Christianity and Community
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:13-20).
Social networking is all the rage. People have an array of media to “connect” with each other, yet studies indicate that loneliness, isolation, and a sense of “disconnection” or insulation are all on the rise.
Could it be that physical proximity or communication alone does not necessarily generate intimacy and real relationship (I’ve often been on an elevator, standing very close to other people and even chatting, yet felt no connection whatsoever)? So, maybe all these social networking tools are, by their very nature, superficial and a poor facsimile for vibrant fellowship, transparent sharing, and dynamic “community life.” Probably so.
But before we lay all of the blame on the internet or secular culture, let’s ponder the words of Pricilla Shirer: “In the first century in Palestine, Christianity was a community of believers. Then Christianity moved to Greece and became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome and became an institution. Then it moved to Europe and became a culture. And then it moved to America and became a business. We need to get back to being a healthy, vibrant community of true followers of Jesus.”
The truth is that with all of our tools, modes of communication (Does your church blog, “tweet,” or have a Facebook page?), and mega gatherings we still see a dearth of genuine koinonia. In other words, the consumer church is just as guilty as the world of propagating a shallow definition of how intimacy, fellowship, and doing life together in authentic community is supposed to operate. We rarely see the “body-life” and synergy that the new church experienced soon after its advent at Pentecost (Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-35). It is no wonder the commercial church exhibits so little power.
Soon after Pentecost, however, these believers were scattered to the surrounding regions. Just like us, it didn’t take long before they needed to be reminded of their calling to community in Christ. For their edification James writes to these diasporic churches located throughout Palestine. The conclusion of his letter found in James 5:13-20 points us to 5 critical activities of the community of faith. This is what “church” is supposed to look and act like. These are the types of activitiesthat the followers of Christ do with and for each other:
• Sharing – of our tribulations and joys (and, I believe, resources as well)
• Healing – primarily spiritual and emotional, but also physical
• Praying – for ourselves and each other
• Interceding – on behalf of the entire group or the larger cause of God’s kingdom
• Intervening – in the lives of those that are struggling with various issues
James beckons these small groups to invest themselves in each other on such a deep level that they were to be in communion as if their lives and faith depended on it. And such was the case with these early believers: as many faced temptation, tribulation, persecution, and even martyrdom, the strength of their faith became inseparable from their interdependence upon one another. They needed to be in community as much as they desired to be. Their on-going sense of togetherness was much different than most of us experience in our 21st century society or, for that matter, our journey with Jesus.
This is not to suggest that this community of believers was a “holy huddle” that did not affect or transform the culture around them. Just the opposite was the case. Their influence was manifested in the dynamos that germinated in their mutual sharing, support, and love. Even those who persecuted them could not deny their radical commitment to each other and their Lord. They flourished in the midst of their challenges because they clung to their Christ and community of faith. Nurtured in their shared experience and commonality in Christ they, by their courage and love saturated lifestyle, projected the beauty of Jesus and the glory of God. In doing so they demonstrated what real church and community is all about.
And we should do the same.
I’m reminded of the words of Peter Williamson – “The Lord does not want us to live in the world and go to church, but to live in the church and go to the world.”
In order to do so, however, the relationships we have with each other in Christ must be deep, servant oriented, and meaningful. We must gather around the cross together in a genuine community of faith. Only then can we unleash and exert the power of being His body in a world where each individual is in desperate need of Jesus.