In the noise-filled dimly lit room, we lock arms, initiating a synchronized sway back and forth, ending in several fist pumps in the air, all the while singing a song that all 40,000 of us know by heart. In an entirely different setting, we stand with little movement on the sandy shore as we maintain a silence that can last well over an hour. Both these scenes are from community-driven events of which I’ve been a part. The first is a college basketball game and the second is fishing with friends. Each community had set expectations for how we would function together with definitions of what was and wasn't inappropriate behavior. 1
Communities are like that — structured by shared expectations, activities, and taboos. Each community has the authority to decide what standards will be operative within it and how those standards might even change over time. So when it comes to a Christian community, a local church, what are the rules that shape who we are, our story, our habits, and accepted behavior?
The answer to this question is what sets Christian community apart from every other community on this little hunk of spinning dirt we call earth. We are a community that is shaped and governed by God’s word, the Bible. Thankfully, much like preventing an eight-year-old from driving a car, God does not permit us to steer the direction of this community. Who we are and how we relate to one another, our practices, and what designates sin is all laid out for us by our loving and sovereign, heavenly Father. Consider then, these four aspects of our Bible-shaped community, the local church.
- The Bible tells of the creation of our community. "In the beginning God . . ." You can’t get much more profound than that. In the beginning, our Trinitarian God, in relationship with himself, created man and woman to be in relationship with him and with each other. God made us for community that is predicated first on our relationship to God and then to one another. That we even consider community at all is because our God made us that way, a creation story that begins the Bible.
- The Bible tells of the redemption of community. The first experiment in marital community resulted in the devastating entrance of sin into the world and a blame-shifting game that has continued through the generations. The first experiment in parenting ended up in one son killing the other. Community, created with such potential, shattered within a generation. But God also set about the work of restoring community. The church is the trajectory of the community-wide redemption that was purchased by the atonement of Jesus and woven through pages of scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
- The Bible tells how to order community. Justice, familial relations, gender roles, boss/employee relations, friendship, political principles, conflict resolution, local church leadership—all of it is in the Bible. God, with exacting specificity, orders the community that he created and redeemed.
- The Bible tells how community will end. Our community with God and each other will culminate in the New Heaven and New Earth where every human community will gather around the throne of God as a redeemed multitude—reconciled with God and one another—worshiping God for all eternity. The church militant is just the appetizer of what will be the feast, the church triumphant.
Take comfort in this, Christian, that the local church is not a changing structure, predicated on the whims of whatever culture thinks are communal best practices. The church is a glorious community, overseen by God himself, in which we honor Christ as the key to communion with God and healthy community between people. We are a Bible-people, who live with each other in Bible-community.
- Yelling out, “Go, Duke!” Or throwing a large rock into the lake. ↩︎