Sunday, January 06, 2013

Book Review: True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia

As part of the the torrent of free books that became available for a few weeks I "bought" and downloaded Jerry Bridge's book True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia. Bridges is a well known and generally respected author and community is a topic that I ponder and blog about a lot so this seemed like a natural fit but also one that could easily turn out to be a disappointment.

I was not disappointed.

Without hesitation I can say the True Community was one of the most engaging books I have read in the past few years. Accessible but thought-provoking, it is not a terribly deep treatment of the topic but given how far we have strayed from the Biblical principle of koinonia it is critical introduction.

One of the real strengths of this book is how little time Jerry spends talking about the formal gathering of the church. Community is not found in showing up to church, it is a reality of our new lives in Christ and we find community in sharing our lives, our time, our burdens and our material possessions with one another.

Another area I found extremely positive was his treatment of the idea that our community in Christ is a reality whether we acknowledged or not. We are in community with one another by virtue of our regenerate heart and adoption, how we live that out is where we run into questions.

An area that Jerry spends a lot of ink is on sharing materially. This is something of a taboo subject in the church at least in America. We give what we choose to "the church" and most of that money is used for our own comfort and convenience on Sunday. As he points out, sharing materially in the early church was not an afterthought but a critical part of koinonia....

One of the most common usages of koinonia in the New Testament is this sense of sharing material resources with others. For example, Paul urges us to “share with God’s people who are in need” (Romans 12: 13). In 2 Corinthians 9: 13, he speaks of “your generosity in sharing with [others].” The writer of Hebrews urges us to “not forget to do good and to share with others” (13: 16). The word share in these passages is a translation of koinnia in either its noun or verb form. A willingness to share our possessions with one another is a very important aspect of true biblical community.

Bridges, Jerry True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia (Kindle Locations 154-157)


That is so important for us to understand. A community where "what's mine is mine and what's yours is yours" cannot function as a true community because it denies our oneness in Christ or at least relegates it to a subordinate position behind our American right to private property. That doesn't mean that material sharing requires the Hutterite model but it does call into question acceptance and encouragement of the American evangelical love of money, possessions and financial security.

If there was an area of weakness, it was the very brief and kind of clunky chapter on Supporting Your Local Ministry. This chapter, just a few pages long, deals with the importance of giving at your "local church" for the purpose of sustaining that local church. The chapter was very perfunctory and seemed to be tacked on for no real purpose. It could easily be dropped from the book entirely.

All in all this is a great introduction to a neglected subject. True community in the Biblical model of koinonia is tragically absent in the church and it hampers our walk together, our maturation as Christians and our witness to the world. Grab this book and give it a read!

3 comments:

Jenny said...

Sounds like an interesting read. I'll have to take a look at it. Thanks for reviewing it.

Genoise said...

Hutterite method (requirement of an institution), no. Building a community based on mutual love, care, compassion towards one another, no strings attached, perhaps... Maybe that's what we're missing as the church, let alone culture. The way we live, the communities we live in, are so spread out, so remote (even in more densely populated areas we are turned inward) good ole' American Independence! We talk about sharing our possessions but it's not practical in most communities due to logistics; and to be quite frank, most people want to be left alone and not get involved in each other's lives (believers included, IC kind or not)!

You had an earlier post about wasted space, but the waste goes WAY beyond space. I honestly don't think that those of us who are seeking organic church are desperate enough. I keep reading about those who are searching and searching for that type of fellowship found in Acts, but we too easily forget that part of their community was sharing their possessions, and part of that sharing was born out of necessity. Perhaps it was for a season; seasons change...but they also recycle.

From my understanding, there were many believers who decided to stay in Jerusalem for an extended period after hearing the Good News at Pentecost. They wanted to stay in community with their newfound brothers and sisters in Christ and continue to learn. In addition to that, there was a famine. These brothers and sisters sold their property/belongings/land and had everything in common (I don't see how you can share everything in common without living together), not only did they share their belongings, they shared out of their need (the famine, hence the collection Paul gathered from the other churches saying they "owed" (that word is taboo in today's church) it to their brethren in Jerusalem) they were the creators of Stone Soup!

Flash forward to 2013. You have believers who are displaced from their old way of doing church wanting to live, learn, and BE the church. You have families suffering from loss of income, mounting medical bills, rising taxes, rising fuel prices, financially in over their heads in houses that are "under water" (worth less than the outstanding mortgage). You have people who are developing chronic illness due to a tainted food supply and lack of physical activity. You have people desperate to get back to simpler, more organic ways of living and worshipping but don't.know.how.

The picture is so much bigger that we realize. It actually makes me think of art restoration. Sometimes art collectors bring a new acquisition to an art restorer, in rare instances the art restorer will discover a masterpiece that was under the painting being restored. Through careful removal of the paint, perhaps more than one layer, more and more of the original painting is revealed...bit.by.bit. In the same way we are discovering a Masterpiece bit by bit. As we dialogue about BEING the church, more and more of the painting of a House with Many Mansions ("Thy Kingdom come"???) is being revealed. A Canvas that has been abused, altered, and abridged is now being restored, revived, and revealed.

Just a thought...

End Time Events - By George Feneysey said...

I love the comments by Genoise. Well said. If you have heard of Art Katz before, I would encourage any one to read or listen to his message on True Fellowship. It is challenging to say the least. I have the privilege of living in a christian community, where all things were shared in common. Each person was involved in working together daily, sharing their lives in the physical as well as spiritual attributes of daily living. Shared all their meals together etc. Have to say it was and remains the most pointed challenge I have had in my years as a believer who seeks the authenticity of kingdom life.