Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Does our way of life impair community?

Dan Edelen has another excellent post with another provocative title: Is the Organic House Church a Myth? You should read the whole post but Dan observes that in spite of all the talk about organic church life, actually finding this life is pretty difficult for many of us.

I made the following comment on his post:

I have had a somewhat similar experience but I also know of “organic” gatherings that are thriving. As for me, trying to find people who are actually serious about a more organic form of the church has been a struggle. A lot of people are fed up but it seems that inertia just keeps us going.

I think the problem comes in when we try to replace one church model with another church model, without addressing the more important question of community. If we have a community of believers living their lives with one another, the church will happen fairly naturally. if we try to substitute a model of church, even one with lots of Biblical support, for community it is bound to fail.

I know that “community” is an overused word to the point that it has lost most of its meaning. It still is the right word to use to describe what we see in the New Testament and what we should see in the church today. Defining it is one thing, seeing it lived out? Quite another.
Dan replied with an especially good comment:

I have long written on this blog that the New testament demands a way of living that flies in the face of what we consider normal, societal living. Our entire lifestyle in America wars with Christianity. As a result, almost every model of church one tries is either going to be broken by that lifestyle or is going to make for some serious angst should one fight societal norms tooth and nail.

Where it becomes hard is that change only comes if we commit to it and simultaneously address the problems of both church models and societal models. That so few smart Christians are taking on greater societal structures and talking about it publicly makes it hard for the little guy to make gains.

That is borderline blasphemy! “Our entire lifestyle in America wars with Christianity”? Doesn’t he know that America was founded as a Christian nation and all we need to do is get back to our Judeo-Christian roots and all will be well?!

I think Dan is on to something here. If we refuse to really consider the issues caused by our cultural and societal structures, are we ever going to be able to move past religiosity and into community? If my life as a disciple is competing, often very unsuccessfully, with my cultural preferences where is the self-denial, the sacrificial life? Denying yourself flies in the face of American culture while living the American dream while attending church on occasion gives the appearance of the best of both worlds. I get my public piety and get out of hell but I can still have all of the trappings of America affluence.

Can I go a step further and make this suggestion? The greatest cultural dangers to Christianity are not found in abortion or gay marriage or banning school prayer or removing Ten Commandments monuments or saying "Happy Holidays". The greatest cultural dangers to Christianity in America are the very things that generally are though to make America great: Patriotism. Self-sufficiency. Affluence. Success. The very things we love and give thanks to God for in our prayer meetings might just be the greatest impediments to Christian community and the most damaging to our Gospel witness.

If we try to modify the church model without also breaking down our societal norms and expectations as the church, we are invariably going to end up with an irreconcilable tension because the allure of the American dream. The American way of life, apple pie and flag waving America, truly is in direct conflict with the life of a disciple. As Dan says, if we address the church culture without taking a hard look at our cultural comfort, it is a recipe for conflict and division.

What say you? Is it possible to live and pursue some variation of the American dream while taking up your cross daily? Can we have community in America without turning our back on so much of what being American promises us?


abnormalreaction said...

I do not think there is any model for church. The church is the actual body of Christ, and Christ just IS, so the church just IS.

When we set out to "find" church we are out trying to find something that fits our lifestyle. So to your point, yes the busyness that is taught in the US hinders the Body of Christ.

We do not have time for each other.

Bean said...

For us our "community" is our family. Our older two have left home, married,and established their own lives, but live locally, visit often and we are each a big part of each other lives. Our younger two still live at home. I guess what I am saying is that we are community for each other, we take care of our grandsons when their parents are at work. We have everyone over for meals, frequently, we all help each other, my father-in-law comes to hang out with us all. I guess the "community" we yearned for when we were first married and had small children, has simply evolved as our family has grown up.
The American lifestyle does interfere with true community, people move frequently, often live far from their relatives, and this is part of the "independent spirit".
For myself, our family emigrated when I was fourteen, my parents and my sister were it once we moved to the States, I envied friends who had extended family close by because they were part of a bigger group. I have never regretted my parents decision to emigrate, but I choose to remain "rooted" in one place :)
The lack of community in many church groups simply is due to busy schedules, people joining, people leaving, and the fact that everyone has many choices in how/where they worship. The small community church that was once the hub of many communities, was not only a place to worship, but a place to socialize and visit and share news. Churches today are a place to worship, and little more, because people now have many opportunities to visit and socialize and be entertained outside of church.


Marshall said...

Christ is in conflict with America's dreams & plans. An honest read of history brings detail to why this remains so. And, a wide-eyed look around serves fresh reminders. The ekklesia (church) will continue to regard national/international cultural norms as par and party with their gods.