Community in the Life of the Believer
Community—it is such a loaded word. The word itself can bring feelings of joy and comfort or feelings of sadness and pain. Some communities are loving and supportive, while others are exclusive and harmful. There are all types of communities in our world: families, co-workers, friend groups, student groups, teams, churches, etc. If one were to survey a large group of people about their experiences with community, the responses would surely be wide-ranging and encompass many different types of experiences. But one thing is certain; human beings were created to live in community. This is why people seek after it so desperately. People will cling to failing sports teams, corrupt political parties, cult religions, and harmful friend groups all because of the sense of community these groups provide for them. The inborn need for community also explains why it is so damaging when a community you have trusted injures you.
It is within our DNA to need each other. We are created in the image of God, and he himself exists in perfect community with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In A Community Called Atonement, Scot McKnight writes about how the model of the trinity relates to our own need for community. He discusses the perichoresis as the mutual interdependence of the persons of the Trinity. He writes,
Perichoresis seeks to articulate both what God is like and how the various persons of the Trinity relate to one another, and the conclusion is that they remain wholly distinct while being wholly interior to one another—so interior that one can say that the Son only is in the sense that the Father and the Spirit indwell the Son.
McKnight uses this analogy to explain how we are each individual beings, but we do not stand alone. We’re both fully distinct and fully interdependent. As a community of human beings, it is key that we find ways to honor our own individuality while also respecting the fact that we are inextricably tied to one another in our humanness.
How does this need for community play out in the life of a believer? We live in a part of the world where “church hopping” and “church shopping” are common phrases. We tend to try to find a community that “meets our needs,” and if that community isn’t “doing it for us” we move on to another. Is this what God intended? In the early church we see an example of what community looks like. In Acts 2:42-47 we read,
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
What a beautiful picture of what it looks like to live in community. It seems that many times churches have tried to “follow the example of the early church” but have missed out entirely on the heart of how it operated. Contrary to our “what can this church do for me?” mentality, these believers gave freely to one another and focused on their own responsibility to the community and to the gospel. It is no surprise that they were adding believers daily with this as the community model they chose to follow. They were a cohesive body. They loved one another sincerely. In America, our emphasis on individual rights and freedoms and our capitalistic economy make a community like this sound incredibly strange.
We may give to the needy through established charities, and we may attend church services, but we rarely allow ourselves to be inconvenienced by either. The earliest Christians faced great opposition and trials from the world around them. They clung to each other and did not take for granted their opportunity to engage in life together. They ate together. They prayed together. They shared together. I’m willing to bet they played together. They were a true community. No one was alone in that construct.
I wonder what our churches would look like if we modeled ourselves after these early believers. I wonder what our surrounding communities would look like if we did so. I can only imagine that, if communities like this started popping up around our world, a lot of the healing and peace we all long for would begin to take place. When we choose to live our lives in true community with one another, we avoid the traps of selfishness and pride that so easily deter us from the work of love with which we have been commissioned.