Sunday, November 29, 2009

Too Much Community

It seems that there is a new emphasis on "Community" going around in Christian circles.

I've gone along with this without any fuss, because, well, community is important, but the emphasis has always made me a bit wary, and I've only recently gotten around to asking myself why I'm wary.

As I think about it, I believe the answer is that I am wary for the same reason that other emphases make me wary. I get wary when I think an emphasis is gaining such prominence that it might upset the bedrock emphasis that Jesus gave us in Matthew 22:37-40, that the most important command is to love God, and the second most important command (into which developing community would fall) is to love one's neighbors as one's self. When command number two starts to nudge out command number one, I start to get fidgety.

Also, I am a bit concerned that focusing on community can mean focusing on ourselves, as the church, and maybe forgetting those outside the church.

Another thing that kind of bothers me about "Community" (with a capital C), is that there is nothing inherently noble about communities. There are communities that do good works and there are communities of robbers and murderers. There are communities where the members are kept in misery and ignorance by abusive leaders. There are communities that don't want to be communities, such as prisoners in jail. You can't get away from communities. You probably belong to dozens of them. Your neighborhood, your city, your state or province, your country, your race, your religion, your hobbies, your work, your Facebook friends. Nazi Germany was a community, Soviet Russia was a community, Communist North Korea is a community. Communities are often sources of conflict as people identify themselves with their community as opposed to other communities.

Good and bad, they are all over the place and I don't think you can get away from community unless you are a self-sufficient hermit living in the outback of Australia or Alaska.

So I really don't think there is any particular need to emphasize the importance of community any more than there is a need to emphasize the importance of air. It is important; we all know it is important; and for the most part, it is just there.

And as for the church, the church IS a community, whether it wants to be or not, so I'm not sure I see much value in telling people, "We need to be a community" when that is what they already are. Instead, I think the church should emphasize being a good community, a godly community, worshiping God together and helping each other out and reaching out in love beyond our church community.

Happily, for the most part, even if I'm not entirely comfortable with their choice of words, I think that is what most people mean when they emphasize community, and so for the most part I applaud, but I just think we should be careful not to promote command number two to replace command number one.