Formation | Community | Culture

The Story of Community

Created for Community

As human beings, we have been created as relational beings.

In the very beginning, man was created  with three purposes of life: to center his life on God, to live in community, and to care for and cultivate the created world. All three of these purposes are relational: relationship to God, to one another, and to the world. We are hard-wired to need relationships and to take on or absorb the characteristics of others around us. We were created with a capacity for growing and developing throughout our lives, and each relationship and activity shapes the person we become. This is all confirmed by research in social science and in biology, and of course, as Christians, we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this.

We recognize this human capacity is a thread of the Divine image. God has eternally existed in the fellowship of His own triune nature—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—in perfect communion with one another for all of time. If God is relational in His essence, and if we are created in His image, then it should follow that we are relational begins, created for connecting deeply with one another.

In other words, we cannot be fully human apart from meaningful relationships. Loneliness is perhaps the most debilitating form of suffering, and longterm isolation is the worst form of punishment. You’ve heard of stories of newborn babies in large orphanages that can die from a lack of human touch and affection. And that strikes us as tragedy. Why? From the moment of birth, we rely on others, but for survival and for meaning, security, and flourishing.

We are relational beings, and we will never be whole or holy without one another.

Community Shattered

But, sadly, man chose not to center life on God and things have been unraveling ever since. All relationships have blown up– across racial boundaries, across nations, and even within families and marriages. As a result, we reject community. Especially in America, we don’t want community, we want options. We want people, but only on our terms. This is our culture, and we need to recognize it.

It’s always easier to recognize things in other cultures than our own. We think, “That culture really emphasizes this or that.” But when we think about our own culture, we think (especially white Americans think): “We don’t have a culture; this is just the way things should be done.” Which is really self centered by the way!

But we cannot fall for the Western lie that the good life is found in personal autonomy—having freedom, having everything on our terms. Almost every other culture on earth and in history has understood the good life to measured by relational quality, not financial wealth or personal security or fame. As Christians, we should be especially aware of this, because the essence of sin is self-centeredness.

And we cannot fall for the notion that we have become the persons we are because of our personal choices! We are who we are because of the people around us– we’ll never be transformed by Christ unless we’re living in the mechanism that God created to bring about that transformation: the new community.

We know we have a great need for one another, yet so much within us resists any relationships that require work and commitment.

Thankfully, if we turn back to the Story of the world, we see a story of community restored.

Community Restored

The beginning of the redemption of community is displayed with Abram: God intervenes and brings about a baby from a 90 year old woman. Suddenly, God has a people, a family, a new society.

In Moses, God takes another individual and makes something greater. Moses is an outlaw, yet he takes him and promises to free his people through him. God promises to come down and liberate them from Egypt, to restore his community.

Isaiah 40-66 points forward to another intervention, a greater Moses, a better Abraham: a Messiah who liberates us not just from social oppression, but inner oppression- our own sin and death. The result of this liberation, again, is the new community, the re-made society of God’s people.

Then, in Sermon on the Mount, Jesus announced “you are a new community, a city on a hill, a light on a stand that cannot be hidden.” Not you will be, but you are. You, my followers, my church, are the new community.

And finally, what began in a garden with a single man ends with an entire community in a gorgeous New City. The apostle John receives a glorious vision of a new heavens and new earth– an eternal Place where the lion and sheep lie down together, where all relational strife and conflict is no more, and where worshipers from every tongue, tribe, and nation gather as one before the Throne of Grace.

This is the pattern: God comes down, and each time, even more radically, people are more transformed. Each time, the community becomes more and more Christlike.

This is the grand Story. The Story of all stories. It is here that we find that man is not meant to be alone, that all life is relational, and that our salvation is not an individual gift but the formation of a New Community.

JSL

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