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.