Last Sunday morning I was sitting in church contemplating how we often spin our wheels trying to achieve something that we already have, when I realized that a prime example was presenting itself in the sermon. The pastor was teaching on community, which has been a common topic in the Western evangelical church. As I’ve said before, I think one of the reasons community needs to be talked about so much, is because the Western evangelical church fails to recognize the community that exists in the Spirit, and actually undermines the functioning of community.
“Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” said Jesus. This should give us a clue as to the reality of community and the nature of the Church. While the “One Holy and Apostolic Church” includes all Christians worldwide (no longer practical to meet in one place), an expression of the Church – and a very real expression of community – exists wherever 2 or more gather “in Jesus’ name.” Church and community, then, are not dependent upon having a pastor, a building, a worship team, or an organizational structure. It is solely dependent upon meeting “in Jesus’ name.”
I contend that very real and tangible community (and “church”) happens daily across the globe in homes, coffeehouses, backyards and places of work, wherever people get together with a Kingdom purpose, whether to pray, serve, or merely encourage and relate to one another. These “2 or 3” could be from different church families, different countries, or different theological positions; it doesn’t matter, as long as they meet “in Jesus’ name.”
I also contend that pastors are trained not to see or recognize this, for it often undermines the agenda of the “para-church” organizations that we call churches. In an age where a city boasts dozens and even hundreds of churches – often who recognize and respect each other – no one church can claim to be a church modality, or the only local representation of the universal Church. However, there is still a whole lot of kingdom-building (in the organizational rather than spiritual sense) going on, with many pastors jealous of any activity outside of their little organization in which their members may be involved. There is a definite tension between these church organizations (in my opinion, sodalities) and “The Church That Is,” that exists wherever 2 or more are gathered.
Take, for example, this sermon snippet:
There is no place for unholy individualism in this church. There is no place for just doin’ our own thing. If this is the place God has called you to… what it means is we begin to let go of our own of our individual stuff and doing our own thing … and we begin to ask … ‘how does what I do fit in with [this church]'”
You can feel the tension here, can’t you? It’s one thing to say, “stop following the wide path and get on the straight and narrow.” It’s another thing to say “this church’s way or the highway.” Could it be that the needs of the church organization are not in line – and even in opposition – with the purposes of The Church That Is?
The problem, as I perceive it, is the proverbial failure to see the forest for the trees, or in our case, the failure to see community and church for the people. One pastor may look out on a church and see people off in many directions, with little or no energy to maintain the processes of the church organization. Another may look out and see wonderful examples of community and the Kingdom in action. One builds a structure and tries to make his people fit; another sees the people and tried to create a structure to support them. I think you can tell which viewpoint I prefer.