I have now completed a year of attendance at the church which my family and I tried after leaving behind a our previous twenty-year church home. The deal I made with myself was that I would do my best to function here and see if I could make an ongoing useful contribution. I want to be useful and feel significant. The second desire is admittedly selfish. But I'm not going to apologize for it. I hope it doesn't disqualify me for participation in the kingdom. There's a definite sense in me of having paid my dues whether or not anyone recognizes it. Anyway, something has appeared for me to do. And I'm enjoying it. So, because of that, along with a host of other factors, we're staying. It will probably be a year or two more before I start calling it my church.
One of the overarching mantras present in this new church home is the word community. This is not unique. The Church in general has adopted the same mantra. The church from which we came also used to use the term frequently. Now, however, it seems to be repeated around us with a greater intensity. Some further investigation is necessary.
Firstly, I have to say that this whole thing has the smell of apple pie. I mean it has the air of that with which, along with motherhood, no one must ever be in disagreement. It sounds distinctively like we are preaching something because it sounds like something we ought to be preaching, not because it's something we really believe or because it's manifestly central to our faith. But worry not if you disagree with me on this point. I'll give you an 'out.' That smell of apple pie, could just as well be the smell of my own distrust. Because I do distrust the concept of community. If we are really in community, then I don't merely have to be connected with you: I have to submit to you. And I'm not willing to do that. But neither are you willing to submit to me. And why should you? It's not what we do...
Which brings me to the main argument presented to bolster the idea of community. The New Testament writers, we are told, had no conception of writing to churches with the individual in mind (it just wasn't what they did), that there is always an implied y'all throughout the New Testament. We are told that we grow in community and not outside of it. We are told that "no man is an island." Again that whiff of pie. It certainly doesn't line up with life as I know it. Victories I have won have been ultimately private triumphs with God. The community may have been referred to on occasion, for minor help and guidance, But the communal ideal had been missed, because ownership of the victory did not belong the community. Again the out. Maybe I have never experienced true community. But if not, why not?
I suggest that if we are to truly experience true community, a whole bunch of stuff will have to be subordinated to that central value. We will need to err to excess until we achieve a balance that is meaningful. As it is we are too timid to try the thing properly. We are doing lots of talking but hardly any walking. Sunday morning and some Thursdays do not community make. Think of the Christmas, the Christ Mass, that we just went through. The Holiest Celebration after Easter in the church year. And what came first? Not the (church) community. Not we, the people of God, celebrating Christ's coming together. Nope. The nuclear and extended families get the prime time slot with the opening of presents as the main event. I should like to see us all meet for a shared Christmas dinner after a worship time on the day. That would build/test our ideal of community.
I have to say that ultimately yes, the ideal of community goes right to the heart of Jesus' teachings. "I will build my called-out-ones, my assembly, my raucous town hall, my ekklesia (Ray's amplified version, with thanks to Thomas Cahill)" certainly has the air of a plural relationship, one we all have together with the Saviour and Lord. And yes I accept that my experience cannot overrule his words. I just don't know how we ought to apply it in this time of isolated living, without being, even to ourselves, rather unconvincing.