Yesterday I wrote a little about the famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Today I want to write about another kind of famine that is spreading over our land: a famine of community among those who would follow the Lord. This kind of famine is just as deadly as the first, especially since it is more deceptive.
In all the cities of our land there are evangelical churches where the Word of God is being preached. Yet there is usually something else added to the gospel, and it is all the more deceptive in that almost no one recognizes it as an additive. I am talking about the pietistic belief that the only thing that really matters is to be born again and begin a relationship with God. As long as all is right between God and me, nothing else matters.
But we are social creatures, created to have fellowship with others. We need the community of fellow believers to share our struggles and our victories. To weep with us when we weep, to rejoice with us when we rejoice. To warn us when we begin to stray from the Way, to help us find our way back, to bear with us when we are weak and almost overcome by the trials and sorrows of the way.
But not much of this is available. The big churches have ministries for every identifiable group in their midst, but this does not create a bond between individuals and families, it does not build a sense of community. There may be considerable excitement for a time, a sense that God is really doing great things, but somehow the inner hunger for community is not being satisfied.
There is much concern in the churches today about “leavers,” those who live a vibrant, overcoming Christian life for years and then leave the faith, saying they cannot believe any more. Where was the community? Did no one notice the little signs that something was changing? That this soul was starving?
It is possible to have a sense of Christian community in a big city. But a big church with special ministries does not create community. It takes a group of believers who are committed to the Lord and to each other. A group of believers who make their spiritual community the focus of their social lives, who do not only gather together for worship and Bible study but find other times to visit together as families. They may visit about many things of everyday life and it may seem that there was only a little said of spiritual things, but these everyday visits build trust and community, a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself and my family. Bonds of fellowship and unity grow, forming a web of relationships that is not easily torn asunder.
There is yet another level to this sense of community. There needs to be a larger community of congregations of the same faith, so that when one travels, or relocates, it is possible to find a congregation of the same faith where one can feel at home. The bonds between congregations are as important as the bonds between individuals and families.
However, because of the inroads of individualistic pietism, many Christians do not realize their need of community. And there is a difficulty that needs to be admitted. I cannot be right all the time and feel myself part of a community. It is not possible for us to disagree and yet each one be right.
The Apostle Peter admonishes us: “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). We need to be willing to learn from one another, to bend a little when others do not see things as I see them. I need to let my rough edges get worn smooth, yet be patient with the brother, or sister, whose rough edges are still very evident.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit is not given to exalt me above others, but to make it possible to recognize the same Spirit in my brothers and sisters. The Spirit unites us in a common purpose, despite differences in background, social status and character. It is the Spirit that binds us together and smooths the differences between us, allowing us to draw spiritual nourishment from the community of fellow believers.