The Community of the Church
In my last post, I spoke of the superficialities of our post-modern culture and the breakdown in true community. Of course, the breakdown of relationship started long before the Industrial Revolution. It started all the way back in the earliest days of mankind, when we first turned from God in disbelief, distrust and rebellion. The despair in much of our culture comes from the unraveling of human relationships in the context of an already dissevered relationship with God. It is hell as described by CS Lewis at the beginning of The Great Divorce: growing and spreading isolation from each other while ever apart from God.
In light of that, the community that is the Church should be the double cure for our ills. In the community of the Church, we should hear of the Savior that came to restore us to God and to one another. In the Church, we should find forgiveness and reconciliation rather than shame and isolation. In the Church, we should find an interdependency that brings both purpose and fulfillment to all its members (there are no insignificant members of the Church). In the Church, we should find the freedom to truly open up and begin to know and love one another without playing games or wearing masks. Jesus prayed that the members of His Church would be one as He and the Father are One (John 17:11,20-23). But you don’t need me to tell you that we are a long way from “spot on” when it comes to these things.
In general, my observations lead me to conclude that we have been conditioned either to avoid (those we don’t like, those we have a conflict with, those whose views or values diverge significantly from our own) or to pretend. The result is either irritable isolation or a frivolous masquerade, and there’s not much to get excited about with either. The despair begins to creep…. But the Gospel sets before us a very different picture.
In Christ Jesus, we see God engaging fallen mankind rather than withdrawing. Though He is radically different from us, yet the relationship holds because He chooses to love us in spite of ourselves.
So what of the Church? The Church is the redeemed of God. God calls sinners like you and me to Himself from every condition, background, and ethnicity—people we would not naturally dare (or want!) to associate with. How does the Body of Christ, the Church, hold together? Not by human mechanisms. If the Church operates as the world, we get superficiality or distance. Rather, Jesus commands (!) us to love one another as He has loved us. No pretending. Painful at times. Learning to forgive and seek forgiveness. Willingly entering into relationship with those with whom we radically differ at points and loving them in spite of themselves (and letting them love us in spite of ourselves).
Only when we follow Christ in this way will we begin to regain our true humanity and find a vibrant and substantial community that feels worth engaging and embracing. And the world will want in on the action.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35