Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christians living in community - How would this look?

I closed the prior post by writing:

So what does a community in service of Christ look like? Or at least what do I think it should look like? Or more specifically what would I like to see and be a part of?

I will be completely honest. I would welcome an “intentional” Christian community with families that ate and worshipped together daily. I think of the example we are given in Acts 2:46-47:

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

I don’t see that passage as some utopian ideal that was only for that time. In the earliest days of the church the people of God were worshipping together, eating together and praising God together daily, not just once or twice a week for an hour. It is troubling to me that we see passages like that and instead of seeking to adapt and conform ourselves to Scripture, we try to contextualize and adapt the Bible to our circumstances. If I could find such a community without some of the baggage of the groups I mentioned in the prior post, I would not hesitate to join them. If I found a willing group of like-minded believers, I would love to start one. So how would such a community look? Here are some of the attributes I would think you would find in a Biblical, intentional community:

A community made up of believers.

Well, duh! Not so fast. That seems intuitive but we all know that the reality is that most of what passes for “community” in Christian circles is a lopsided mixture of believers and unbelievers. Granted there is no sure-fire way of identifying someone who is regenerate, but someone who desires a self-sacrificial Christian community is a pretty good indicator. Using the “wheat and tares” parable or the Westminster “even the purest of churches” excuse seems like a cop-out to me. Is it not the case that we see a difference between “preaching the Gospel” to unbelievers and “worshipping in community” among believers in the Bible? I think we do in Scripture but in practice we are both preaching the Gospel and worshipping in community with believers and unbelievers alike.

A focus on the needs of the community over the desires of the individual

Ministry is as its core all about service. We are all individuals and the goal is not to force believers into looking, talking and acting the same as one another. Even as we recognize the uniqueness of each believer we should also recognize that Christian community calls us to value others more than ourselves. Acts 2: 44-47 and Acts 4: 32-35 describe the early church having all things in common. Not that they affirmed this concept, they actually had all things in common. Having "stuff" you need versus "stuff" you want is a huge difference and being willing to give as any brother has need is truly loving. Do you need to have a common purse? Maybe not, especially if it becomes a source of control. I do think you need to radically change the way you view your possessions.

A true “every member ministry” that lives out in practice the priesthood of all believers.

The Body is healthiest when all members contribute in the way that God has gifted them and within the boundaries God has set forth. The Body is not, and I would argue cannot be healthy when only a few contribute or when people seek to contribute in ways forbidden by God. In a Christian community, everyone is expected and welcome to contribute as God has commanded and gifted them.

An intentional Christian community is, well, intentional

What does that mean? This is just my definition but an intentional community is one that starts with the idea of community first and then works out the particulars later. This is in marked contrast with “church planting” where a specific model is “planted” and then like minded individuals are attracted. In a church plant, homogeneity is the defining characteristic. In most cases, a church is planted in an area not because there are not Christian churches there already. They are planted because there aren’t the “right kind” of churches in that area. There may be a Baptist church but not a Southern Baptist church. It is all about the “distinctives” or dare I say the “branding”. An intentional community starts with community and works its way from there. That leads us to….

Majoring in the majors

A Christian community should be focused on what the Scriptures are focused on, i.e. the Gospel and as a result the fellowship of believers. The Scriptures are not focused on a specific lifestyle (urban versus agrarian) or the “sacraments” or the particular details of the end-times. Certainly the Scriptures are not focused on wearing particular styles of clothing or speaking German. The focus should be on unity with believers, not separation. An intentional community should be distinct from the world but should not view believers who are not in complete agreement as the enemy.

A mission minded mentality

This is really important. I am embarrassed that I need to write that but it is often missing in intentional and traditional Christian communities alike. A Christian community should be separate to distinguish itself from the world, not to hide away from the world. A community cannot be a Gospel community, a Christ-centered community if it is content to hide behind walls and watch the world of lost sinners burn itself to the ground. Whether it is a traditional church or a group in close community, a group that refuses to name the name of Christ except among themselves is bringing shame and reproach upon the cross. A Christian community by definition is one that is concerned with the poor, the widows, prisoners and others along with preaching the Gospel. If there is a fault among the various intentional Christian communities I have looked into, above all else, it is that in their desire to be pure and unspotted they are afraid or unwilling to go to the lost to proclaim the Christ.

This is hard stuff. Who wants to give up the “what’s mine is mine” world of middle-class American life for a life of simplicity and sacrifice? That is so counter-intuitive and something we never hear from the pulpit. The sacrifice we are often called to is to put more money in the offering plate to pay for the overhead expenses of the local church and maybe missionary work for people we have met once or twice (or never). It seems that we have tried to strike a bargain whereby we adapt what we see in the New Testament to “make it work” in our society but in doing so I think we have lost a lot of what the purpose and intent for those communities was. Simultaneously we have lost the real strength of that community and replaced it with a facsimile. This is a pretty radical concept. Isn’t that part of what being a Christian is all about? I hear people using “radical” to describe all sorts of stuff in the church and none of it is radical. Having a climbing wall in the youth room is not radical. Using power point in your sermon is not radical. Preaching for an hour instead of 45 minutes is not radical. What the Bible portrays as radical community is worlds apart from what we consider radical, most of which is merely the same traditions dressed up in modern clothing.

So. Anyone want to start a Christian community where believers live with and serve one another daily while reaching the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

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Unknown said...

Good stuff. More later...

Still want to start that "cult"?
Just in case the Lord moves us to be the ones to take over the family homestead in Michigan......

EnnisP said...

Interesting thoughts Arthur.

I wouldn't say it is wrong to do what you have suggested but there would need to be some controls in place to prevent the community from gravitating to an Amish model (no offense to the Amish).

You did address that (very nicely I might add) but the exact details would need to be hammered out. Exactly how would individuals in the community be allowed to interact with the world? What restrictions would exist? How difficult would it be to maintain "good standing" in the community and connect with the world personally at the same time? Even churches whose community life is managed loosely have tended to become very controlling over the lives of the members.

One last thought. I see worship as less sectarian or separate or private and more evangelistic. Even the worship of the early church was done in public. Since many of these people were travelers from afar they didn't have private dwellings to isolate them from the public, so much of what they did, even worship, was out there for everyone to witness and many people got saved because of it.

Anyway, just thoughts. Go well.

Unknown said...

OK, here goes nothing.
And it kind echos EnnsP's comment in a way.
Looking at history and even recent groups that attempt this, I have seen that most end up falling prey to going to far in the control aspect.
I am certain that it is very hard to determine how far to go at fisrt, but the longer you are "in it", the easier it is to have control tighter.
And then there comes a point at which things implode.
I have no idea how to avoid that.

But things that I see working in our meeting.
We are very open about where we stand on stuff.
But, if another sees it a bit different, you are not going to get condemed for your stand.
Take TV for instance.
No one has TV anymore, both due to conviction, and not having the new equipment needed.
But no one is ordered to get rid of it.
Homeschooling. It is strongly encouraged, but it is not a requirement.
In fact, if a family is struggling with making homeschooling work, others in the church pile in and help support and teach.

Those are just a couple of examples.

Now we are also at a distinct disadvantage.
We drive an hour to get to church.
So do two other families.
No ideal, but that is where God has placed us.
In time, we may be able to start meetings in our own neighborhoods, but until that happens, we travel.

I do not see a community where the houses are all in walking distance from each other working very well in the end. This allows for an insulated way of life that will eventually shut out the world.

But I do see a village style, where you have small stores and businesses, where "outsiders" perfer to come, due to the integrity of the owners.
Homes are spread out a bit, with room for large gardens and pasture for animals.

A single meeting house where all meet. But not in a UU style, :o)
A huge hall where common meals can be taken can either suffice as the meeting house, or be a part of it.

Ok, nuf for now. Got to go get breakfast.....

Arthur Sido said...


I think that is the key. The community should help one another, not control one another. As long as people are believers, the community takes precedence over distinctives. I think the money would need to be kept individual but the needs would be communally handled. I think money is the number one way people are controlled, even in the traditional, institutional church.

Where is your homestead in Michigan? As long as it isn't in Detroit or Flint :^O

Arthur Sido said...


I agree that there would need to be a framework in place to keep the community from degrading into a control situation. Some of the groups I looked at restrict people from even traveling without permission. Imagine a family member sick or dying and you need to get permission to go be with them?

There would certainly need to be a lot of prayer and thought before a community could be formed to prevent abuse.