False Community vs. Christian Community
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…” (Acts 2:42, 46, NIV)
“There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6, NIV)
When I think about the ideal of Christian community as it is presented to us in Holy Scripture, the first thing that comes to mind is the many manifestations of false or pseudo-community today that present themselves as substitutes for (or even improvements upon) genuine community. Our technological, connected age is changing the way we communicate (and thus the way we experience “community”), and not all of these changes are positive. Mind you, I am not opposed to these technologies nor to the moderate, disciplined and godly use of them. These technologies are the common grace products of man’s ingenuity and innovative drive, and as such they are not in themselves inherently evil. But given man’s total depravity and native heart-animosity to the things of God and to things godly, we have already witnessed these technological innovations misused and abused toward sinful ends. I’m not just talking about sinful things like internet porn and “sexting” (though such perversities would be included). I’m also talking about such things as fathers and mothers neglecting their parental duties in being actively engaged in the lives of their children because they spend endless hours surfing the internet or communicating with their online “friends” on Facebook. I’m talking about boys who should be running around outside in the fresh air with their friends and in the process learning valuable life skills of social interaction, but who instead are plopped down like blobs in front of their computers for hours on end with their mouths gaping wide open and eyes aglaze as they play one computer game after another (thus learning how to be poor stewards of both their time and their bodily health). I’m talking about giddy teenagers who waste hours of time in the confines of their rooms texting, “tweeting”, etc., their friends with the most trite, inane, superficial, giddy “conversation” on the most mundane, trivial topics, when they could be feasting their developing brains on the rich intellectual fare of the classics and having intelligent, face-to-face conversations with intelligent, well-informed and godly adults. I’m talking about the multitudes of the newly-addicted — namely, those who are addicted to their computers and other contemporary techno-gadgets — whose sinful abuse of these technologies has separated them from friends, family, even employment, and who have found themselves as a consequence profoundly isolated by their addiction to the “online community.”
The so-called “online community” is an oxymoron. While there is nothing inherently sinful or wrong with keeping in touch with friends, family, co-workers, etc., through such technologies as email, texting, Facebook, etc.; at the same time these technologies are no substitute for the practice of genuine community — especially genuine Christian community. Such genuine community requires bodily presence. Disembodied communication is inadequate. Genuine community is built upon face-to-face communication and active involvement in the lives of others. Such community requires patience, determination and hard work, but it provides the stability and sense of belonging that so many seem to long for, but which eludes so many. Modern social media can serve to enhance such community during those times and in those circumstances when the members of the community are unable to be present together in person. But nevertheless it cannot substitute for genuine community. The need for bodily presence in order to develop genuine community is perhaps one of the reasons why God requires believers to assemble together in person on every Lord’s Day for worship (for example, Heb. 10:25).
Someone once described modern social media as gnosticizing in its effects. The ancient gnostics believed (among other things) that matter is bad and spirit is good. The goal of the gnostics was to escape the body and to attain body-less communion with the Divine. Contemporary social media involves “body-less” communication. The body of Christ (the church) cannot survive as a genuine community on such body-less (online or otherwise) fellowship. Think about it: When God purposed to save His people, He did not send us a text message. He did not “tweet” us. He didn’t merely communicate with us from afar. Instead, God the Father sent His Son. God the Son became a man and “pitched His tent” among us (John 1:14). Modern social media is inherently anti-Incarnational. It does not require bodily presence. But when God set about to redeem a people for Himself and thus to create a community of the redeemed (the church), He did not simply give us His Word (although He certainly did do that, and we have the Bible as proof of it). Christ, the eternal living Word who was “face to face” with God the Father (John 1:1) took on a human nature (body and soul) that He might dwell “face to face” with His people. By His obedient life, atoning death and glorious bodily resurrection Christ has redeemed us, not merely to save us as isolated individuals, but also to form us as His redeemed ones into a body, a fellowship, a community of the redeemed.
As believers in Christ let us not be content with the pseudo-community of modern technologies. Instead, let us strive for that genuine, face-to-face Christian community which we read about in the Word of God — the communion of the Body of Christ, gathered together around pulpit and table, led and fed by godly flesh-and-blood minister(s) and elders under the Word, loving and serving one another as members of the covenant community of Christ.