Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Christians living in community

I have been doing a lot of studying over the last week, looking at groups that live in community. To clarify, I was looking at groups that go beyond a Western “community” of twice a week hour long meetings and instead looked at communities that have a more intentional gathering that often involves living in close proximity to one another and sharing large parts of their lives together. I found a surprising number of these communities. There is a lot of variation in the different groups. A lot! Some of the communities I looked at included the Amish and Hutterites:

The Amish live in communities and clearly help each other out a lot. If you have ever been in "Amish country", you know you are in a distinct community. The Amish are a very tight knit group, bordering on xenophobia. The Amish are famous for helping one another (think barn raisings) and equally famous for their suspicion of outsiders. Then there are the Hutterites, who live in "colonies" in the plains states/provinces. They are descended from an early Anabaptist pacifistic group that are living in the same way that they lived in Reformation times. They live in a far more communal way than the Amish in that they have “all things in common” to the point that there is no private property at all, not in housing, bank accounts, etc. There is one common purse and stewards are appointed over those funds so that all proceeds go in and are giving out as needed. There are several sizeable offshoots of the Hutterites, also mostly in the plains states/provinces (Minnesota, Saskatchewan, etc.). They live in a similar fashion as the Hutterites without some of the traditional baggage (like specific clothing requirements).

There is also an awful lot that is very good about them. They exhibit a closeness that is missing from many Christian lives. There is a sense in which the community of believers takes precedence over individualism. The materialism and consumerism that infects much of evangelicalism is more or less absent. The community works together, worships together, eats together, educates their children together.

Having said that, there are some negatives that really cause some concerns for me. In many of these groups, having all things in common goes a bit far. There is a strong tendency toward isolationism in some of the groups. A number of them have some very squirrely doctrinal stances. There are some groups that exhibit a concentrated leadership either in one man or in men from the past. Tradition is raised to a place of honor that is unwarranted. Issues that are at best secondary or even preferences (like agrarianism or particular styles of dress) get raised to matters of primary importance. Most problematic is an absence of missionary zeal (an issue that the Hutterites recognize and are trying to rectify this through mission work). So there are some problems in these groups as well as positives.

I came away kind of frustrated. It seems that there are two extremes. Either the individualistic, “me first” evangelicalism that is so ingrained in America or an extreme version of communalism that goes beyond even the radical vision we see in the New Testament.

I love the idea of intentional, simple community among believers that goes beyond occasionally meeting and reflects the beauty and counter-cultural nature of the church in Acts. I love the idea of a community that is in fellowship daily, eats together, prays together daily instead of a couple of times a week on a rigid schedule.

I am not so in love with some of the aberrant theology. I insist that you cannot have a true Christian community that is compromises the truth. You also cannot have a Christian community that doesn't have a missionary zeal. There need not and cannot be a division between community and mission.

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? That is the next post.

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Steve Martin said...

I know what I would like it to look like.

But I'll have to settle for sinners saved by Jesus Christ who are a very mixed bag.

We are on fire for Christ and then we cool off. We wander off and go our own way and then He finds us once again and carries us back home.

I think the main thing is to keep focused on Christ and what He has done, is doing, and will yet do for sinners...and let the Holy Spirit work through us as He inspires each of us and our congregations.

The church isn't often very pretty, but we belong top Him and He'll never leave us nor forsake us.

When we place to much emphasis on us, we sometimes (with the best of intentions) move Christ out of the center and replace Him with 'us' as the focus.

Alan Knox said...


This is a very important topic, so I'm looking forward to your next post!


Unknown said...

It is human nature to go to one extreme or the other, when looking for change.

I think intentional community can be a huge blessing to those that may, as Steve M mentions, "cooling and wandering".
It is far easier to bring the wanderer back into the fold, when the fold is more then a church that meets on Sunday.

I see the Amish "model" working far better then any other. However, the man made ordnung they live by cannot be the driving force.

TO take your thoughts a bit further....
It used to be, that when a man and a woman got married, he/she had a mother, a grandmother, and likely aunts, that lived near by, so that when babies came, crops and gardens needed extra workers, or sickness called for an extra hand.

Today, we have lost that, for the most part.
Now we have the world is trying to recreate that model, by calling it a "village", but they are missing the point, and making a mess of it.

Unknown said...

Your post reminded me of a post that I had read yesterday morning.
I linked to it over on our blog.
FYI, I do not endorse her "spiritual" ideas.

Arthur Sido said...


I followed your link. Very interesting, like you I don't care for the spiritualism. But I do like some of what she is thinking. I am curious to hear what you have to say about my next post which comes out shortly.

Arthur Sido said...


I agree in part. The thing is that we are a very mixed bag but that bag is mixed up with the saved and the unsaved, and our lack of community makes it very hard to tell one from the other. We know them by their fruit but how many people does the average church goer know well enough "from church" to see their fruit?

Steve Martin said...


Jesus told us that the wheat and tares grow together and to not mess around seperating them (He'll handle that).

Even the most faithful and obedient believers (though) are still quite a mixed bag.

We ought be concerned about keeping the fact that we are full blown sinners in front of ourselves, and keeping the gospel of Christ central (the Antidote).

my 2 cents


Arthur Sido said...


The parable of the wheat and the tares is not about the church, even though many people interpret it that way. The field is the world.

Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.(Mat 13:36-43 KJV)

Steve Martin said...


I do disagree.

Why would Jesus tell the church to not try and pull out the non-believers in the world?

That makes no sense at all.

He was speaking about the church all right.

That's why He tells many good church people at the last judgement to deoart from Him.

Those non-believers in the world are not going to say to Him, "Lord, Lord..."

Arthur Sido said...

Steve, the text specifically says what the field is:

The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;

I don't see how you can possibly apply this to the church unless you are going to ignore the explanation Christ gave to the disciples.

Steve Martin said...


If you want to be a fruit inspector (other's fruits) then have at it.

Our job is to proclaim the law and the gospel to sinners, both within the church and outside the church.

I think placing the emphasis on a non-existant "perfect church" keeps us chasing our tails, insted of being liberated (from the law) for the neighbor.

Unknown said...

Steve, When a church stands up and determines to live out the WOd fully, we do not need to pick at each others fruit.
Those that are tares will not be able to maintain their position physically, because their spiritual self will tattle on them.

I do not think Arthur (correct me if I am wrong Arthur) is saying that in establishing an intentional community, that he or anyone else is going to handpick the "members".

Remaining seperate, in true communion with other Believers, which means getting together far more then Sunday morning and Wednesday night, while maintining a flaming light in the world, is something we should all be striving for.

It is no mistake that the Scriptures mention the fact that the early church met daily
Sadly, we live in a day and age, where we have spread ourselves out.
Daily gathering is almost impossible.
I have seen it done!. In fact most of our church "members" live very close together, and are able to see each other everyday.
THe face to face willingness and ability to be humble and sharpen each other amazes me.
I have been privy to many different modern church models, and this is the first time I/we have seen this closeness.

I pray that if we ever need to move, that we will find or be able to start a meeting with other Believers that are willing to be as open as this one.


Steve Martin said...


Thanks...good comments.

My only problem with an emphasis on the church, is that you will end up with prideful people, despairing people, or phoney people.

When you put the emphasis where it ought be (God's Word), then that Word will do it's work on the people in the church...whether they be wheat, or tares.


Yes, the field is the world. But the wheat and the tares (those in churches) inhabit the world.

We often cannot tell them apart because we cannot know the heart.

So we focus on Christ and do the best we can with the sinners that God brings us.