Evangelist Dwight L. Moody once ate at a country inn where one of the patrons tried to engage him in a theological argument. The man said that he was a Christian, but that he did not believe in going to church. After all, isn’t one’s religion a personal matter? Why do we need others?
Moody was too tired to argue. Instead, he crossed over to the coal fireplace. He took a took a poker from the hook and drew out a coal onto the hearth. As they watched, the individual coal turned black and cool, while the others stayed red hot. “That, sir,” Moody said, “is why we need the church.”
Community living is like a dance between porcupines—we are drawn together out of loneliness, but are bloodied and bruised by our own prickly nature. It would be easier to live alone, but we can’t; we really do need each other.
Christian community cannot be achieved by us, but is already a present reality, created by divine command. We are a community. When anyone responds to the call of God, they become our brother or sister no matter how different they look, think, or behave.
This must have been hard for the first disciples to swallow. Matthew was a tax man. Simon the Zealot belonged to a terrorist group that murdered tax men. Some were young, and some were old. Some were married and others single. Some were rich and some poor. Yet they became closer than brothers.
Individualized faith is mostly imaginary. Isolated Christians are easy targets for temptation. Whatever knowledge and experience we think we have, the community has more. Our combined strengths are greater than the sum of our parts.
In community, our feelings, attitudes, and behaviors are exposed. If we act against our beliefs, community living exposes it. If we are serious about Christlike living, we will welcome this exposure, but if we keep our faith to ourselves, no one can see what needs correction in us.
What must we have to stay in community? Four things.
The first is presence. Computers and social networks are not sufficient when we are hurting. Facebook messages and well-meaning texts cannot hold our hands or give hugs. We may be spiritual creatures, but we inhabit animal bodies and need to be touched.
The second is diversity. Of all the attributes of community, this may be the most neglected. In a place where everyone is the same, how do we grow in grace and love toward others? How can we share God’s love for the whole world if we can’t tolerate the ethnic, social, political, or lifestyle differences of the person sitting next to us?
The third is tolerance. We grow communally not so much by mutual enjoyment as by grace through conflict. Paul makes it clear that we should value other members of our community as better than ourselves. This requires humility and grace that only the Holy Spirit can provide.
Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another.” When iron strikes iron, sparks fly. Through argument, emotional sharing, forgiveness, and reconciliation, we chisel each other into the shape God intends.
The fourth is commitment. Community requires a bond of trust. There must be no deceit or hidden motives. In Matthew 10: 11-13, Jesus told us, “Whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.” In other words, don’t change homes because someone else has a nicer house. Don’t be looking for greener pastures; stay and love the community God has given you.