Trudging through old posts on community for a message I am working on, I ran across some quotes from Living In Christian Community by Arthur Gish.
Nothing can state my experience with Christian community like the introduction by his wife, Peggy Gish. It stirred up emotions of excitement and encouragement in me.
Here are some excerpts from her intro.
When Art and I began to talk about the need for Christian community in ourlives, it was mainly theoretical for us. Yet we felt moved in that direction and we began seeking. It was only after living and sharing more closely with other Christians that the concepts took flesh. We began to see and understand more than with our minds what community meant - but also with our hearts and innermost beings.
Not only did the church become alive to me, but I also found myself challenged to examine and deepen my own faith and commitment to God. I began to experience much more the daily leading of the living Christ in my personal life and in the corporate life of the Christian fellowship. The Scripture began to speak more directly and authoritatively to me.
I began to see that so much of the gospel does not really make sense taken in fragments, as concepts, or "Christian principles." It must be understood and experienced in a loving, sharing, deeply committed community of believers who daily lay down their lives for each other. Apart from such a fellowship, so much of what Jesus calls us to seems impractical and impossible to live out. It has been exciting and encouraging in our pilgrimage to discover groups of Christians who, in spite of their human weakness and imperfection, have been living out their faith together with real depth and power."
This book touches on what many are currently missing in their church experiences. The same passion that causes me to long for community was the same passion that God used to prompt me to plant the DC3 in Lansing. It's the same passion that made us focus on being an Acts 2:42 church in Antwerp. It will be a passion I carry with me as I leave and move on to Redford as their Community Life Pastor. I long for Christian community, not for Christian community's sake, but for the sake of the glory of God.
Too often we try to do Christianity alone. It shows up in our evangelism when we try to convince people of a belief statement in order for them to attain a personal salvation. That just isn't what following Jesus should be like. Our faith should be lived out in community as a group of believers. I discovered in Lansing, when living in Christian community that witnessing came naturally when living a collective faith. It is joining that physical, tangible Kingdom that makes one a Christian, not individually adhering to a set of belief statements and practicing the spiritual disciplines in the privacy of your home or at your favorite spot.
Now, I have to use a disclaimer here. The church really doesn't fully exhibit the Kingdom of God. The church is a collection of sinfuly yet redeemed people striving in their best way to follow Jesus. Some are genuine, some are mediocre, and some are even fake Christians.
It has always been my goal in life to be in a group of fellow followers striving for perfection. A group of people who are striving to bring God's kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. A group from which I can tell seekers, "View the faith of anyone in this church and see what it means to be a follower of Christ. This is the Kingdom of God. Welcome and see God."
Back to Peggy Gish's introduction:
To some, what is written here may sound idealistic. That has been a common criticism of radical Christianity. For me it is a living reality that I have seen, touched, and tasted. God really does give people the strength to live out the new life that is offered to us. Although still very human and imperfect, genuine community is possible for all who will open their lives totally to God's love.
Another reason for not seeing this as idealistic is that, not only down through history, but also today, many communities are actually trying to live by the Sermon on the Mount, are living in peace and unity, and are demonstrating for the rest of the world the reality of God's kingdom...However, while seeing some validity in it, most have not seen such an approach to Christianity as alive, compelling and practical option.
This view of Christian community is radical for many. Living in it is contrary to the common thinking of people about church. We'll hear, "All that matters is one's individual salvation." "There really isn't a tangible church; it is invisible." These are almost necessary lies to hold due to the sorry state of the church around us. However, they don't help foster lifechanging community. Living our lives as if those statements are true is stifling the growth of the Kingdom of God. If we want to see a revival in our towns, cities, nation, or the world, then we need to see the church become the Church. There is no scriptural basis for an invisible church. Contrast that with the often ignored yet pervasive biblical teachings about the physical Kingdom of God, the Church.
In light of this blessing of community which is offered to us, and all the biblical emphasis in this direction, it is curious that a tendency in Protestant thinking from the Reformation period to the present has been to maintain that the true church is invisible. Many Protestanst today do not even have a doctrine of the church. For them salvation is individual and, at most, there can be a gathering of individual Christians for praise and edification, but little sense of the visible, coprorate body of Christ.I like that. The church is "a necessary consequence of faith." Let us grow in faith to the point where community is just a natural consequence.
Protestantism has been weak in the whole area of its vision of the church. The Reformation was more concerned with reform of worship and doctrine than the nature of the church. Many popular revival preachers openly suggest that new converst go to any existing church which suits their fancy. The implication seems to be that there are not many differences between groups, or that these differences are not important. The emphasis in the Bibles is on a visible community of faith. There is no mention of an invisible church in the New Testament nor any suggestion that the true church is the invisible collection of individual, pure Christians around the world. Although the church certainly has a spiritual foundation and nature, this is expressed in her social character and cannot be separated from it. Rather than"an external support of faith" (Calvin), the church is a necessary consequence of faith."