Christ, Community, and Identity
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, ESV)
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19-21, ESV)
We hear a lot today about “community.” In fact, the word “community” has become quite the buzz word in current conversation. For example, we read and hear of a vast multitude of contemporary “communities” that have popped up in recent history, such as the “online community”; the “academic community”; the “gay community”; the “trans community”; the “homeschool community”; the “gamer community”; the “vegan community”; the “activist community”; etc. It would seem that almost every activity, group, interest or cause seeks legitimacy in the eyes of the public by tacking on the word “community.”
But what is a “community”? However one might understand that term, it is a term that bespeaks such things as social cohesiveness, sharing in a common cause or activity, and the building and nurturing of meaningful relationships around that common cause, interest, or activity.
But why, all of a sudden, has the term “community” become such a common buzz word?
I would suggest that, ironically, the multiplication of “communities” in our contemporary world and the prevalence of the term “community” in today’s lingo, is evidence of both a deep longing for genuine community and a deep sense of isolation and loneliness in our supposedly super-connected world.
To put it another way: Many today are constantly “connected” through social media and online “communities,” yet few experience the joy and the messiness of genuine community – genuine face-to-face, flesh-and-blood community, with all of its richness and all of its awkwardness. One can spend hours a day on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, texting, “chatting,” etc., while at the same time doing so from the isolation of one’s basement and with a deep sense of loneliness. Ironically, social media, for all of its genuine and indisputable benefits, enables us to be all together, yet alone.
It used to be that most people got their sense of community from three vital institutions: the family, the nation, and religion. But in our post-modern world all three institutions are on life-support. In the United States, it used to be that most people got their sense of identity and community from their family (nuclear and extended), their sense of national patriotism (love of and loyalty to country), and their affiliation with their local church or synagogue. But with the breakdown of the traditional family (thanks in large part to the toxicity of the sexual revolution), the rise of secularism (and thus the decline of religious institutions such as churches), and the cultural denigration of love for country, many today – especially in younger generations! – don’t know who they are, where they came from, why they’re here, or where they can find genuine community.
In our superficial online world where multitudes crave for genuine community, but few experience it, the gospel of Jesus Christ offers a stable identity and a lasting community. The true and living God is Himself, in a sense, a communal Being, existing eternally as a community of co-equal, co-essential Divine Persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all within the one Divine Being. God is not an isolated, eternal hermit (as would be the case if He were a unitarian being), but exists eternally as a Trinity of love, fellowship and (dare I say it?) “community.” The mystery of the Trinity reveals that God is a relational Being, and He has created us (His image-bearers) to be relational, communal beings. Our sin and rebellion have separated us from fellowship and communion with our Creator (and thus from genuine community). But through Jesus Christ and His saving work for His people, communion with God and community with God’s people are restored for those who trust in Him with a penitent faith!
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, having trusted Him alone as your Lord and Savior, then your ultimate identity is “in Christ.” If you have been baptized into the Triune Name (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), you have been marked with the sign and seal of God’s covenant of grace, and thus you belong to the visible covenant community of Christ, the visible church. As the church gathers together in corporate assembly around the word and sacraments, engaging together in biblically-based, historically-rooted worship (also known as “liturgy”), it experiences (through faith) living, vital communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus it also experiences the only kind of genuine community that can satisfy our deepest, God-given longings.
The early Christians in the Book of Acts experienced genuine community as they gathered together frequently for instruction, worship, and holy communion, and also as they shared their meals and their lives together (Acts 2:42; 26). Through grace God had made them part of His forever family, the church, and it is clear that they loved to spend time together with their spiritual brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. What a picture of genuine community! And what a tragedy that such community is so hard to find today.
Lasting, stable community this side of glory can only be experienced as you commune with Christ your Savior in the means of grace, and as you involve yourself in the communion of Christ’s church. Knowing your identity as a baptized Christian who belongs to your faithful Savior Jesus Christ and to His church – the forever family of God – will not only give you an unshakeable sense of meaning, purpose and destiny. It can also offer you the sense of genuine community for which you crave. Christian: Find your identity, and your community, in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His Body, the church!