A Theology of Community
We live in a culture that tends to emphasize the individual. We have individual rights, individual opinions, and individual freedoms. We can buy our groceries without ever interacting with another human being. We can have friends online with whom we never talk. We can have relationships with people we have never met. We as a nation value “self-made men” and those who “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.” As a country we value autonomy over anything else. The famous phrase, “Give me liberty or give me death” means that we would rather die than give up our individual freedoms.
Now, let me be clear, individuality is not bad. We do have personal lives and many of our freedoms granted to us are a blessing and benefit. However, it is because we live in a society that emphasizes the individual that we have to focus on what the Bible says about community so that we don’t become unduly balanced. I’m not saying we are not individuals (we are); I am saying that we are also creatures that have a communal aspect.
The Bible and Community
What does the Bible teach about the importance of community?
First, God contains community within his trinitarian nature. Though there is only one God, he consists of three persons who have loved each other for all eternity (John 17:24).
Second, God creates man to be in community. After he creates Adam he says that it is not good for man to be alone so he creates community for him in the form of woman. He then commands them to create more community by being fruitful and multiplying.
Third, God sees all of humanity as a corporate whole. This is why we are all linked to either Adam or Christ (Romans 5:12-21). Humanity rises or falls with the rise or fall of the ambassador-type figures of Adam or Jesus. We are not just individual humans, we are individual humans who belong to the larger group of humanity.
Fourth, God sees his people in community in the Old Testament. God doesn’t merely elect Abraham but elects his descendants (Genesis 17:6). We are not merely commanded to love God but to love one another. God does save individuals but, in the Old Testament, he demands that they be a part of the covenant community by joining Israel, being circumcised (if male), keeping the Mosaic law, having sacrifices offered for their sins, and much more.
Fifth, God sees his people in community in the New Testament. Several theologians throughout the church have stated that, “no man can have God as his father who does not have the church as his mother.” This does not mean that we are saved by the church but rather we are saved to the church. We are not saved by the community of God but we are saved to be a part of the community of God. In salvation we go from being a rebellious sinner to an adopted member of God’s family. Remember Christ died for his bride, the church. Yes the church is made up of individuals but they also make up the entire bride, the corporate whole of the church.
Sixth, we see this in the life of Jesus. Jesus hung out and lived life in community. He and his disciples lived together, worked together, did ministry together, ate together, and were always around one another.
Seventh, we see this in the life of the early church. Acts 2 says that the early Christians sold their belongings and lived together communally. The church gathered throughout the week in each others homes.
Eighth, Paul says that though we are individuals we make up one, communal body. Ephesians 4:5 says we have, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” There is a unity that makes us Christians.
Ninth, we are commanded to be in community. We are commanded to not give up gathering together (Hebrews 10:25), to serve one another (Galatians 5:13), to recognize one another in communion (1 Corinthians 11:33), to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16), and many other things. Based on these commands you literally cannot be obedient to Christ if you are not in some form of community with other Christians.
Tenth, we will be in community for all eternity with God and with his people. Part of the hope of the book of Revelation is a universal city that contains people of every tongue, tribe, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9).
Christians don’t lose the fact that we are individuals, but we are called to be in community with one another. This is why The Parkway Church has community groups meeting throughout the week, and why we have our various fellowship events. It is why we greet one another warmly and worship together on the weekends. It is why we grab coffee during the week and bring each other food when we are sick. It is why we study the Bible together and learn theology together. It is why we take communion and why we all stand around the waters during a baptism.
The Christian life is a life of community. May our trinitarian God helps us image him well in this area.