Thursday, May 28, 2009

Book Review: Community that is Christian

Community That Is Christian by Julie Gorman is a thorn in the flesh of American culture and American evangelicalism. Julie Gorman presents a picture of community that purposely attacks and tears down our preconceived notions of community as just small groups getting together only to rebuild it to its proper state in God’s eyes. The book is clear and concise in how it defines Christian community, its purpose from a Biblical and theological perspective, and how to create and nourish it through the use of small groups. Here is a synopsis from the book of the Biblical and theological rationale for the use of small groups in our churches today.

The biblical & Theological rationale for small groups: A proper perspective
Small groups should be viewed as a means to an end. The goal of every small group should be to foster and build genuine Christian community amongst believers. Despite the potential to foster Christian community, small groups can also hinder and/or destroy community if a proper perspective is not kept. To keep the destruction of Christian community from happening within small groups we must see and understand Christian community from a Biblical perspective.

Small groups according to Jesus
What does Christian community look like within a small group? Our best starting point for understanding this is with God’s Son, Jesus, the full revelation of Himself to us. Jesus depicts Christian community as:
o Reciprocal. “For God so loved the world He gave His only Son.” (John 3:16). The Son in turn reveals the Father to us (John 17:6).
o Sharers of everything. “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.” (John 17:10).
o Totally dependent upon one another. Jesus can only do what He sees the Father doing (John 5:18). Everything He does is a direct result of what the Father has done.
o Bringing glory and honor to one another. “I have come down from heaven, not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38)
o Seeking the others best interests. Jesus’ mission was to do the will of the Father (John 8:28). The Father’s mission was to send us His Son (John 3:16). The Spirit’s mission is to be our counselor and guide (John 16:7).
o Obedient to one another. There is a desire to obey the Father displayed in Jesus Christ. “I have come down from heaven, not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38)

Jesus displays Christian community as something that is others-oriented. Should our small groups be any different? Christian community is really a fulfillment of the commandments to love God with all our heart, strength, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). The growth and development (spiritual formation) occurring in our individual lives within small groups is a by-product of our love for God and others. In summary, small groups are a means to creating Christian community among believers. However, there is a problem.

Trouble in paradise
The first small group consisted of Adam, Eve, Jesus, the Father, and Spirit living in perfect fellowship with one another in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1 – 2). This is a good picture of community as it was intended to be. After making Adam, God declared him incomplete and lacking something. He was lacking another of his own kind. So God created Eve; this gave them the opportunity to build their own community through the family…the true apex of God’s creation. Hence, God’s picture of community was complete. In the next chapter (Genesis 3), Satan shows up and tempts Eve to become independent and reliant upon herself rather than her husband and God. Both Adam and Eve gave into the temptation and a separation between the perfect community (God and mankind) emerges.

From then on, we see God actively pursuing restoration of the relationships and community broken by sin. In the Old Testament, God chose Israel by making a covenant with them. They were to be His community, His people. He then gave them the Ten Commandments. The Commandments were to teach them how to relate to God and each other. There was some progress towards the community God hoped for but the failures outweighed them. Israel failed to keep the commands of God and authentic community was marred and blemished. It was only a shadow of what it used to be.

Because of this, we must realize we can never create Christian community on our own. It must come from an outside source stronger than us. This is why God took on human flesh and lived among us (John 1:14). Because of this (the Father sending Jesus to earth to die and atone for our sins, and then resurrected, and then sending the Spirit to live in us), He has repaired community between Himself, us and each other. This is the Gospel preached by Jesus Christ. This is the kingdom of God. When the Spirit arrives in the second chapter of the book of Acts we have the birth of the restored community of God. We see in the church the quality of community we saw in Jesus when He took on flesh (Acts 2:42-46, 4:32-35) and Adam and Eve before the Fall.

When small groups work
Small groups assist individuals in finding and growing their life in Christ by connecting them to others and God through togetherness. Our togetherness reflects God. How? God is three Persons (persons are capable of having relationships) living harmoniously together in perfect love as one God. Community originates with God and is, therefore, distinctly Christian. Living out Christian community is the heart of Christianity. The quote from Robert Banks (p. 38) said it best, “Union in the Spirit involved union with one another.” We cannot underestimate the role the Spirit plays in establishing and using small groups to form the type of community God desires we have with one another. Our job is to receive the Spirit and obey His leading to love God and neighbor. Then we have the opportunity to participate in the fellowship of the Trinity and experience Christian community. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

1 comment:

iamryno said...

Tim, thanks for checking out my blog and as such I can now return the favor. Regarding the MA project...I'll be glad when it's done! Hope all is well for you.