Some time back during a group retreat we discussed a topic of Christian community. I will decided to put my prepared material on this blog in three parts; today is Part 1.
Christian community – big picture
1) What is community according to God? Since God as a Trinity is already a community, we can learn a lot about human community by first looking at God’s own. First human community was created male and female, to reflect the nature of God. Two factors united trinity into community – communication inside and common mission to outside. So the first human community was given a common task – take care of each other (inside mission) and tend the garden of Eden (outside mission). So we can define God’s created human community as a group of male and female people united under God to care for each other and to have a common mission/goal that benefits the creation. These features will become more evident in the way God builds his community in the Bible.
2) Human community in the Bible
The fall led to several community problems – broken relationship between people and God, and between people within the community. Yet, what does the broken community do first? It builds cities, see Gen 4-11. The truth is, we cannot live without community, even when our sin makes us selfish. Sin can make us have wrong reasons to join a community (to feel better about ourselves, to make our life more comfortable, safe), but everyone of us deep inside has need for community. Child’s brain does not develop properly unless he is touched, hugged, kissed by their parents, no matter how much other stimuli you provide. Try enjoying something precious without ever showing it to anybody else. Try not depending on somebody else’s opinion. You can’t! We are made to live in a community.
What does the broken community do next? It seeks God, trying to reverse the effect of the fall on their own strength. Both community building and seeking God culminates in the tower of Babel story. Yet God sends a resounding “No” by confusing people with many languages in Gen 11. People can neither restore community on their own nor restore their relationship with God on their own. Why not? Because trying to be independent from God, and trying to resolve the problem on their own strength was the essence of Adam’s sin that has caused the problem in the first place. No, the restoration must be initiated by God alone. And that’s exactly what he does by appearing to Abraham in Gen 12.
Since then, God was working on restoring the community. Note that his promise to Abraham was that he will become a seed for many nations – a new community. God had to intervene for that to happen, to make sure that this action could not have been accomplished by any human effort. Next, God appeared to Moses and again had to intervene to bring Israelites out of Egypt to become a new community. He then promised David an offspring (Jesus!) to become a beginning of a yet another new community. Jesus started this new community of Christian believers through his sacrifice on the cross and subsequent defeat of death by his resurrection. The new Christian community was no longer limited to a race or a nation. Finally, in the end of time, God will make new Heaven and New Earth, which will finalize the new community.
Understanding this might help us better understand the relationship between salvation and good works. God have saved the Jews from the slavery and then gave them the law. But the law was never supposed to be a way to be saved (they were already saved at that point of time), it was a way to build new community.Similarly, the Christian salvation is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end, which is to create a new community. We are saved by what Jesus has done, but we obey his commands because the ultimate goal is to build a new Christian community with God in the center, made right with God by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes people ask, why go to church? Why can’t we just be individually saved? Because God has never intended this to be the end, only means to an end, which is a new community, a church. Sometimes, we can get busy studying the Bible and yet miss forest for the trees.
In part 2, I will discuss on some of the signs of a healthy Christian community.