The Importance of Community in Christianity
What life have you if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of God . . .
-Choruses from the Rock
T. S. Eliot penned these transcendent words for The Rock in 1934. Although the modern landscape has drastically changed, the poet’s words remain relevant. In this excerpt, Eliot expresses sorrow at life devoid of community. In his times and ours, isolation and individualism are prevalent. He believes a vibrant life must entail community. The two are inextricably woven together. One without the other, for Eliot, is unthinkable.
In an age bombarded by digital devices and remote capabilities, seclusion is becoming an unhealthy pattern. Solitude can be stifling. It not only inhibits normal fellowship with others but it impedes the mission of the church. Community, therefore, is a necessity.
This discussion of church and community is part of Woodside’s Everyday Theology series episode on “What is the Church?” Though it is thoroughly defined in that episode, the church is essentially comprised of individual people that necessarily make a community of believers. In other words, community is an inescapable facet of the Christian life.
On the surface, this statement seems obvious. But the principal question is not “Is this statement true?” The real question is, “Do we live as if it is true?”
Modern Western society is characterized by individualism. Self-reliance and independence tend to serve as points of emphasis. Cultural idioms such as “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” are viewed as admirable accomplishments. Therefore, as Christians in the West, we live in a society that primarily lauds individualism while adhering to a belief system that is necessarily collectivist. This everyday cognitive dissonance can prove challenging.
Therefore, it’s vital that we not only understand the communal nature of Christianity but also how it enriches the Christian life.
Here are three important ways community coincides with Christianity:
1️⃣ Community Fosters Benevolence
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds . . .” (Heb. 10:24)
In the book of Matthew, a Pharisee sought to test Jesus by questioning Him on which is the greatest commandment of the Law. Jesus answered with, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . .And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37–39)
Notice that both commandments began with the word “love.” Every aspect of the Christian life flows from our love of God and neighbor, yet community is essential to fulfilling this divine decree. We need one another as a source of encouragement to persevere in the faith and maintain a posture of love. We all experience bouts of apathy, frustration, and a litany of other emotions. Still, it’s in community with like-minded brothers and sisters that we are urged and inspired to persist in loving one another, despite the circumstances we encounter.
2️⃣ Community Fosters Healing
“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.” -James 5:16
Sin can cause us to reject community. It isolates us in our relationship with God by causing us to place our trust in something other than God and His word. It separates us from others when we knowingly or unknowingly hurt others or are hurt by others. But the church as a community allows us to heal and learn from sin. We are called not only to confess our sins to God but also to one another so that we can pray for one another and be accountable. Often, we neglect to talk to others about our struggles due to shame or disappointment, but as Christians who are all flawed, we should be extending mercy and grace to each other as Christ did to us.
For more on this, check out Gene Getz’s book, “Building One Another Up.”
3️⃣ Community Fosters Christlikeness
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)
There are few verses in the New Testament more aspirational than what Paul proclaimed in 1 Cor. 11:1. Though he openly expressed his failures, Paul’s heart and mind were so fixated on the Lord that he comfortably invited people to follow him because he followed Christ’s example. Do you feel comfortable saying that? If not, why?
Being in community, in constant fellowship with other believers, helps to refine our lives and intentions, so they more consistently align with Christ. In community, we worship together. In community, our actions are accountable to others. In community, we read and learn Scripture. It’s in community with Christian brothers and sisters that we can spiritually mature to the point where we can confidently encourage others to follow our example as we follow the example of Christ.