what is community?

I have been struggling with what a christian community should really be for almost six years now.

Acts 2:42 says that the first church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to prayer, to fellowship and to the breaking of bread.

that seems simple enough, except that there aren’t any more apostles around and we don’t seem to discern any difference between fellowship and breaking bread. I have posted previously about the essential elements of a church/faith community as well as what that could look like in our time.

I want to focus in for this post and a couple more on that word “fellowship.” it is the greek word koinōnia. according to Thayer’s Lexicon on that same link, the second definition is intercourse, fellowsip, intimacy, and indicates the intimate bond that unites Christians. It means much more than what we typically mean by the word “fellowship” today. We usually call it fellowship when we get together for a potluck supper. Fellowship can happen at the potluck, but usually doesn’t.

I would say that christian fellowship in a faith community has to have at least these three elements:

1. community
2. transparency
3. authenticity

Community means simply living life together in love with all of its pain and all of its glory. Acts 2:44-45 says that the first faith community “were together and had all things in common”. It also says that they sold their stuff and made sure that everybody had something. Does this mean that we need to go all David Koresh and buy a compound to live a communal life? Of course not. You have to think about the circumstances of this first group. Whether they were previously Jews or Gentiles, they were no longer accepted by their former friends and family. They were outcasts without inheritance or employability. Under the unique circumstances presented be this first faith community, the needed fellowship reaction was to share stuff and get through the immediate crisis of being ostracized from every bit of their former life. To prevent the creation of an overly introspective commune, God sent along a persecution after the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 that resulted in a diaspora of the faithful throughout Asia Minor and even into Europe.

No, Community means more than just the particular manifestion of it in Acts 2:44-45. Galatians 6:2 says that we are to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. But then in verse 5 it says that each one will have to bear his own load. Thus, the law of Christ requires that we sometimes bear one another’s burdens in spite of the default that most of the time we are to bear our own load.

The law of Christ is that we love God with all of our heart soul mind and strength and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus made this more explicit in John 13:34-35 when he told his disciples that he was giving them a new commandment: to love one another. He said that the whole world would recognize that we are his disciples by our love for one another. The word love in John 13:33 is agapaō. It means to prefer others over ourselves. That kind of love for one another is to be our calling card to the world. a self-sacrificing seeking of the good of our brothers and sisters over our own. You can see how that would attract attention.

We must band together in Communities that are characterized by sacrificial love for one another. I Peter 4:8 says that we need to keep our love for one another at full strength because love covers a multitude of sins. The word love here is agapē. When we sacrificially love one another, we can shake off the slights that come our way out of temporary frustration or slippage into sinful patterns by our fellow believers.

That kind of community is what the church is supposed to be. Doing whatever it takes for the benefit of the others. if that means selling some stuff and sharing the proceeds or if it means taking care of kids when somebody is in the hospital, or if it simply means kicking somebody in the rear when they need to quit moping and get back in the game.

Love should lead the way for us as believers. Love can be soft or it can be hard, but it should always seek the best interest of the others rather than our own best interest.

that’s enough for now. later I will look more closely at transparency and accountability and their role in christian fellowship.

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One Response

  1. We personally know many people who have been on a similar search for that authentic community of believers. Based on the number of small independent and pseudo-independent churches that have begun, it’s evident that many believers are seeking the same. Probably has something to do with characteristics of His image in which we were created…

    We have experienced aspects of such a community over the past nine months (to the day as of tomorrow, November 26, 2008). The interesting thing about this community is that it cannot be defined by a human-structured organization. When we consider the members of this community, and how we know them, they do not represent one church denomination, local church, school, para-church group, small-group, neighborhood, etc. Interestingly, we did not even know some of these people on February 26, 2008. What do they have in common?

    The people of this community did not come together to help us in so many ways out of some organized administrative effort. Although most of the time they operate more efficiently than a formal administration could ever achieve. As needs change they adjust quickly (measured in minutes at times) and in an incredibly collaborative way. Often at a cost of personal inconvenience or higher. How could they operate this way?

    The only answers that seem to fit are that the people of this particular community love Jesus so much that they express that love toward us. Their love has many of the characteristics Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. And regarding sharing all they have, they do (time, the ability to drive a car, friendship, food, hugs, an ear, thoughtfulness, scripture, experience, books, prayers, encouragement, flexibility, genuine concern and so many others). In fact, they expressed toward us all of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul enumerates in Galatians 5:22.

    There is more to the community of believers than this, but it is a incredible start. It is more closely representative of an authentic community of believers than anything we’ve experienced on such a scale before. It’s the type of start that paves the way for greater transparency and accountability. Mainly, it’s real. It’s not fabricated by a process or an organization. They actually practice the scriptures rather than just gaining more head knowledge of the Bible. They love God and express that love to each other and us daily.

    We are looking forward to growing in this community, even though it doesn’t meet on a particular night of the week; even though it doesn’t have a name. Come to think of it, meetings and names tend to get in the way of community. Hmmm…

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