As one who has grown up in the church, I’ve noticed that sometimes Christians do silly things. Especially when it comes to announcing the various events within the life of the church. In an effort to zealously communicate the importance of the particular event, we often end up creating this drone of white noise with no perceived importance because every event ends with an exclamation point(!) telling us we have to be here, sign up for this, don’t miss out on that. When everything is critical, then nothing is (more on this at a future point).
Therefore, I recognize that when we announce that community groups are starting up, for some of us, it can be a non-issue. The reason for this? We have become conditioned to think of community groups primarily as an event, something we choose to go to or not, a block of time in our week that competes with other blocks of time, something else we must do or not do.
But what I want to put before you is the importance of rightly understanding our community. For when we do, community groups are a natural and necessary outworking of who we are.
COMMUNITY IS MORE THAN A METHOD
First of all, community is more than a buzz-word or new idea the church as recently discovered to help revitalize us. As if community was the latest method we could hitch our wagons to in hopes of leading us into the promised land of authentic church, a growing church, an attractional church or whatever our idealized church-land looks like.
COMMUNITY IS MORE THAN A GROUP
Secondly, community is more than a ‘group’ because community is not an event, it is an expression of our identity as Christians. We are not creating community by meeting in groups, we meet in groups for the purpose of working out our commonality in Christ. In his book, “Life Together,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer helpfully anchors Christian community within the foundation of a Christian’s righteousness. Meaning, to rightly understand community within the church, we have to see its direct connection to our community with the triune God. Bonhoeffer explains:
The Christian no longer lives of himself, by his own claims and justification, but by God’s claims and God’s justification. He lives wholly by God’s word pronounced upon him…The death and life of the Christian is not determined by his own resources; rather he finds both only in the word that comes to him from the outside, in God’s word to him. The Reformers expressed it this way: our righteousness is an “alien righteousness” a righteousness that comes from outside of us. They were saying that the Christian is dependent on the word of God spoken to him. He is pointed outward, to the word that comes to him. The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God’s word in Jesus Christ. If somebody asked him where is your salvation your righteousness? He can never point to himself. He points to the word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him salvation and righteousness.
After showing how the message of righteousness is so foundational to the Christian, Bonhoeffer then draws a straight line to our communion with one another:
But, God has put this word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find his living word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. And so that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation. As such, God permits them to meet together and gives them community. Their fellowship is found it solely upon Jesus Christ and this “alien righteousness.” All we can say, therefore, is: the community of Christians spring solely from the biblical and reformation message of the justification of man through grace alone; this alone is the basis of the longing of Christians for one another.
COMMUNITY IS LIFE TOGETHER IN CHRIST
This then is our great purpose in gathering together in smaller groups throughout the county on a weekly basis. We need to be told and retold of what we have in Christ. We are often slow to see and quick to forget of all that the gospel promises us. We are prone to detach our circumstances from the truth of Scripture. So, as we seek to love one another at Redeemer, we do so by serving one another as “bringers of the message of salvation.” We gospel one another through the message of the Scriptures.
Now tell me, where do I sign up for that?