences and disagreements. In other words, and in answer to your “1st Response”, we should all be doing exactly what you said you are doing in your “2nd Response”.

    There is a tendency to leave a group when disagreements or relational friction starts. However, if we work through this relational friction (or perhaps “love through”) we will find deeper community developing. What I had in mind is exactly what you described in your “2nd Response”.

    Like you said, it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

    -Alan

  12. 10-14-2009

    Bro. Alan,

    Thank you for clarifying. I missed the forest for the trees. :-)!

  13. 12-29-2011

    Alan: Saw that you posted this oldie but goodie today…thanks for it!

    I love your “friction” metaphor: Friction can produce energy and it can also transform that which comes into friction with the other.

    My concern is that while I think it is important to not be overly attached to our own opinions, wants and needs, we can end up avoiding this necessary friction by being overly submissive and agreeable. There are times when we need to hold our ground, or at least challenge others, if necessary transformation is to take place. Otherwise, we may end up in a situation where one faction in a church, or at least several members, constantly get their own way just because others are assuming a position of (possibly false) humility.

    I absolutely agree that we should not seek to fellowship only with those who think like us, act like us and are like us. By developing friction within a community we not only give ourselves and each other the opportunity for transformation, but we also force ourselves to slow down. Instead of pressing ahead and making quick decisions, we end up doing the work of building community through friction: Exchanging views, experiencing tension, negotiating, and perhaps developing new understandings of both each other and the situation at hand.

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