Friday, May 21, 2010

Church as Community

Christianity Today came out with an article on the value of a true community in a church. It points out how in American culture, the danger of a "me-centered" individual works against the dignity of the whole. As a working thesis, the author holds that the New Testament and Old Testament lay out a model of church that involves community. In the Old Testament, the family unit was so important that you deferred to their needs. (He doesn't go into depth, but there are many OT texts that say just this kind of self-denial in the Law of Moses). In the New Testament, a Mediterranean family model is emphasized (brother, sister, Father, child, inheritance). Culture has hijacked Christ today so that he is a divine therapist aiding --the individual-- Christian to seek their own spiritual quest. This is evident in church hoping, when an individual Christian never stays at a church very long in our day. Persons who are involved in one church for long enough will see this. After a year or months, the church hopper is gone off to the next church for a year or months. That is because the faith is all about them says the writer of the article. It is about self-fullfilment rather than what a strong group of Christians needs. The article gives some evidence in addition to the Bible that there was more of a family connection (not easily broken then) in the OT and NT. Josephus is quoted regarding the Jewish Temple situation, where worshippers were interested in the "welfare of the community" and "are born for fellowship." He also quotes a church father, Cyprian, who says the "Master of unity did not wish prayer to be offered individually" in the Lord's Prayer. "Our prayer is public and common, and when we pray, we pray not for one but for the whole people, because we, the whole people, are one." Interesting truths. I think the article overall is very solid. There are a few weak points in it. There must always be an emphasis upon the individual response to Christ (which should not be left out or minimized either), but the community of Christ is what one joins not just a bunch of people standing in the same place with no real connections once a week. [Joseph Hellerman was the article author, Professor of NT at Talbot Sch. of Theol. He has published with B&H Academic.]

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