Community Is A Natural Consequence

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.

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."
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.

Jesus Is That Hungry Person

Article from NPR on the Homeless Jesus statue: Statue Of A Homeless Jesus Startles A Wealthy Community

Quote is from From Brokenness to Community by Jean Vanier.

"Those with whom Jesus identifies himself are regarded by society as misfits. And yet Jesus is that person who is hungry; Jesus is that woman who is confused and naked. Wouldn’t it be extraordinary if we all discovered that? The face of the world would be changed. We would then no longer want to compete in going up the ladder to meet God in the light, in the sun and in beauty, to be honored because of our theological knowledge. Or if we did want knowledge, it would be because we believe that our knowledge and theology are important only so long as they are used to serve and honor the poor.”

Shaping Our Souls: On Contagious Christianity, Parenting, Smut Novels, and the Importance of the Church

Who are we going to strive to be like?

This is a question we should all ask. Whether we consciously ask it or not, the life we experience is shaped by our answer to this question.

Oh, we could be arrogant and say that we are just going to be ourselves. But it is foolish to think that we are even capable of such of an act. (See Tony Campolo's You Are An Onion for an example).

I recently went to a church conference and sat through some workshops on preaching. One of the things that the experts noted, particularly Andy Stanley, was that when they listen to a younger preacher, they can tell who the preacher listens to regularly because he will often follow the same rhythms and preaching style of that preacher. A young preacher subconsioucly mimics the preacher he listens to.

You can see the same thing with a young athlete. Same poses and mannerisms are adopted.

We do the same in life. We mimic that which we surround ourselves with.

We become what we see around us unless we consciously understand that what we see around us isn't what we should be like and deliberately fight to be something better.

This is why prayer, church involvement, and Bible study is so important. They are ancient practices that still work today. Through them, we surround ourselves with the things that we should be.

It is inevitable that we will change. Culture is pulling at us. Friends are pulling at us. Family. Neighbors. Traditions. Everything is trying to shape us. Not every change will make us better, yet change is necessary for life to become better. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, "Life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change." He is right in pointing out that life will only get better through change, yet we also know that life can get worse through change.

Back to opening question. Who are we going to strive to be like? What are we going to change into?

We have to make a deliberate decision and a concerted effort to change into Jesus if we claim to be His followers.

Or we can just let society morph us into what it wants. Because it gladly will.

Jesus or society?

This is one reason why good parenting among Christians is so important. There are many forces in our society attempting to change our children. We, parents, are given the responsibility to help keep our children steered in the right direction. Just like us, our children will stumble and make mistakes; we just have to be there to help guide them back toward Jesus. So many things are tugging at their souls to control them, and they haven't quite learned the defense mechanisms against the sinful pleasures and apathy of this world. To be honest, we, adults, still struggle with defending our souls against the alluring things of this world. Again, this is why church involvement, prayer, and Bible study are so important. We are called to maturity in Christ.

A kid will see a weak faith in their parents and discard the faith altogether. Faking the faith doesn't work for kids. If we want our children to be strong in the Lord, then we need to be strong in the Lord. This includes loving the unlovable. This includes being part of a church. This includes spending time talking about the things of God in our houses. Kids, as they age into and through their teen years, aren't going to fake anything. So if we're faking Christianity, it's not going to stick with them.

This doesn't just apply to parents raising their kids. What we focus on, allowing it to change us, is contagious. Our focus will influence our children, our neighbors, and our co-workers. Who we are inevitably influences those around us. Humans are naturally contagious. The focus that we give lip service to isn't inevitably contagious; it's the focus that we actually center our lives around that those around us will catch.

Someone in a group of people will start liking smut novels, and they will pass them around. Trying to influence others to enjoy the things they enjoy.

Someone in a group will start serving others, and they will then try to get those around them to join in. Sadly, it's easier to get people to like smut novels than it is to get people to join in on serving others.

Someone in a group will start doing a drug, and they will try to convince their friends to join in. This is the way addictions are spread.

Someone will find a new favorite author, television show, or movie and try to get others to enjoy it with them. Yet they find a Savior and want to keep it a secret.

When someone really falls in love with Jesus -- not just faking it -- they will try to get those around them to join in. Unfortunately, following Jesus is often a charade rather than the lifechanging, soul inspiring journey that it should be, and people are more often willing to convince others of a drug they enjoy rather than the love of Jesus they claim yet fail to know.

So let's recognize that we're going to change. The question is whether we are going to deliberately change into who God wants us to be or whether we are going to just let circumstances and our surrounding culture to morph us into what they wants us to be.

Are we committed to Jesus and church? Modern society likes to separate those commitments, but the Apostle Paul didn't separate them. We also would be well served not to. Jesus gave gifts to the church because we were made to live in community with each other. Our brothers and sisters in Jesus will help us change into Him if we are humble enough to allow that. Being part of the body of believers -- more than just attending a worship gathering -- is how those who are committed to Jesus help others change into Jesus.

Paul says that Jesus should be who we strive to be like and that he has equipped people in the church to help us do just that.
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NLT)
Being part of the body of Jesus is essential to being in Jesus. It's essential if we want to strive to be like him. Let us stop trying to follow Jesus without regularly gathering with other believers. Let us continue or begin to be intentional about studying, praying, worshiping, and serving together. We were made to be a body, with one head, growing together.