Air is all around us and vital for life and yet despite being so prevalent and important we don’t see it or pay much attention to it. There is a concept in the New Testament that is equally prevalent and often equally unnoticed and neglected and that is community.
The book of Titus talking about the purpose of the Cross says that Jesus
“gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself A PEOPLE for his own possession who are zealous for good works” Titus 2 v 14,
Did you catch that?
Jesus gave himself not just for me (and you) individually and personally (though that’s wonderfully true!) but for us collectively, to purify a people for Himself. Jesus died not for unrelated individuals to live unconnected lives but with the express purpose of creating a community of connected people who would serve his purposes in the world.
In this community, people would share life together centred on Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit for the good of one another and for the good of the world. This is why the idea of community is everywhere in the New Testament. The Bible knows nothing of “lone ranger” Christianity. Christian discipleship is more like soccer than golf. It is a team sport not an activity for individuals.
Peter expresses the same idea with these words
“once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God” 1 Peter 2:10
Think about it, the metaphors for the church the New Testament uses, —stones in a temple, members of a family, sheep in a flock, soldiers in an army, citizens of a kingdom, and members of a body, they all speak to this concept of community, and so membership and belonging.
To be a Christian is to belong to a community in which you express your invisible unity to Christ with a visible unity to other believers in his Body, the Church.
I have a favourite website; you’ll not be surprised to know it has to do with motorbikes. I can go on to the MV Agusta website and “virtually” construct my dream motorbike. I choose the base model and then add all the optional extras I want, heated handlebars or carbon fibre wheels.
Increasing numbers of Christians have come to believe that being connected to community in a local church is the spiritual equivalent of heated handlebars on a motorbike, an optional extra not a vital component. All over the western world post-COVID, attendance at worship services and commitment to small groups and serving in church ministries have declined steeply. This decline can’t be explained by people who weren’t really Christians who out of cultural pressure attended church, stopping attending. (Not an issue in most of Europe) or vulnerable people staying away due to the continuing risk from COVID. It’s expressing how many Christians view the importance of the Church, of Christian community.
I hear a lot of people saying something along the lines of, I love Jesus, just can’t be bothered with Church. I can find God in creation. Worship services don’t do it for me.
Tony Merida, comments about this idea in a book he has written about the importance of the church.
“The truth is many Christians are treating as optional what Jesus died for, Christian community. Effectively telling Jesus what He believed to be all-important is relatively unimportant to them. That his priority in dying on the cross is way down the priorities of the way they want to live their life.
In Ephesians chapter 5 the inspired apostle says that Christ “loved the church [his bride] and gave himself for her” (5 v 25). The idea of “I love Jesus but not the church” is inconsistent and problematic. She’s, his bride; so that’s like saying to my best friend, “I love you, and I am happy to hang out with you; but I have no time for your wife and would rather not have to see her or spend time with her. Does that sound ok for you?”
That’s a good question.
Is the priority of Christian community to Jesus reflected in your commitment to Christian community?
Is Jesus’ priority your priority?