Meditations (Web)Church

A year (and a bit) in the life of NewSpring's first Web pastor

Is Christian community an end or a means? (Take 2)

with 16 comments

This post was substantively rewritten after first publication.

Sometimes I wonder if Christians are missing the point of the discussion about community.

Some think we don’t need a community to call our own at all and that we can ruggedly-individualistically carry the good news into whatever environment we find ourselves in without much need of a community of faith that challenges us to bring our words and our deeds into alignment.

Some think we need to create a community so real that it “incarnates” our gospel and makes it attractive to people, so we don’t have to worry about messy things, such as preaching the good news in a hostile world full of sin that needs to be called to repentence.

The reality is lot more dynamic.

What’s unique about Christianity to me is not the notion of “community,” physical, virtual or otherwise. Any gathering of people, assembling around any idea, can incarnate any set of values, ideas and social “goods” and be a vibrant, attractive, durable community.

What is unique about Christianity is the church. The church, the body of God, the community of God, gives Christians the power to move beyond mere human “community,” and generally do things that are not in what a typical person would consider their best interests.

You know, giving up families, goods and leaving everything behind to evangelize lost continents without any apparent worldly or material benefit. Embracing sacrifice and risking death. That sort of thing.

That is our distinctive: The gospel, the good news of Christ as risen Savior and Lord, and his body the church, makes something ordinary, human community, turn into something extraordinary, an epic mission for each of us to help as many people as possible take their place in the eternal family of God.

The Acts 2 church — sacrificial, sacramental church — was not an end in itself, but the means whereby a radical, world-changing message could nurture and release radical, surrendered, faithful, contagious Christians.

The goal of the church isn’t a community or a better community. It is being the church: the field hospital, kitchen and armory of always-continuing skirmishes on the battlelines of a war between good and evil.

Our goal is not as a community to claim territory — mass, power, status or influence. Our goal is to claim souls.

Some of those whom the world has bruised or bloodied or estranged might seek out the refuge our “building” or our temporary “community.”

Most of the time, the “church,” the people of Christ, are camped in enemy territory, battling as “freedom-fighters” just long enough to make Christ’s offer of a beautiful alternative –life! — and snatch away the captives to eternal safety.

That’s when the church wraps its arms around the new believers, offers them its comfort, its healing, feeds them and protects them in the shadow of its wings, and then arms them for missions of their own.

Our goal of “community” is really the goal of “church.”

The more we emphasize “community” online, paradoxically, the easier it seems for us to get deceived and caught up in the world’s false math of connectedness+self-interest+self-affirmation=community. It’s the same old idea. It’s spiritual death. And it’s spreading even faster that it ever has.

Community, as with church, is not a destination. It is not an origin. It is a camp. A fort. A refuge.

And if we’re going to defeat the enemy’s strongholds where they are now — in the web, the living network — maybe we need to start building our “shining cities on a hill” there, just as we built our cathedrals in centuries gone by.

Does that make sense?

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Written by NickCharalambous

March 26, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Posted in community, ruminations

16 Responses

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  1. Community: means or ends?
    My answer is YES.

    To me it seems that community is really both the means and the ends because of the fact that the last “act” in this story of God’s is the New Creation where there will be perfect community and the fact that we were created in God’s image. Our triune God is the essence of community. So in that sense community is the ends.

    On the other hand, community is a means that God normally uses to help us to grow into the people that he wants.

    I think that sometimes we Westerners take far too hard a look into the individual aspects of relationship with God and not look long enough at the community aspects of our relationship with God.

    Thanks for provoking my thought!!

    Chris S.

    March 26, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    • I agree with you of course about the ultimate “end” of community with God and his saints in a new heaven and new earth. And I completely agree that Western church has put less emphasis on community than perhaps has Biblical warrant. But I think the greater issue for me is whether we are pursuing the right kind of community here on earth …

      ipiphanist

      March 26, 2009 at 8:21 pm

  2. “The goal of a church isn’t community. It is being the church”

    I feel this is absolutely profound truth that many “churchians” miss. My goal, in church, should be to be what the church should be. Not to get fed, as a first goal, but to feed; not to be served, as a first goal, but to serve.

    I believe when Christians do not become part of a community of believers where God directs them to serve that community –they miss a huge blessing that the living God has for them.

    Ultimately, I believe, out greatest blessing comes from being poured out for Christ. Many people die to what God has for them by escaping a situation rather than asking God how to serve. Which may mean putting their own wishes on hold or making people angry by standing for the truth as they see it. It drives us to Christ and death to self. (so part of what we need to do is seek to support those who are not part of our church and will never be …I feel NS does this in many ways, one by giving away creative resources for free)

    I don’t claim I live in this place of service I’m talking about but I do visit. And when I visit I am blessed in freedom, peace,and joy.

    your post is so right on

    Mike Walker

    March 27, 2009 at 1:03 am

    • Thanks Mike! You are right: “Death to self” … it’s not very attractive … but that’s what real Christian community should stand for and encourage.

      ipiphanist

      March 27, 2009 at 8:40 am

  3. I guess we were created to have communion with God…

    And a community containing Christ makes life worth living.

    All in all I think Community shouldn’t be an opt-in… it’s compulsory to truly grabbing hold of life “to the full”… We need to have that interdependence, to be accountable to each other… to disciple each other.

    Nathan Edwards

    March 27, 2009 at 2:35 am

    • Christian community isn’t optional, of course. But I wonder if it is meant as some kind of physical foretaste of heaven, of whether it is intensely practical: the support for us to go “make disciples?”

      ipiphanist

      March 27, 2009 at 8:57 am

      • Well… Community is fun… so its definitely the first… and if it wasn’t fun we couldn’t make disciples… so both

        Nathan Edwards

        March 27, 2009 at 10:32 am

  4. I believe community is both the end and the means.
    If you carefully read through Acts one will see what it meant to be part of true “Israel”
    It meant, no one went without, it meant protection, it meant no one was ever alone, it meant fellowship, it meant discipline, it gave encouragement, and stability to all that belonged.
    This is what it meant for the kingdom of heaven to be at hand. God the ruler and King, and all of His subjects living by his Commandments.
    How can church be a community, when most people go once or twice a week, and then go home and live their lives, often as they see fit? Why should the help of someone in need depend on the leaders only, or a few out of 100 people that go to church?
    What does this say about he rest of folks that join any particular church?
    It is up to each individual to apply the truth of the Word to their heart. And it is up to the congregation of believers to reach out and help others grow. If there be too many bad apples in a “church” then one does not have a good community. Read Exodus & Deuteronomy on that one.
    To me church equals a building, and community equals people. Which would be more important to God?

    Tanja

    March 27, 2009 at 8:26 am

  5. Great points and great questions. Of course, when i use the word church, I’m stressing everywhere the people of God, not just the building. Love the point of the kingdom of heaven “at hand” in loving, nurturing community. The Acts church model of radical sacrifice and interdependence is and should be attractive, but it seems more like a strategic way to organize and release resources for a “missionary war” if you catch my drift. That mission mindedness, that radical “my life-is-not-my-own” thinking is what creates that kind of community and I’m not sure how stable and durable a community like that can and should be without it … To sum up, maybe the shallowness of our community is tied directly to the weakness of our gospel?

    ipiphanist

    March 27, 2009 at 8:52 am

    • Ah, now that is it right there!

      “To sum up, maybe the shallowness of our community is tied directly to the weakness of our gospel?”

      To me one of the weaknesses of our gospel is that it has become VERY individualistic. When we preach a gospel that is solely about the individual and then later say that we need to be deeply engaged in community we end up with two messages that are a little incongruent in our minds. One of those ideas ends up having to give way to the other.

      Chris S.

      March 27, 2009 at 10:26 am

  6. My pastor preached a sermon last week on Victory in Jesus. It was interesting how he brought out, that its what Jesus can do for you but what Jesus can do through you.

    A very similar line of thinking, is that its not what Jesus can do for the Church but what can Jesus do through the Church and especially through your congregation?

    Daniel Berman

    March 27, 2009 at 9:44 am

    • Exactly … sometimes it just feels like we lose site that our lives are not our own and that this world is not our home. Community is simply a vehicle: a grace delivery mechanism if you will 😉

      ipiphanist

      March 27, 2009 at 9:49 am

  7. […] latest blog post on Christian community is one of the best I’ve read on the […]

  8. […] Church leaders need to be helping Christians recognize that community is a means not an end in itself. […]

  9. […] online environment. But I believe some of what I wrote may have been written with prophetic force that may remain useful to church leaders and pastors who are only now engaging in this […]

  10. […] Is Christian community an end or a means? […]


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