a community of faith
Posted by Dr. Larry Taylor
Biblically, we are saved, we are transformed, we serve, not as individuals, but in community.
That runs contrary to the American ideal of individualism and contrary to the American perception of individual salvation. We have invented a Christianity that is all about us. Jesus died for me. I pray a prayer. I am saved. I hang out with others as I see fit. I go to church if I want. Not if I don’t.
Those who have a financial interest in having people attend churches seek in various ways to entice me to their campuses. They use everything from the latest marketing techniques to extravagant showmanship to condemnation and guilt to get me (or at least my money) in the door.
If I am a successful and wealthy businessperson who gives a lot of money, they will put me on their board, the pastor will greet and visit me with enthusiasm, I will be honored in various ways, and everyone will careful not to offend me. They will likely appoint a staff person whose primary job is keep me happy. Together, we will build multi-million-dollar facilities with top-of-the-line lighting, sound, visual, and special effects systems that can compete with the Strasbourg Opera House.
We will hire excellent musicians and licensed child care workers. We will put on amazing shows weekly. People will “walk the aisle” as the congregation applauds. We will produce programs of all sorts. We will promote help for the addicted, the divorced, the bereaved, the cancer survivors. We will fund missionaries who will go across the globe spreading the good news of white American culture. We’ll have youth groups filled with the “in” crowd from the local schools, and children’s ministry to rival Sesame Street. Our staff will have a C-Suite with a CEO, CFO, CXO, CIO, and COO, but of course we won’t call them that. We’ll call them pastors and ministers. They will be compensated handsomely. Mid-six-figures handsomely.
Ostensively, we will do all this for the glory of God. In reality, we will do all this to feed our individualistic, capitalistic, success-driven egos. “And what has the wheat to do with the chaff?” asks YHWH.
Emphatically landing on the personal pronouns, Jesus declared, “I will build my church.” “Church” is ecclesia (Greek: ἐκκλησία). It has nothing whatsoever to do with either an institution or a building. The word was used both in the Greek and Jewish worlds. In the Graeco-Roman world, the ecclesia was a kind of town council. Free citizens met to determine what was best for their community. Kind of like a homeowner’s association. In ancient Judaism, the ecclesia was a group of people specially chosen by God. By virtue of birth, they were God’s ecclesia. In both cases ecclesia was a gathering of people. Combining the Greek and Jewish meanings, ecclesia is a group of people specially chosen, set aside, to positively influence society. Salt penetrating to preserve the good. Light penetrating darkness. Fire penetrating chaff. Love penetrating hate.
For three centuries the followers of Jesus formed communities in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. They owned no buildings. They met in koinonia groups in houses. They did life together. They ate, worked, prayed, worshipped, studied, and celebrated Eucharist. They understood the importance of solitude. They had a common purse. No one owned anything. The community owned everything. Everybody’s needs were met. They were mostly poor folks, ostracized by family and society. Their leaders were servants appointed by the Holy Spirit. They waited expectantly to hear God’s inner voice of love. They recognized that the satan’s power was behind empires with their militarism and greed, so they refused to work for the government. They followed Jesus’ command to love enemies and turn the other cheek, so they refused military service. They were denounced as traitors and cowards. Theirs was the community of faith. It was peaceful, communal, and focused on service. They went out and gathered in unwanted babies. They tended the sick. They were joyful.
Then, around 400 AD, the intended Bride of Christ married the Empire instead.