“Community” has become a buzzword, both in Christendom and in the world. In Christendom, you will find many churches with “community” in their name. For example, Community Church of ______ (name the town or city) or Community Bible Church. You also hear of Community Groups in many churches, referring to smaller groups that meet to have a bible study or gathering of some kind. As for the world, there are television shows titled Community, many colleges are named ______ Community College, and movies titled Community.
The worldly perspective on community can be described with words such as support, encouragement, connection, fellow-feeling, etc. Those are the felt needs of people – as social creatures. Their community is simply in relation to themselves and others. God is not in the equation.
The church’s perspective on community should be quite different! Our reason for having community should be for the sake of godliness. Our goal for having community should be to “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 John 1). We should want community, not simply for connecting, but for the purpose of glorifying our Father who is in heaven. The Bible calls it fellowship.
We must not let the world’s view on community determine how we “do” community (or have fellowship) in the church. In order for community/fellowship to truly be Christian, it must be based in: 1) a relationship with God, 2) truth, and 3) obedience. We will discuss each of these in a little more detail.
1) Relationship with God
In order for there to be true Christian community, each person must have a focus on God, a reconciled relationship with Him. We see this concept most vividly in 1 John 1:1-10 where we read of the Apostle John’s eyewitness account of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ! The people in the church received that witness, and the Spirit of God made real in their lives the salvation they had in Jesus Christ. This resulted in fellowship with both the Father and the Son!
John moves on from the reality of the new vertical relationship with God to that same fellowship being shared with other believers. This happens as they walk in truth – together! But it can only happen after they have a relationship with God. So, fellowship happens when two or more people, who know God, walk in the truth of Scripture together.
Issues of truth are fundamental. It is not a matter of being loving vs unloving, nice vs not nice, nor unity vs discord. It is a matter of truth vs error! New Testament books are riddled with warnings concerning doctrinal error. And so, the call of community (or unity) should always fall on the heels of a call to truth.
The perfect example of this is Jesus’ high priestly prayer. Notice the order of truth and fellowship.
“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” John 17:17 (NASB)
“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one” John 17:22 (NASB)
Jesus did not pray simply that Christians are one, but that they are one as He and the Father are one. First truth from God (Scripture), then fellowship with other believers. This can also be seen in Ephesians 4:1-16 where the command for oneness in spirit is clearly based in the unity of the one faith, one Lord, one baptism.
Very early in the life of the church, the Apostles had to deal with false doctrine and false teachers. These false teachers came disguised (Galatians 2:4), and so John tells the believers something very important.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” 1 John 4:1-6 NASB
John says the deceivers are to be “overcome.” They are not to be received into fellowship! The deceivers “speak from the world” and so there cannot be any real fellowship with them in the Biblical sense. Community can only be Christian when it has truth as its basis.
The final thing needed for true Christian community to take place is a mindset of obedience. This means we maintain our attention on Christ and His truth in order to obey His Word. We always keep Christ the focus and help others always keep Christ the focus.
“Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” 2 John 8-9 (NASB)
In our current culture, just about everything is made to be spiritual. But not all that is spiritual is of the Holy Spirit. (Read Do Not Believe Every Spirit, But Test the Spirits) We must have diligence and fortitude to differentiate the two. The devil’s seductiveness may be as simple as getting people to “participate” with false teachers. Scripture tells us of people who go beyond the teaching of Christ. They do not stay within the boundary of the truths of Scripture. What are we to do if such persons are in our midst? John tells us.
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.” 2 John 10-11 (NASB)
We are not to receive them into our houses nor give them a greeting. This means supporting them. If we help those people who go beyond the teaching of Christ, we participate in their wickedness.
Now, let’s get practical. Obeying this command takes conscious and investigative effort. There are numerous books, videos, music, and conferences within Christendom stained with unorthodoxy and falsehoods. It is quite possible we are “graciously” furthering the ministry and influence of those with false doctrine. We could potentially be sinning by:
- Reading/studying or recommending a book written by a heretic because it has “other good stuff” in it.
- Singing/purchasing music we like of someone who teaches false doctrine; or even paying licensing rights to use in our churches.
- Reposting things on social media that seem okay on the surface without investigating the “who” of the post.
And there are many more, but you get the idea. We really need to take inventory and ask ourselves if we are maintaining an obedient and pure witness to Jesus Christ in all that we do.
True saints remain loyal to only the Lord Jesus Christ. Which category do you fall under?
In conclusion, we must be diligent that our churches/communities uphold these three crucial things – a relationship with God, a foundation of truth, and an obedient mindset. Otherwise, we may just have another worldly form of community that is labeled “Christian” in which God has no part.