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I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Basic Christian Communities: A Primer

Apparently less and less people want to be connected to religious communities anymore. Welcome to America! The freedom from religion that we enshrined into our constitution is now becoming more and more a reality in the lives of people. Since the USA doesn't make people join a religion, they don't. I hope they vote...(Irony of ironies, if they don't keep voting, the government may soon force them to choose a religious community to follow.)

Does this mean people are less religious or spiritual because they do not belong or affiliate with a religious or spiritual community? For some, say Buddhists, the answer may be "No." In general, although it is not recommended, one can be a Buddhist without a community, as the universe itself is the community to which one belongs. For other religious traditions, say Judaism, the answer is "Yes." People are less spiritual and religious as Jews if they don not belong to a community. The ethnic identity is so inherent in the religion, that is is more possible to be a Jew who is not religions or spiritual than it is to be a religious or spiritual person who wants to be a Jew.

What about Christianity? Christianity, as with our Jewish brothers and sisters, also affirms that it is impossible to be a Christian without a community. Christians make this argument in two basic ways.

Way # 1: Community is the cornerstone of Christian faith and life. Often people will call to Jesus of Nazareth who had a group of 12 disciples (turned out to be one too many--should have let Judas go.),and say this is where Christian community began. The Apostle Paul was instrumental in starting groups of Christians within Jewish communities, and next thing you know you have Cyril and Methodius creating congregations in the Slavic region, and Francis Xavier going to China. Community is the bedrock upon which Christian faith and life is built, and many, many, many, Christian congregations build community before they attend to matters of individual belief. Community is the foundation upon which faith in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit makes sense of the world.

Way # 2: God is community. (Or, as I argue, the "Divine Congregation.") This is a less popular way because of the irony involved. You see, if God is community, and community is not optional to faith, religion, or spirituality; then, communities of faith are not necessary to a relationship with God. (God is--literally--all the community you need.) Do you need to have community with other people? Well, one tradition, the Orthodox Christians, argue yes, and like our Jewish brothers and sisters, often base that community upon their ethnic heritage. Like Judaism, the community is not restricted to its ethnic heritage, but it is the tradition. A second group of Christians, spirit-driven Christians, also argue that if one is in community with God truly, you will be driven to community with other people. (That's what God does--God keeps growing community.) Pentecostalists are the most common type of this Christian. If one is of the Spirit, and the Spirit seeks community, you have no choice but to join community. (There is also one other subgroup of the Pentecostalists, and this is people who follow a famous theologian, and there were many, who understood God this way. For example, Martin Luther understood faith, love, and community {he used the term "neighbor"} in this way. One serves and lives with neighbors because one's faith in the Triune God compels one to love your neighbor--or, join a community, as I'm calling it here. Oftentimes you have to abandon those who followed the theologian because they added so much to his or her initial thought. So although you may follow Luther, you would not be comfortable in some Lutheran congregations because they have added other things to this basic idea. This might explain, for example, why people leave Lutheran congregations.)

How does community relate to your faith? You understanding of God? What is God's role in the relationships you have with yourself, with your neighbor, and with God? This is the key question for those who claim no religious affiliation with Christianity. What's the point of joining a Christian community if you have no reason to be religious?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

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