Jesus Without Community

A very popular emerging idea in our current culture is the embrace of Jesus without a connection to any faith community. It is a saying “yes” to Christ while saying “no” to church kind of thing- and it is gaining momentum.

It is not a new concept. It mirrors a similar movement in the sixties. It could be looked upon as merely a reactionary anti-institutional movement but I think the reasons for this approach to religion run deeper. I also believe it represents another attempt to connect by a culture starving for spiritual fulfillment.

It is an approach that those of us who are already connected to Christ’s community do not agree with and will find suspect and foreign, but we do not need to dismiss it. We should learn from it and respond to it- as Jesus would.

From our way of thinking it is impossible to embrace Christ without embracing community. Jesus and the church fit together. How can we have one without the other?

Easy, say many 21st century minds. To them the church represents something totally different. They see it as an entrenched institution often so strangled by tradition, apathy and bureaucracy that it is incapable of making any real differences in the lives of individuals. To their way of thinking the church gets a big failing grade in delivering on the one thing they are seeking most of all- a meaningful personal spiritual connection. It is about relationships and they simply do not see the church interested in building many. They do see that in Jesus and his ministry.

I for one think they have a point worth considering. The church of Jesus Christ in its infancy as revealed in the New Testament was often much more relational than many of our churches today. Institutional traditions and concerns (outside of the Jewish context and the problems with this struggle over protecting tradition was a great hindrance to growth) which frequently demand attention from leadership today was virtually non-existent then. They were a baby church taking baby steps toward maturity and needed the exact kind of relationships to accomplish this as people are seeking now. The epistles overflow with “one another” passages. Then the church was not seen as a barrier to personal spiritual strengthening in Jesus- it was embraced as a partner of Jesus in this goal.

This is the identity we have to rediscover and present today. We understand the weakness and ultimate futility that comes in trying to have Christ without community. We know and enjoy the blessings of the family of God. We are strengthened by the relationships we have built over time in the church. But we have to be willing to demonstrate this and most of all share it outside of our church walls. Folks are no longer coming to us looking for it. We must become a relational church- one more interested in building relationships through Christ with those seeking him- then in being a church consumed with protecting traditions and erecting institutional barriers.

Think about it another way. That people are seeking Jesus- even without community- is exciting. It gives us tremendous opportunities to share our own faith testimony in him and to include in the dialogue the blessings of his community.

But let’s start on a relational level like that which Jesus and his disciples enjoyed. This is exactly the kind of personal connection many are seeking. It is also exactly the kind of connection that can demonstrate why Christ values community and why we should too.

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11 Responses to Jesus Without Community

  1. DJG says:

    This is amazing. I have been composing a post in my head along these lines (not exactly but same theme).

    I think you have nailed the attitude that we should have. At least people are saying

    “Sirs, we would like to see Jesus”

  2. Candle (C & L) says:

    Amen – I have been thinking a lot about the idea that we need to instill a “culture” of “being the church” (i.e. a group living as Christians in the world) rather than reinforcing the mindset that “going to church” or “belonging to a church” is what is important.

    I think the second (being part of a church family) is a natural consequence of the first (being (added to) the church and living transformed lives) but you can’t get the that concept of”its in everythingyou do” if the message focuses on what we”do at church and whay the church does for you”.

    Hope this makessomekind of sense — but my real problem is finding practical ways to promote this way of thinking -in both old and new Christians.

    Any thoughts on how to move in that direction?

    God Bless

  3. Ben Overby says:

    Couple of thoughts, on a splendid post by Danny.

    All of this strikes at the heart of who we are as humans and what’s gone wrong with the world since the fall. God is community. He’s Three. A perfect circle of sufficiency. Each member of the Godhead considering the other more important than self, constantly esteeming the other ahead of self, etc. The Father always gushes over the Son, the Son always deflects to the Father, and Jesus said it was good that He go away so that the disciples could enjoy the presence of the Spirit. That is the bedrock of all reality. Loving, selfless community. Where some religions consider balance (dualism) to be ultimate reality, or monism (unity without diversity) to be the ultimate reality, we know that all reality gets its energy from Three, the Trinity, God–unity with diversity.

    So what? We are made in that image, and when we are pulled into Christ by the power of the Spirit, we step into that circle of sufficiency. Paul’s teaching in Ph. 2.1f on this subject isn’t just good doctrine we might or might not follow–it’s a metaphysical statement, the likes of which no philosophy can begin to touch. And all sin is a violation of that selfless, universal circle of unbridled love.

    Community, then, isn’t a program, nor can it be nurtured by some program. This is already an over-long post, so I’ll only elaborate further if this is making any sense and someone wants another thought from my twisted, little head–but let me add . . . (just one more thing) community is a way of being, not doing. We are communal “beings.” Much of what morality/doctrine deals with has to do with “doing” but it flows out of authentic being. And the summation of that “being” is love. God is love and we are His. So, we need love from the Spirit (love is a gift of the Spirit, btw). We need to be reminded who we are dealing with here. Humans made in God’s image, full of innate dignity, made just a little lower than God (not a little lower than angels, as our poor translations state). I fear we too often attempt the “doing” without affecting the “being.” And I think that sort of superficiality is what sends people running from institutional church. We program some “service.” We all go “do” it. But we don’t love any better because of it. I think we need a lot of prayer and fasting in community focused on reminding ourselves about the ultimate reality–the eternal Community and their offspring. We need to watch Them love each other and pray with all our might for much grace and the Spirit’s influence. Until then, I think that maybe all we’re really doing is putting an expensive paint job on a car that has no engine. When we start “being” the community, the things we do will reflect it. For now, the things we do reflect competition, religiosity, smack of manipulation, are self-centered, and glorify the program, not the Programmer.

    I’m sorry. I could go on and on but let me get out of the way and make room for someone else to type.

    Ben

  4. L.E.Meredith says:

    When you work for the man all week in the corporate world jumping through hoops to satisfy. you expect something different when we worship. we don’t like going from a corporate world into a corporate church.where we are ordered to jump through hoops there also.

  5. disasterlady says:

    Thanks Danny and Ben!
    It is all about PEOPLE–the children of GOD…joint heirs.
    Programs are just a venue for our relationships.
    Our faith must be living! it has to be what we do daily.
    Like the Good Samaritan…not the priest or Pharisee.

  6. Danny says:

    Hey, glad to hear some of you have been thinking along these lines as well. Great minds you know- Donna!

    l.e., I believe you represent many, many folks. We need a different model in the church today, but that, for better or worse, takes time. But we must be ever learning and growing in that direction.

    And we are willing. Charlie is an example of that. It is a struggle that has many of us asking his questions.

    I think Ben has a great answer too. Community is not programs- not just Sunday morning- not just at a location where a building sits. We use the term networking now in business. Christ’s community is his network of believers at work, play, in prayer, at home and in church. We have to plug into that network and enjoy the blessings from “one another” in a wide variety of settings.

    As Carla said- it is all about people.

  7. Stoned-Campbell Disciple says:

    First. Danny this is a thoughtful post.

    Second. Community is a postmodern need and desire.

    Third. “Church” as has been practiced since the reign of the Enligtenment has gathered many people without building “community.”

    I think many postmoderns are not reacting to so much to “church” as they are to “institutionalism.” PMs are far more “suspicious” of institutions and simply assume the worst (sometimes justly, sometimes not).

    I work with a “church” plant going on in Madison, WI. Very NON-traditional. They meet in a coffee shop. Very informal. But plenty of community is being built.

    Book plug: anything by N.T. Wright, Brian McClaren and Hicks/Valentine might help 🙂 In thinking these things through in theologically responsible and relevant terms.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  8. Danny says:

    I agree that they are reacting to institutions, but as you noted that is what our churches have become.

    What to do with us? Sunday morning will be Sunday morning- not really designed to encourage relationships.

    But Sunday afternoon a at coffee house or backyard BBQ- let’s take “church” there and see what happens.

  9. JD says:

    It doesn’t fit the pattern, Danny. Don’t you get it?

  10. TCS says:

    And to follow JD, when that pattern stuff comes up and it does, believe me it does. I just want to run out of the room screaming. but I can’t.

    That is why some “leave”. When following God and church and being a Christian are all tied up in that pattern that was looked for and found. Well why would you want to change?

    lock it down and wait till he shows back up. you know that tupos stuff was like a roman coin. they were similar (patterned) and you could tell what they were but they were not identical.

    Great series of posts by the way and thanks for sticking your neck out.

    Is your Bud that JD mentioned the one from Jackson formerly?

  11. Danny says:

    Yep, Bud and Eva moved here a couple of years ago. He and his Global Christian Univeristy is officed at our building and he is now an elder. He has been a mentor for some time now.

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