InterVarsity's Core Commitment #5: We promote authentic relationships and redemptive communities marked by God's grace and truth.
True community is hard to find. A few years ago, eight scientists entered a glass-enclosed "biosphere" in Arizona. Within months, they had split into two groups that refused even to speak to each other. Think of it: the darling adolescents of The Lord of the Flies all grown up – and with doctorates!
While the vision of community may seem elusive at times, we are called to press on. According to our fifth Core Commitment, true community is marked by at least three characteristics – authenticity, redemption and balance.
Even though our culture trumpets images of community – watch any beer commercial – our culture is notoriously individualistic. The resultant loneliness is captured well in books such as Bowling Alone.
Christian community, on the other hand, promotes deep and authentic relationships. As we serve, worship, pray and play together, we begin to live out the unity envisioned by Jesus in the Gospel of John: "…So that they may be one as we are one" (17:22).
Not that this vision is easy. Of Jesus' original followers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes: "No power in the world could have united these men for a common task, save the call of Jesus. But that call transcended all of their previous divisions."
Authentic relationships are expressed in tangible ways. In 1939, after American friends had spirited him out of Germany, Bonhoeffer felt compelled to return to his community. As one historian comments: "His heart belonged to his oppressed and persecuted fellow Christians in Germany. He could not desert them at the time when they needed him most."
One of the easiest pitfalls is for Christian communities to become too internally focused. As John Stott notes: "A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him."
Scripture paints a broader picture: true Christian community exists not only to support members but to serve "outsiders" as well. From Genesis (the Lord's covenant with Abraham in order to bless all nations) to the gospels (Jesus constantly pushing his disciples to reach out) and to Acts (the tight fellowship of the early church results in evangelistic outreach), this theme is repeatedly emphasized.
My church has a slogan – "building a community to reach a community" – that aptly captures both the relational and redemptive purposes of Christian fellowship.
Marked by God's Grace and Truth
Finally, community is to be marked by a combination of lavish love, on the one hand, and blunt truthfulness, on the other. Too often, the former is emphasized at the expense of the latter. As Paul succinctly counsels, we are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
Disputes inevitably arise within community. How should they be resolved? Jesus tells us first to confront the offender and, if that doesn’t work, to involve other members of the community (Matt. 18). Confrontation is not easy and must be handled with care. Church father John Chrysostom wisely advised: “Correct him not as a foe, nor as an adversary exacting a penalty, but as a physician providing medicines.” In this spirit, Paul publicly confronted Peter over a failure in keeping community (Gal. 2:11).
Establishing healthy witnessing communities is a challenging, yet critical, task. Students are starving for both authentic relationships and redemptive outreach. May the Lord mold us into such communities.