Experiencing God Goes Hand in Hand with Authentic Christian Community

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I can be a Christian without going to church.”

“I believe in Jesus, but the church really turns me off.”

“My faith is something between me and my God.”

The chances are good that many of us have heard these or similar statements from people when the conversation turns to church or, perhaps, when we have reached out to invite someone to come experience worship and other facets of the life of our churches. Some of us may even have uttered statements like these at some point in our lives.

The truth is, while we ourselves might go to church and even like the people at church, many of us might still think that how we live the Christian life really is something between us and God (or between us and Christ). While we will go to church, we may go with our personal boundaries raised fairly high, enjoying friendly interactions while keeping one another at arm’s length—and keeping our faith or our life choices safe from other Christians poking their noses too close into our business. We’re glad to interact pleasantly on the way into and out from worship, in and around the refreshments, and at potluck dinners. We might even be glad to interact pleasantly for an additional hour in a Sunday school or Bible study group. But, in general, we really may not want the conversations to get too close to home and we exercise all sorts of diversionary tactics if we feel something is getting too personal. We may be reluctant to share the struggles that we’re facing in our faith journey or just in our lives and relationships, because we don’t want to be judged on any basis beyond the façade we project to manage impressions. And we may be so involved in our own lives and schedules, in which we have left so little room for others, that we become profoundly uncomfortable when someone presents a genuine need and asks for help.

To the extent that we might see ourselves or other members of our congregation reflected in this picture, we are collectively missing out (and causing others to miss out) on one of the greatest and most important resources that Christ has given us to help us in our journey through life and through a life of faithful discipleship—one another. We are missing out on the gifts that other believers can be (and are meant to be) to us and we are likely withholding from them the gifts that Christ intends for us to be to them.

The writings in the New Testament have a great deal to say about the quality of the relationships, the level of the interactions, and the depth of the interventions Christians are to cultivate among and to offer one another. The New Testament does not cast a vision for merely polite and friendly casual interactions. Rather, it casts a vision for significant investment in one another’s lives; for bestowing significant value on one another that we will not take back with the first disagreement or conflict; for giving one another permission to be who they are in Christ; for allowing one another room to try and to fail and to disappoint; and room to speak the truth to us in love when we try and fail and disappoint, knowing that we will still be in loving relationship with one another on the other side of temporary turmoil.

There is a moment in many services of baptism when the pastor addresses the congregation with the question: “Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?” The response that the members of these congregations make, speaking in unison, is striking:

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.

This is a promise that everyone present at every baptismal service has made in the churches I have served since 1995. We promise, in regard to everyone who comes forward for baptism, that we will keep reminding those new Christians in word and example of the good news of Jesus and the new life that the good news is meant to awaken and empower. We promise to invest ourselves in loving those new Christians and offering our forgiveness as they work to leave behind the practices of their old person and grow more comfortable (even as we continue to grow) in the practices of the new person that the Spirit is bringing to life. We promise to be the sort of friends—indeed, the sort of family—for them that will move them to trust God more and will help keep them steady in their own investment of themselves in the lives of others. We promise to hold their continued progress toward holiness before God in prayer, invoking God’s favor and help (and listening for ways in which God would position us to be the help that he would offer). In this magnificent pledge, we take on specific duties and responsibilities toward one another—and ought, therefore, to be able to rely upon one another to provide.

This pledge begins to reflect the kind of community that the New Testament writers so passionately wanted Christ’s followers to be for one another. Those early Christian leaders who planted and tended the assemblies of converts in Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, and the like recognized that the steady progress of any individual disciple as he or she moves out from being driven by the flesh toward being fully Spirit-led required the investment, intervention, and support of other disciples. This was a conviction shared by John Wesley. Indeed, it proved foundational to the method and the structure by means of which he sought to bring renewal to the Church of England, and that remained foundational to the movement after it emerged as an independent denomination. Wesley’s method was to band disciples together in small circles that would meet regularly to inquire into one another’s spiritual successes and struggles, encouraging one another, holding one another accountable, and praying for one another’s perseverance in their journey toward ever fuller holiness of heart and life.

The experience of the love of God and the joy of the Holy Spirit went hand in hand with the experience of authentic community from the earliest days of the church’s existence. The hunger for authentic community has not diminished in the almost two intervening millennia, and the New Testament writings—the church’s charter documents—urge us to invest ourselves in creating and sustaining this experience for one another.

As Paul urged the Christians in Rome, so he continues to urge us: “let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up” (Rom. 14:19 CEB).

If you’re ready to take community life to the next level, get the foundational study that will lead you into this deeper understanding of the Christian life. One Another by David deSilva paints the New Testament vision for our relationships, interactions, and interventions with one another in a local Christian community. This vision impels us to encourage and support one another, offering reinforcement for holy living that, according to the apostles, we owe one another as the people not only welcomed into relationship with God through Jesus Christ, but given as gifts to one another for this very purpose.

Perfect for:

  • Group leader training
  • Small group studies
  • Sunday school classes
  • Discipleship bands

In these pages you’ll:

  • Gain an appreciation for how we thrive in community
  • Wrestle with our command to receive from and contribute to others’ faith
  • Understand the biblical teaching on God’s people, the body of Christ
  • Be challenged to abandon individualistic versions of the Christian faith

Get One Another: The New Testament Prescription for Transformation book study and videos from our store here.

 

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David A. deSilva (PhD) serves as Trustees’ Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary. He is the author of two dozen books, including An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods, and Ministry Formation, which has nurtured thousands of Christian workers in English, Arabic, Chinese, and Korean contexts. He is an ordained elder in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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