Christian Practice, Part 6: Community

I'm almost done with this series. One more post after this. Once I'm done you can compare my list with your understanding of the Christian faith.

To review, I've outlined the following as fundamental Christian practices:

Ahimsa (non-harming, "turning the other cheek")
Charity (giving, personally practicing justice)
Hospitality (sharing, welcoming)
Simplicity (non-accumulation)
Kenostic Gelassenheit (emptying the self through service)
Justice (seeking to transform the world on behalf of the poor and oppressed)
Reconciliation (striving for peace, personally, locally, globally)

Today we add the practice of Community.

From the beginning, Christianity was intended to be practiced in community. Although seasons of solitude and prayer are practiced, the main locus of practice has been in community. We call it church.

Acts 2: 42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Church is a difficult practice. Churches can be extraordinarily frustrating and disappointing. Sometimes they can be decidedly unChristian.

The problem with church is always "those people." Those people who frustrate us, vote differently than us, or have different spiritual sensibilities than us. How do we manage to get along with "those people"?

It is because it is so difficult to get along with others that makes the practice of community so critical. Community is hard because it demands us to be Christ-like. And, since so few of us are Christ-like, we cannot manage the practice of community.

I like to think of church as practice, like a scrimmage (it's not really, it is, in many ways, the actual game), a place where I can try out the actions of ahimsa, charity, hospitality, simplicity, kenostic gelassenheit, justice, and reconciliation. These practices just don't spring up out of nowhere. They need to be acquired over time, the way habits are broken and formed. Thus, in community, we try out new modes of living. As we acquire this "new life" we slowly, as a group, become a "city set on a hill."

How do we start practicing community? Much has been written on this. But, in summary, I'd say that community involves...

1. Solidarity
Community involves standing with and alongside a group of fellow Christ-followers. In the language of the NT, this practice is captured by the repeated refrain to "bear with one another."

2. Stability
Community involves sticking with the group through thick and thin. The Bible calls this faithfulness. It is only by sticking with the group through difficult times of unrest and conflict that we can practice the disciplines of ahimsa, kenostic gelassenheit, and reconciliation. In short, the peace we strive for isn't simply produced by leaving the group. That is the mindset of the gated community. To achieve peace in my life by "getting away." Communal peace is harder and more difficult. As we strive to create it in our community we are transformed by the process. We cannot experience this transformation if we simply walk away.

This is not to say that there are not times when an individual believer parts ways with the group. I'm not trying to lay down rules for practicing community. I'm just noting that solidarity and stability are critical aspects to practicing community.

So, here we are. With one more post to go we have this list:

Kenostic Gelassenheit

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2 thoughts on “Christian Practice, Part 6: Community”

  1. " I like to think of church as practice... a place where I can try out the actions of ahimsa, charity, hospitality, simplicity, kenostic gelassenheit, justice, and reconciliation... Thus, in community, we try out new modes of living. As we acquire this "new life" we slowly, as a group, become a "city set on a hill."

    In your very first post of this series you wondered whether 'Ahimsa' could be practised in groups e.g. as a nation. The question has stuck in my mind as I've read the other posts. When I was trying to think of examples of Gelassenheit (post 3) I realised that churches as a whole can practice Gelassenheit in the context of the neighbourhoods and wider society of which they are a part in a way that individuals cannot. The commitment to provide community activities and projects for children, the homeless, those needing debt advice etc etc at great emotional, financial and time expense can be an 'emptying out' of the church.

    I mention this in the context of the 'community' post, because apart from the final sentence quoted above I felt that there was a sense of individuals coming together to 'practice community' with an inward looking mentality - i.e. we practice these things on/alongside each other only within church. Perhaps what I'm saying is that maybe the 'community' should have been the first post, because so many of the other practices are meant to be practised corporately - 'as a body'.

    This does not just mean engaging in Christian practice where there is support, encouragement and examples of other Christians (although this is essential). To borrow a metaphor from CS Lewis, maybe individuals engaging separately in Christian practice is like a two dimensional drawing on paper. When people come together and practice Justice, Hospitality, Simplicity, Gelassenheit etc corporately in the context of the neighbourhood/society in which they live Christian practice has the potentional to be infinitely more complex, creative, powerful and fulfilling. It is fleshed out into a fully alive three dimensional figure.

  2. I found this while doing a blog search on community. I think it is very helpful. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on how size of the body either contributes to or detracts from the ability to foster community. A lot of the things you advocate here don't seem to fit well with a very large group of people.

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