Now Featured in the Patheos Book Club
Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People
By Eberhard Arnold, Saint Benedict, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Joan Chittister, Dorothy Day, David Janzen, Chiara Lubich, Thomas Merton, Henri J. M. Nouwen, John M. Perkins, Mother Teresa, Jean Vanier, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and others
Edited by Charles E. Moore
At one level or another, all of us want to be connected with others. But what does it mean to connect? What does it take to forge relationships that count? How do we move from living autonomous, self-sufficient lives to a life that is genuinely interdependent and shared?
Superficiality and rootlessness are diseases of our time. Shallow friendships and fragile relationships mark not only our society but also the church. By contrast, we read that the early Christians did not just occasionally fellowship (verb); they were a fellowship (noun). They didn't go to church; they were the church. Few of us today experience life together as the early Christians did – a common, daily, material life of unity and sharing. Instead, we rush here and there, madly trying to connect with this group or that person, but still living lives that are very much our own. We follow and text each other, but actually share very little of ourselves.
To come across a dismembered human body part, like a finger or a toe, would shock and repulse us. If we would only step back and see how fractured and dismembered our lives are, we might see why restoring our lives to wholeness, as difficult as this might be, is so desperately needed. After all, this is what Christ prayed for, and it is what our world needs. Jesus prayed that we might be a community, that his followers would possess the togetherness and love and unity that he and the Father have for each other (John 17:20–26).
No wonder the reciprocal pronoun "one another" (allelon) stands out in the New Testament. This one word highlights the importance of belonging to a group that shares life:
Outdo one another in showing honor (Rom. 12:10)
Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16)
Admonish one another (Rom. 15:14)
Greet one another with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16)
Wait for one another (1 Cor. 11:33)
Have the same care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)
Be servants of one another (Gal. 5:13)
Bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2)
Comfort one another (1 Thess. 5:11)
Build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11)
Be at peace with one another (1 Thess. 5:13)
Do good to one another (1 Thess. 5:15)
Put up with one another in love (Eph. 4:2)
Be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph. 4:32)
Submit to one another (Eph. 5:21)
Forgive one another (Col. 3:13) Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)
Pray for one another (James 5:16)
Love one another from the heart (1 Pet. 1:22)
Be hospitable to one another (1 Pet. 4:9)
Meet one another with humility (1 Pet. 5:5)
Virtually none of the above exhortations make sense unless we share life together and are committed to one another. How are we to bear another person's burden unless the burden is known and unless we are willing to actually carry it? How are we to "put up with each other" unless we relate closely enough to get on each other's nerves? How are we to forgive one another unless we are in each other's lives enough to hurt and let one another down? How can we learn to submit to one another unless we struggle with differences? In other words, if we are to connect (or reconnect) our lives with one another, it will demand much more of us than we normally give. It demands that we become a church community, not just occasionally go to church or have community with others.
Community is a nice ideal, but are we ready to do the work it takes to forge a common, committed life with others on a daily basis, especially if it costs us? If we are honest, we'll recognize that we have been groomed to believe that our lives are ours to do with as we please and that our independence is more important than our involvement in whatever groups we happen to participate in, including the church. But forming community will never happen if we keep hanging on to our independence. Neither will it happen if our schedules only allow us to meet together a couple of hours a week. We will have to form new lifestyle habits and dispense with old patterns of living and thinking. We will have to sacrifice convenience and give up private spaces and personal preferences. We will have to make concerted choices to forgo some of our personal freedom so that others can more naturally be in, and not just around, our lives. It will take work.