God meets us in community. Jesus saves us in community. The Holy Spirit transforms us in community. The individualism of our culture is a lie devised by the Father of Lies to isolate us and divide us so that we don’t mature into the image of God with which we were created to bear. The more buds we stick in our ears, the more screens we stick in our faces, the more technology moves us away from face-to-face life together, the less likely we are to “attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Skipping small groups Sunday night to finish that work project for Monday morning does you more harm than good. Postponing that lunch with a friend to watch a DVR’ed TV show isn’t the healthiest thing for you. You’re better off waiting in line with people to hand your money to a real live cashier than zipping through a self-checkout station to swipe your card by yourself. Saying ‘no’ to the church potluck in order to eat your own style of food in your own kitchen on your own time is saying ‘no’ to God’s holy design.
I like Eugene Peterson’s angle on Christian community in his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places:
Christ plays in the community of people with whom we live, and we want to get in on the play. We see what Christ does in creation and history and we want in on it, firsthand with our families and friends and neighbors.
But difficulties arise. Sooner or later those of us who follow Jesus find ourselves in the company of men and women who also want to get in on it. It doesn’t take us long to realize that many of these fellow volunteers and workers aren’t much to our liking, and some of them we actively dislike — a mixed bag of saints and sinners, the saints sometimes harder to put up with than the sinners. Jesus doesn’t seem to be very discriminating in the children he lets into his kitchen to help with the cooking.
I didn’t come to the conviction easily, but finally there was no getting around it: there can be no maturity in the spiritual life, no obedience in following Jesus, no wholeness in the Christian life apart from an immersion and embrace of community. I am not myself by myself. Community, not the highly vaunted individualism of our culture, is the setting in which Christ is at play.
Living together in community forces a person to sacrifice, to compromise, to give in. It teaches one to share, to serve, to submit to the whole. Life with others encourages a person to think about others, to see somebody else’s point of view, to consider other possibilities. See, community makes us more like Jesus.
I’m pretty sure that’s by design.