Yesterday I addressed the Problem of Community in America and the Church at the Acts 29 Bootcamp. About an hour before the talk, I scrapped a third of the talk and replaced it with some more practical stuff. The section I scrapped explores “The Problem of Community” as a result of our interpretation of Acts.
The Problem with Community Churches
One way to approach the problem of community is by focusing on community. Call it the Community-centered Approach. We plant community churches, start community groups, and preach community sermons. In an age of superficial social networking, pastors, church planters call us to deep church, strong social networking. And in search of the holy grail of community, we often quote and teach Acts 2:42-46, reminding our people that the NT church was a church that: “all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” We want to be a NT church, do church and be church the way they did in the NT! We hold out a vision of biblical community, restructure our churches for community. But there are a few problems with this approach.
The first is Moral. The church just isn’t moral! We refuse this kind of community because it is inconvenient and costly. After all, we are consumers first and Christians second, right? When reading Acts, we do well to remember the Epistles! Do you really want to be a NT church? Corinthian back-biting, incest, drunkenness, gossip, worship of mega pastors/apostles, puffed up with theological knowledge, deflated on love…and oh, lying and deception. How do you build a community on that? The first problem with solving the problem of community with community is the community; it’s immorality. The second problem is Biblical. Biblical: yeah, the Biblical picture of community includes immorality. It includes sin! When reading Acts 2, we need to keep reading Acts. Remember Acts 5? Ananias and Sapphira, poster children for the early NT community, the Early Church. They lied to the Holy Spirit, the Apostles, and the church. They refused to live in community, and were struck dead on the spot! The second problem is that Biblical community doesn’t fit your vision of community. It is nowhere close to your holy grail of community. The third is Theological. NT churches we varied. There is no one NT church. There were city churches and there were house churches. Jewish churches and Greek churches. All kinds of variety. There isn’t a definitive biblical ecclesiology that solves the problem of community. There is no one method that will get you your Grail. Now, don’t get me wrong. Teach Acts 2, just don’t do it apart from Acts 5 and the Epistles. Don’t restrict your view of community to part of the NT, expand it to include all the NT!
The Cynical Approach to Community
So that is one approach to the problem of community, to solve it with community. Another approach is the cynical approach. I wont spend much time on this. But let’s just say that there are a lot of people in our churches, in America that are highly cynical of community in a church! Why do you think they are running to the false refuge of FB and Twitter?! The cynic approaches community suspiciously. They’ve had their communal hopes dashed. This person has been hurt by relationships, burned by the church, and becomes the I-Believe-in-Jesus-not-the-Church person. Or they just seek community elsewhere. They’re so cynical about church, they satirize it calling it a religious institution, a political machine, MacChurch. But down in their heart is a flickering flame of hope. It occasionally dances out, looking for meaningful, honest, authentic relationships. True acceptance. See, the cynic still holds onto the ideal of community, or else they wouldn’t be so cynical, so critical of the church. They have a secret hope that the church could be something more. And here’s our hope. Every human is hard-wired for community, and even though we may idealize or satirize the church, approaching it all wrong, there’s still a longing. Deep down, for community, real community. So how do we get it? What’s the solution?