The concept of community has been something that society has wrestled with for centuries. From the Egyptians, to the Romans, and to the Americans. There are even whole studies in which people give the majority of their lives to understand this idea community. If community is so important, what does that mean in the life of a believer?
It seems that although we crave strong connections with other people, there is a distinct lack of meaningful relationships. Individuals have tried to create these connections, but it seems that the opposite is happening. Two examples would be Facebook and Twitter. These companies were established to connect people. Facebook has a section called “Friends” and Twitter has a section called “Followers”. What is sad about these titles in these mediums is that they give a false impression that you have a lot of relationships and have a strong community. People get validation from the “Likes” on the Facebook post or “Retweets” on their Twitter post. The ironic part is that even though we have this way to connect with so many people all around the world; people feel even more alone than ever before.
The main problem with our society is that we have found our identity in relationships or feeling like a part of a group(s) of people. Individuals may find their identity in the political party they ascribe to. As long as they are a part of a party that they agree with, they feel at home with those people of like mind. Others find their identity with their race. Some people say that they feel more at home or comfortable when they are with a certain race. Some people find their identity in their music selection, to the point where they dress according to the “style” of that genre, specific musical instruments they play, and music they will “only” listen to in the car. More examples of groups people find identity in are gamers, car people, motorcyclists, jocks, cheerleaders, PC/MAC, tea/coffee, etc. Sadly it’s even in the church. Some people look down on others, because they are not part of their denomination, theology, methodology, etc. When those groups eventually fail us we feel like we have been slapped in the face.
Am I saying that being in community and liking a certain type of group is necessarily bad? No, but we have totally lost the center of what community and relationship should be. I think community is essential for human beings. For this reason solitary confinement is a form of punishment. If we have completely lost the center of community, then what is the center and what does that mean for us?
I think to rightly understand this question we have to do as John Calvin says in Chapter 1 Section 1 of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. “ …no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts toward the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; no, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone”. In simple terms, we have to look to how God is to truly understand ourselves.
We know that God is a triune God. That the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God. This is an amazing mystery. This triune God has always had perfect community since before time began. All three of them have been of one mind with no discourse among them. The Father sends the Son, the Son willingly comes and dies, the Son sends the Spirit, the Spirit gladly point to the Son, and the Son happily brings us to the Father. Now this triune God decided to create a group of creatures unlike anything else that he had created. In Genesis 1: 26 God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” Part of that likeness and image is that we are made to be in community by our very nature, because God in His very nature is communal and relational. This is why humans have missed the central understanding of community. The very nature of community stems from God himself. Community makes no sense outside of God. This is why even in lower creation there is community. Birds fly with other birds, penguins are always in big groups, and even ants have colonies. This is even more in human nature, because our being in community is a direct image of the triune Gods’ relationship with himself.
Jesus makes this very clear when he answers a man that comes to him asking what the greatest commandment is. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22: 37-40 ESV. Jesus starts with the understanding that we look to God first and the he is our ultimate. If we rely on him and submit to Him completely we will have a natural follow up; which is to love others as ourselves. Jesus knows that human nature is directly connected to God himself who made us. Jesus does not let these two truths be separated.
The idea of community is brought to light in the relationship of the church. One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 1: 5 where the Holy Spirit through Paul tells the church that we were adopted. This means that we were once not children of God, but through the work of Jesus Christ we are adopted into the family of God. This is a central understanding for us as a church. We are FAMILY! The God of the universe brought us into a family that will be eternally united through Jesus Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit. This family is similar to many of our families with many dysfunctions and issues, but like your family will stick together because you are family. The greater miracle of the church is that unlike your family which may get so dysfunctional that even blood doesn’t matter; this church is united and related on the infinite, powerful, holy blood of Jesus Christ. Our sins were not only paid for on the cross, but also our being brought into a family was bought at the cross. The nails that stuck our savior to a tree were also the nails that built the foundations of the church.