The Christian faith is not meant to be lived out in isolation. By His very nature, God is a social being, a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Cornelius Plantinga describes the relationship of the Trinity as “the persons within God [who] exalt, commune with, and defer to one another. . . . Each divine person harbors the others at the center of his being” (as quoted by Timothy Keller, Reason for God, ch. 1). Since God created us in His image, we can expect to be social beings as well.
But what does it look like to be a social being in a Christian community? In these next few posts, I will explore the foundation of Christian community and elements that challenge and enrich that community. My small group is going through Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; therefore that, as well as other texts, will be referenced in this series.
Ultimately, Christian community does not flourish because its members have a certain level of piety or specific personalities. Instead, it grows only out of Christ. Bonhoeffer exclaims: “I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ. The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.”
To be more specific, we need others because of Christ. We can only come to one another in peace because of Christ, and we are united together for eternity only because of Christ.
The Christian is dependent on and accountable to the Word of God. One does not live by his/her own justification or faith in him/herself, but by faith in God, justified by God and being sanctified by God. Naturally, as Christians, we need to be reminded of the Word, encouraged, built up and held accountable in order to grow. In Scripture, we are told to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), to give timely advice (Proverbs 15:23) and to “restore” each other when caught in sin (Galatians 6:1). This is why we need each other: to speak God’s truth into each other’s lives. We can only do this because we have been justified in Christ.
Similarly, we can only come to one another in peace because of Christ. In Ephesians, Paul describes Christ’s role in bringing together the Gentiles and the Jews. He writes, “For he himself [Christ Jesus] is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). The same goes for Christian brothers and sisters today. Our egos prevent us from coming in humility to one another, serving one another, and being selfless. In Christ, we are enabled to do these things.
Nearly all communities end when earthly life ends. Classmates, coworkers, teams, families and even the closest friend groups dissolve. However, the Bible promises us that as the Church, we are the Body of Christ. As Jesus prays for believers and future believers, He asks the Father that we may be eternally united and eternally with God (John 17:20-26). Christian fellowship is something we are granted in the last days as a glimpse of the eternal and perfect fellowship to come at the restoration. We can look upon each other as Christian brothers and sisters and know that we will be eternally united in Christ.
With the knowledge that community is a great gift and integral to the Christian life, we can start to examine common stumbling blocks in community and also ways in which we are called to build each other up as the body of Christ. In the next post, we will look at the commonly held false expectation for Christian community to be a utopian society, a fellowship without flaws or challenges.