What we can learn from Augustine’s mom about community

When Augustine’s mother Monica moved to Milan, she was concerned about fasting. The practice was universal in the church from the beginning, but it differed in places. In Monica’s hometown the church abstained on Saturdays, but not the church in Milan. What should she do?

Augustine, then a catechumen, had no idea; so he put the question to his bishop, Ambrose.

“[W]hatever church you come to, conform to its custom,” said Ambrose. Even as a bishop he said that he observed the same rule (Letter 36.32).

Notice the assumptions at play here:

  • Christian life is practiced together;
  • clashing practices are undesirable;
  • it’s reasonable for an individual to conform her practice to that of the community.

We don’t think like that any longer, not really. Monica was worried her differing practice would give offense. Contrariwise, the notion that anybody should conform to anything outside his choosing today seems offensive to us.

We find churches that fit our practice or demand elbowroom for our idiosyncrasies or simply leave. Increasingly, we abandon the local church entirely and claim to be spiritual but not religious.

We feel entitled to practice our faith anyway we desire, regardless of the will of the wider community—ironically, despite a tremendous amount of popular talk about the church as community. But what can community actually mean if the individual is ultimate?

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.

  • http://blessingmpofu.com/ Blessing Mpofu

    whoa. very strong point. i do think this is one of the most notable things in our present culture. the convenience of things being convenient for us. we want our comfort at the expense of what God would wants… challenging.

    • Joel J. Miller

      True. We are all products of our time, so to speak. But Christianity isn’t. It’s hard to know where to begin addressing this.

  • http://www.BillintheBlank.com/ Bill Blankschaen

    Ouch. Just pondering this very thing as I received yet another response to my criticism of the modern evangelical church: “Just find another church!”

    So we may be one, I guess.

    Thanks, Joel.

    • Joel J. Miller

      Yeah, we’re in a bit of a bind, aren’t we? I’ve got no workable answers. Just plagued by the problems.

  • http://davidteems.com David Teems

    Christian community in the original sense is that messy, often conflicted, but nonetheless warm and glorious union of souls committed to the command of Christ to love one another, and with a 2nd Chapter of Acts kind of bond. “A new command I give you,” Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. —John 13:34, NIV). This commandment is the very soul of Christianity. It is also where the “ouch” may best apply. God didn’t trust us to figure this love out on our own. He knows us too well. He felt it necessary to demonstrate that love with his own son—the kind of love that will cost you something precious, that will demand a death—a selfless, conditionless kind of love not easy to attain. The rest is sapless and empty without it, however obedient we might prize ourselves to be. I may be crazy, but without this type of adhesion, any talk of Christian community is a pleasant fantasy.

    Love the post. This response is merely supplemental.

  • garbo77

    Hi Joel and everyone!

    Seems impossible, but we know all things are possible for God. And that is to pray that God will, somehow, get us all on the same page spiritually. But even then, we will still have preferences for what Pastor we feel comfortable with, etc.

    I believe that God never intended for us to be anything other than the church He showed to us in Acts. However, man wants to do things his way and now we have thousands of churches with variances of beliefs.

    My wife and I prayed for God to show us the church that He wanted us to attend. We have been in the church, that He showed to us, for close to ten years. Are the leaders perfect, is the congregation perfect? No, but that is where God put us and we, by the grace of God, will stay unless he tells us to go elsewhere! And guess what, we aren’t perfect either; guess we should feel right at home while God helps each of us from glory to glory become closer to Him and striving to be more and more obedient to Him!

    Joel, I’m headed for 74 years young and have noticed a sharp decline our family coming together to fellowship and have dinner together, etc. I remember when I was younger (I’m still young); when I was a child, that we got together at Grandma and Grandpa’s home and they. in our home,for dinner often, especially on Sunday. Do you see that happening or is it just in our family? Another thing that we always did is eat together. I feel the watching of TV and the playing of video games has caused a decrease in family meals together. I feel it is so important to eat together. It just seems to bring the family to being closer. How do you feel about that?

    Keep up the good job and God Bless!

    Dr. Gary

    • http://www.BillintheBlank.com/ Bill Blankschaen

      If only there were a book written about our decline in community and how to restore it. Hmmm….

  • texasjo

    I chose the RCC when I was twelve, after going to a few others, and reading in the bible when Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, giving him the keys to the kingdom and the first “church,” was universal-Catholic. Since I’ve talked to many others who say “Since you love Jesus so much, why are you in that Cult? That worships Mary, that keeps Jesus hung on the cross, where priests molest children…where they wear robes, and worship bread?” They do not even consider Catholics as Christians. The Pope says we can all go to heaven. I didn’t like the old days when it was forbidden for us to go to another church, unless there was a wedding or a funeral and we asked permission. I think we should be inclusive, and that faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Perhaps they will one day understand the other churches. I believe IF it is in the intent of the person to follow Jesus and love God above all things, and they do not know any better, they are saved. I do not go to church much anymore because I found too much discord, people wanted to be heads of ministries, judgemental people, people who have no regard that church is a place where we should dress as well as for a date, besides, the music is crummy, and I loved singing the Gregorian Chant. Also, Fellowship Bible Church was much nicer to me in my time of need. We do not seem to have fellowship except at fish frys, bingo’s etc…I think there should be a “lower” Mass…tone down the robes, cut out some stuff from the ancient folks, be happy, and when they sing “Hallelujah, ” let it come forth as they mean it. Most of all, I would like up to date, interesting homilies we called sermons. Not ask for money for missions or parking lots. Tell why girls shouldn’t wear pierced belly parts that show in church, even strapless dresses, and men shouldn’t just roll off the tennis court. Oh, well…

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