The Craving for Community
There is a lot of talk these days about community. In our society today there seems to be a craving for authentic community. And that craving for community is a positive thing. After all, God created us as social beings. God created us for authentic community.
God Himself is a social Being, an eternal “community” of three co-equal, co-eternal Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), each sharing fully in the one Divine Essence (“substance” in the wording of the Nicene Creed), enjoying perfect joy and blessedness in the bonds of an eternal communion of love within the unity of the Divine Being.
This biblical revelation of the one God existing in three Persons (Trinitarian Monotheism) is in sharp contrast to all unitarian conceptions of God (Unitarian Monotheism), which ultimately end up depicting the Creator as an isolated, solitary, hermit-like being. Such unitarian notions of God as an isolated deity can lead to the blasphemous idea that God created the universe because he was lonely (or perhaps bored, or both). But the true and living Triune God revealed in Scripture never gets lonely and doesn’t depend upon His creation for community, since He is perfectly self-sufficient and enjoys perfect, blessed fellowship within His own Triune Being.
We crave community because we were created in the image of the God who is Himself, in a sense, a Divine community. But I believe that this natural, God-given craving for community is heightened today by a crisis of loneliness and isolation resulting from a significant loss of genuine, face-to-face community. Even though modern communication technology and social media has made our world much smaller, and in spite of the fact that many today are almost constantly “connected” to the cyber-world of social media, a sense of dis-connectedness and isolation from genuine human community seems to prevail. The irony is that, while we are more “connected” than ever before, we are at the same time more painfully, profoundly lonely than ever before.
There are many reasons for this contemporary loss of community and sense of disconnection. I would suggest that one of the major causes of this loss of community is the broken family.
Scripture tells us that God puts the lonely in families. The family, with husband, wife, children, and (by extension) the broader family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) is the most basic, primary community created by God. When the God-ordained family is broken through either sin (like adultery, abuse or desertion) or through tragedy (like the death of spouse or parents), a person’s primary support community is lost or compromised.
Sadly, many today have rejected the God-ordained family, and the loss of genuine community is one of the bitter fruits of this rejection. For example, many young adults who lack the gift or calling of a single life are often choosing to put off marriage and childbearing later and later in life, either because they are pursuing their career as a higher priority than family life, or because they wish to have more time to pursue their personal pleasures before finally “settling down” with a spouse and children. (And sometimes by the time they finally decide to settle down they either have trouble finding a spouse or they find that they are beyond the childbearing years.)
In today’s super-casual dating system many people choose to spend years dating, and often sleeping with, multiple partners. Today you can find many who have slept with literally hundreds of partners over the years, only to find themselves approaching their middle age years without a spouse, without children, without family, without any genuine sense of happiness, overwhelmed with a gnawing sense of loneliness.
And then we wonder as a society why there is so little in the way of authentic community?
I think another reason for the loss of authentic community is a turning from or downplaying of the church as the primary human community outside of the family.
God’s Word calls the church the Body of Christ. It is our spiritual family, the family of God, and we believers are spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe God intends for the local church to be the primary human community for believers, outside of their own natural families. Outside of your family, your local church should be the primary community with which you identify.
Of course, many Christians still go to church. Some are even still committed to attending on a regular basis. That’s all well and good. But one thing I’ve noticed is that many believers today don’t seem to view the fellowship of the church as the primary community they identify with (outside of their own family, of course). Instead, other organizations or causes or activities end up taking the place of the church as their way to connect with the broader community. These organizations and causes and activities may be good and wholesome and very much worth being involved in. For believers such organizations are often explicitly Christian in their emphases and goals. But if they end up replacing the local church as the primary community that we identify with outside of the family, then something is not right.
Sometimes the local church itself bears the lion’s share of blame for this situation. It is easy for local churches to function like theology clubs, preaching stations, religious entertainment or program centers, or ritual centers where one goes on occasion for drive-thru sacraments. It is easy for the local church to talk about being a genuine community of faith. But it is another thing to actually be an intentional, living, vital community of faith. The latter takes hard work, earnest prayer, and committed involvement on the part of leaders and congregants in each other’s lives.
But sometimes we believers are ourselves largely to blame for this. Other priorities, interests and activities – even wholesome, “Christian” ones – end up taking precedent over committed, intentional involvement in Christian community with our brothers and sisters in the local church.
I don’t have a silver-bullet solution to the crisis of the loss of community in our world today. But I do believe that several important things need to happen for this craving for community to be adequately, biblically satisfied.
First, family life needs to be recovered and strengthened. As I said, the biblical family is the most basic, foundational human community. Strong, Christ-centered marriages and families will go a long way to recovering a sense of authentic community.
Second, Christians need to recommit to the local church as their primary focus of community involvement outside of the family. I’m not saying Christians can’t be involved in other good causes or organizations or activities. Just that the local church needs to be the top priority among them.
Finally, the church itself and its leaders need to put more stress on the importance of the church as a community of faith. The gospel of Jesus Christ creates authentic community, for through faith in Christ we believers are united to Christ, and thus united to one another as members together in the Body of Christ. What better foundation upon which to build genuine Christian community? What greater means by which to satisfy the craving for community?