We have seen how the very essence of authentic community lies within the mystery of Three in One Elohyim: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwelling eternally as vibrant, living, loving community among Themselves. We have seen how humanity is incapable of creating community, for it is not created, it is imparted. Apart from ongoing connection to its source, Elohyim, humanity is unable to maintain authentic community. (See Part One)
Here it becomes important to distinguish between authentic community and unauthentic community. We live in a world where we are constantly being told we are now members of a ‘global community’. Any apparent evidence of a ‘community spirit’ being demonstrated in our neighbourhoods, our towns or our nations is automatically considered a good thing. But is this the same as being members of one another¹ as the New Testament describes Christian community? Is it the ‘koinonia’ fellowship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit that Christ-followers are called to²?
There is a sense of community available in the world that is rooted in a common crisis (e.g. a natural disaster), a common cause (e.g. ideology, sport) or a common experience (e.g. war, injustice, trauma). Nationalism, for instance, is an example of this kind of community spirit on a grand scale. We rally around the common experience of what it is be (in my case) an Australian, an Italian, a Scot or an American, or whatever the case may be. To be sustained this sort of community spirit needs to be continuously stirred and reinforced, for once the crisis passes, the cause is resolved or the common experience forgotten, it fades.
Christ, however, is not a crisis, a cause or an experience. He is Life. We, as Christ followers, have been called back into the vibrant, thriving, pulsating community of Life that exists in Elohyim, through fellowship with the Son by the ministry of the Spirit. This Christ-fellowship is a mystery, unbound by earthly entrapments of race, gender or class, administered from Heaven and flowing through to those who are Christ’s in order to bind them together as a spiritual community or family³.
How then, we ask, will we know when this true spiritual community is present and functioning among believers? I believe we may have been asking the wrong question. The first step is to cease trying to BE community and to receive by faith that we, as believers, ARE community. The difficulty is not in becoming community, for in Christ that is already being accomplished for us⁴. Our difficulty lies in allowing the Divine Community to manifest through us to one another.
From the beginning humanity was welcomed and embraced by the Divine Community of Father, Son and Spirit. Elohyim anticipated us, creating us in His very own image so that He could invite us into the heart of the unique community He enjoyed in His Three in Oneness.
The first result of the Fall was broken fellowship with Elohyim. When, through deception and sin, humanity fell out of community, Elohyim in His all surpassing Love immediately sought to bring back the one who had gone missing. There was no need for discussion or debate within the Three in One, in the same way as there would be no need for discussion or debate if a precious loved one of our own went missing. We would do whatever it might take to search, rescue and deliver that one back into our embrace. So much more was there perfect unity of will, purpose and action within the Three in One over missing humanity. Before humanity departed from the Garden Elohyim was already prophesying His plan for restoration⁵.
Within the Divine Community of Elohyim, perfect Love is constantly flowing, not as something Elohyim does, but as Who He is. Perfect Love is the means through which the perfect Life that is Elohyim expresses Himself.
In seeking to live our lives within an atmosphere of authentic Christian community, we seek to find our way back to the freedom of Perfect Love fellowship we knew in the beginning. Freedom is simply the absence of fear, and Perfect Love always casts out fear⁶.
We seek both to give and receive a Love that expresses life, not death; faith, not fear; freedom, not bondage. We seek an environment where Utterance, Breath and Life are present as the senior Members of our community. Utterance, the Word, will be honoured, not as law but as Life. Life will be flowing abundantly, spilling over from one member to the next. Breath will always be evident, manifesting Himself without hindrance, for where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. And over all Love will provide the measure and the balance in all things.
I will be the first to admit I have yet to find an ongoing expression of this Divine Community flowing deeply, widely and continuously in the Body of Christ on earth. Like many others, I have glimpsed it briefly, tasted it momentarily, and yearned for its manifestation in fullness. But I believe passionately it is within reach as we learn to yield, abandoning ourselves without reservation to the Spirit of God, who is the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead. As we have found Life in the Spirit, so will the Spirit lead us, if we are willing to walk with Him, until we emerge as the expression of Divine Community on earth⁷.
What are your thoughts on ‘Christian community’? Please join the discussion!
Part Three of Exploring Community to follow soon.
¹Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:25
²Phl. 2:1; 1 John 1:3
³Eph. 3:1-19; Gal. 3:26-29
⁶1 John 4:18, Col. 3:14
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014 Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.
24 thoughts on “Exploring Community Part Two: True and False Community”
Of recent I began to learn that true community is neither here nor their…neither in Jerusalem or in the mountains as Jesus our Master will put it…we need to trust God to bring us to a place of STABILITY where we are not craving to belong to something or please men…and I am discovering by experience that that place of STABILITY is in the HOLY SPIRIT….no wonder Paul stated that “…as MANY as are LED BY THE SPIRIT they are the sons of GOD”. Thank you brother Cheryl for igniting this present truth discussion…I am learning alot from the comments because we need ALL the perspectives to bring about the perfection of the BRIDE…agape 🙂
Welcome Hosea and thankyou for your insightful comments. I agree with what you have said entirely. I too am learning this sometimes difficult lesson. Your comments are appreciated!
I don’t agree with your suggestion that those with a background of spiritual abuse can’t trust another believer again. This may be true for some, but from my experience on the internet over the last ten years, I have found that there are actually more abuse victims coming forward to seek connection, to discuss their experiences and to find solace amongst like-minded people. The abundance of forums and blogs on this topic also attest to the fact that abuse victims not only want to trust, but they do so regularly, despite the fact that the internet is the dangerous place that we have both agreed that it is.
The point I was making was that it is not possible to fully know another via the internet alone, and this is the case regardless of your personal background.
Hi again anitameg. What I actually wrote was :”When we have been hurt and abused by those who we have trusted with our spiritual oversight we are left fearful of ever trusting another believer again, and understandably so.” I did not say ‘can’t trust’, I actually said “we are left fearful”. This has been my experience and my experience of interacting with other spiritual abuse victims over several years. I’m glad your experience has been different.
Yes, there are an abundance of forums and blogs dealing with spiritual abuse, which attests to the need for such. ( I was actually referring to the wider Body of Christ in general, rather than specialist forums for discussion and solace from spiritual abuse.) I did not say spiritual abuse victims do not want to trust, I said we are left ‘fearful’, which to my mind is a different statement. I would suggest also that for every victim of spiritual abuse that seeks fellowship online amongst other spiritual abuse victims, there are others who do not do so and remain isolated, afraid and traumatised due to a loss of trust in ‘perceived’ spiritual authority. My heart aches for those ones.
In your original post you had said: “In the end you don’t know who you are talking to, and you can have some superficial conversation with others, but you can’t know them in a deep way.” You then followed up with : ” You can imagine who the other person is, but our imaginations are vain and can create images which are based on supposition rather than fact. On the other hand, we do this in real life as well don’t we.”
My reply was intended to point out that whether in real life or on the internet, regardless of our personal background, the only way through this is to learn to lean on God rather than our own understanding, trusting the Holy Spirit to teach us how to spiritually discern the thoughts and intentions of others. I believe this is possible.
Thanks Cheryl. I get a bit distressed sometimes and tend to see things with clouded vision, but your words have genuinely encouraged me. I guess my concern is that we can’t really know each other on paper as it were. You can imagine who the other person is, but our imaginations are vain and can create images which are based on supposition rather than fact. On the other hand, we do this in real life as well don’t we. I am just musing here.
I will check out the link you have suggested today. Thanks again for your input.
Agreed, anitameg, we are to ‘know no-one after the flesh’ as Paul put it, but you can trust the Holy Spirit to show us the heart of others ‘after the Spirit”. When we have been hurt and abused by those who we have trusted with our spiritual oversight we are left fearful of ever trusting another believer again, and understandably so. But we CAN trust the Lord to keep and lead us and we can practice listening to that inner check, or that inner leap, which John called the ‘anointing that abides within’….that’s actually the spiritual discernment of the Holy Spirit in our own spirits, and is wholly trustworthy (1 John 2:27). And hey, that works on the internet as well as face to face 🙂 He is about bringing us out of the fear of man in all its forms and He will complete the good work He has begun in us. It’s win/win!
My husband and I have been out of the system for 10 years. Every so often we go back to church in hope that God might be opening a door for us and for our children to fellowship with likeminded people. I have to say that our last outing was beyond disappointing.
We attended a Baptist church round the corner from us. Everyone was so attentive and welcoming on the first visit. We were all very encouraged. On the second there was less interest, and on the third hardly any. On the third visit, we heard a message from one of the pastors about the recent ‘Noah’ movie. In his message he encouraged people to make sure that if they use the movie as a means of witnessing that they ensure they don’t use bible verses or their own testimony. Apparently, according to this pastor, people would be offended or made to feel embarassed if they heard somebody else’s testimony. We should, he said, talk about the environment or the nature of evil instead.
It clinched it when the Pastor announced wholeheartedly that John 3:16 was no longer valid for Australians in the 21st century. He said maybe you could talk to them about it at some future time, but don’t use this verse to witness to others.
I was able to say that verse off by heart when I was a child because of a thirty second ad on TV at the time by the Christian Television Association. They simply put the words up on the screen. I was not saved and my unbelieving family thought I had been brainwashed. But the word of God did not return to Him void, and in a few short years I gave my life to Him. Nobody should ever underestimate the power of the gospel.
All through his message the pastor kept telling people that this was just his ‘opinion’, and they could disagree if they wanted to.
Neither my husband nor myself nor my three adult children could believe what we heard. We sent this pastor an email outlining our concerns and asking him why he had preached such heresy. We never received an answer. We also said that if he was taking the tithe he should be preaching the gospel, not his ‘opinion’. We probably offended him. But the pastors in this church were not interested in the truth. They apparently liked people like Brian McLaren and other emerging church speakers and writers.
We found out much later that they were part of the Willowcreek Association, which is always a concern.
In our search for churches around Brisbane we have come across church after church which is either cast in the Hillsong mode or is following emerging church doctrines with no thought at all to the truth of their messages. They follow blindly like sheep and when somebody asks them about their ideas, they just repeat what they have been told.
I asked one young man at the Baptist church if the band ever played any of their own compositions. They played a lot of Hillsong music which has no real gospel message. He gave me a strange look as though this had never even occurred to Him. And he said no. Later somebody asked us if this was our first visit to the church. And I said we were ‘spying out the land’. His reply was “you have to go where you feel right” and I said “Actually we want to be where God wants us to be”. Even this simply statement of faith made this young man look at me as though I was an alien from another planet. His face was blank and slightly confused. What a sad day!
I can’t believe what is happening in our churches in this country. 30 years ago there were at least some genuine believers who understood what it meant to seek God’s face or preach the true gospel. Now something else has replaced it and it is not holy and it is not of God. I am very concerned.
Yet I have found that the internet is a very dangerous place to be. In the end you don’t know who you are talking to, and you can have some superficial conversation with others, but you can’t know them in a deep way. On some websites there is a real spirit of contention and many so called christian men (I am sorry but it seems to be mainly male screen names) are going to these sites simply for aggressive argument and attacking each other. I don’t feel safe there either.
I am in anguish regarding this situation, and I find that even internet conversation with likeminded people is so limited. God intends us to relate face to face, not just through the written word. And though on websites like this one, you can encourage one another and be comforted, I don’t know if this is the way we are supposed to live?
I just don’t know what it is that God wants us to do.
I hear you Anita Meg, especially in regard to the Australian church. I am familiar with the church scene in Brisbane having lived there for some time a few years ago and because I am a regular visitor to Brisbane, visiting my adult children there. When I lived in Brisbane I had initially expected it to offer more options than my smaller town of Coffs Harbour, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case….just more of the same on a grander scale. I think it is difficult for believers in other countries to realise the spiritual wasteland that Australia has become, largely due to the tendency we seem to have to swallow lock, stock and barrel questionable streams of imported American Christianity (no offence intended to my American friends).
The internet can be a dangerous place because the internet is simply the world, and the world is a dangerous place. We need to walk through the internet in the same way we walk the world, with wisdom and discernment. As for the “Christian” internet, well the same thing applies. Personally, I have learned to become very selective about which Christian websites, blogs or forums I visit and have narrowed them down to a few sites I know are usually going to encourage me or present me with spiritual truth I need to hear, because I have found their owners are genuine truth lovers.
As for face to face, well that’s a rare occurrence for us wilderness dwellers I believe. Is it the way we are supposed to live? I think one of the Lord’s primary goals in bringing us into the wilderness is to teach us what it means to enter and remain in His rest. It’s impossible to learn this within the organised Christian system. So yes, though I can’t speak for you or your family personally, for me, I have found it is definitely the way I am supposed to live for as long as He deems I need to live like this, because this wilderness life is where I am learning the depths of spiritual rest in Him. And that is invaluable beyond what I can say. I don’t choose isolation or loneliness, but I choose Christ, and if that’s where following Him leads I am learning to stop kicking the goads and treasure even more the rare occasions when my path crosses with someone on the same journey.
You finished your comments with “I just don’t know what it is that God wants us to do.” I know, I’ve been there and have revisited more times than I can count. But isn’t it the lesson of the hour we’re living in that He doesn’t want us to do anything?
Enough from me. Paul Rogers (see his comments below) has some great thoughts on fellowship at his Living Waters blog here:
http://inhisword45.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/fellowship.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+blogspot/dsbld+(Rivers+Of+Living+Water) which I would recommend to anyone walking out this ‘community’ and ‘fellowship’ dilemma at the moment.
Thanks for sharing your heart here Anita Meg. Your input and perspective is very much valued.
Yes. I have seen it. This community happens when Holy Spirit in me recognizes Christ in you and leaps in me like the babe inside Elizabeth’s womb leaped in response to the presence of Christ in Mary. The result is an awareness of Majesty and worship that is from Him, and through Him, and to Him. At the moment it seems like a moveable feast for as soon as we attempt to build tabernacles to contain it we become prone to fastening our hopes to something less organic (living, moving, breathing) than the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But I have seen thousands of people awoken to pray for one dying man they loved, not realizing that as God dealt with their hearts to reconcile with each other by forgiving debts and blessing each others differences, they were freed and united to pray for the raising of the Bride from her slumber.
Thankyou for your input Charis. Yes, community does ‘happen’. The Holy Spirit is bigger than all of our differences, failures, fears or divisions, and can break through those as He wills. I like your phrase ‘a moveable feast’ to describe the spontonaety (spelling?) of how community can suddenly appear unexpectedly. I believe there is a longing in many of us for an ongoing atmosphere of this kind of community, not in relation to a specific meeting place or mode of worship, but simply, as you put it, that inner spiritual leaping that is the corporate knowledge of Christ when we are with one another. Some, however, as we are hearing in these comments do not have opportunity for even that moveable feast. You are blessed to have experienced the miracle you mention which you have shared about in some of your blog posts. A true taste of Heaven on earth and encouragement for all of us!
From your comment:
“And yes, it’s overwhelmingly lonely but every so often the sun shines through brilliantly and you know you’re where you’re supposed to be. And yet, at the same time, we are part of this spiritual community called the Body of Christ.”
This has become my understanding. I can’t make anything happen. It never produces fruit. But when I simply follow the Lord, there are those ‘breakthroughs’ where you know He alone has orchestrated it. It’s like a reassuring, divine confirming smile!
Not that I’ve made up my mind about what anything should look like. But I can only wait on the Lord and be content with each moment. I frustrate myself when I become impatient or start to rationalize my situation.
I love all the comments here, and how they bring about the common dilemna. Your post, Cheryl, has opened up much needed conversation on fellowship. Your commenters are rich in Christ and lend such beautiful testimonies.
Thankyou for joining the discussion Paul. “Not that I’ve made up my mind about what anything should look like.” Amen to that! Being content in the moment is a skill I’ve yet to master, but by God’s grace am making progress I believe 🙂 I agree the comments here are diverse and rich and it is wonderful to see people encouraging one another and sharing with such vulnerability. Your input is always welcome and wise.
Ida Mae, I fully understand your heartbreak at not being able to rejoin that community experience you first had. I was saved at 13. I remember attending a christian camp with a friend who was a christian (I wasn’t). On the bus to the camp grounds, one of the girls on the bus looked across at me and smiled. In her eyes, I suddenly knew the presence of God and his invitation to me to become part of His family. That camp was a wonderful time for me. Christians from all walks of life and places on the map who came together in simplicity and reached out to the new believers who were experiencing the wonder of Jesus for the first time. I have experienced this here and there again. But never in one place all the time.
Since we are all temples of His Holy Spirit, it makes sense that it is not a time and place issue but a waiting on Him issue. He chooses to come to us when He is ready, and as you say, He draws us to follow Him, not an experience, or a denomination, or anything which can be reproduced by man. And those who do go after experiences, they get them in abundance. They are just not from God. So they are running after a false Spirit.
It seems that is a common theme– those who love Him encounter Him somewhere early on and know His voice. One of the things I love about the Lord, this tenderness in caring for His own.
Those years of trying to force community into something without His life and blessing–talk about smacking your head against a brick wall! Pointless, useless exercise of futility. Looking forward to reading the rest of this series.
Left part out on the first comment but probably goes without saying– when you follow Him out, you find that He is more than enough 🙂
‘Encountering Him somewhere early on and knowing His voice…’ This stirred up memories of a group of young adults I was involved with in the very early days of my Christian experience, times of prayer when heaven was so close, times of sharing our faith with trepidation and yet with boldness, yes, and a deep sense of community among these guyz who were all ‘sold out to the Lord…’ As folk have said, we can’t go back to those days, but it helps one know the difference between the superficial and the real. Thanks Ida Mae and others.
It’s good to hear about the sense of community people have experienced in the past, but I’m wondering how, or even if, people are attempting to find authentic community with fellow believers right now, whether that be in a traditional setting, a house church, or some other format? For some, the only Christian community they experience may be on the internet. Is authentic community actually happening anywhere, or are most people who have become disillusioned with the ‘system’ still working their way through their wilderness time?
I left organized religion in ’97. At the time, I knew a handful of folks who felt led to do the same. We tried house church but it just wasn’t blessed and most ended up going back. I can see now, we were just trying to recreate what we knew before and the Lord wasn’t having any of that.
It’s taken years and years to burn all that dead religion out of my system and, just when I think we must be making progress, something wiggly pops up and here comes the fire. I’ve learned to love it but it can be mighty lonely, especially during those times when the Lord is using silence to work deep.
Honestly? I’ve given up. Pretty sure the wilderness is home, at least until the second coming 🙂 We know what’s coming next and a few years here, alone with Him to learn His ways, aren’t so bad considering the glory to come.
Ida Mae I appreciate your honesty. And I identify! I’ve seen so many ‘come out’ of the system straight into starting a house church, but all they do is move the system into another setting, at least from what I’ve been able to observe. We have to allow that wilderness season, how ever long it takes, because there’s so much let’s say ‘refurbishment’ for the Holy Spirit to do in us. I’ve been involved in house church too and seen the Lord do a lot in people (and me!) , but at the moment am back in the wilderness for some more deep work. And yes, it’s overwhelmingly lonely but every so often the sun shines through brilliantly and you know you’re where you’re supposed to be. And yet, at the same time, we are part of this spiritual community called the Body of Christ.
Thanks for your comments!
Once, years back when I was just a young teen, I tasted true community among believers. In this case, there was no crisis, no hardship or persecution. I was only twelve to thirteen at the time so I can’t really speak to all the particulars going on with the adult world.
For a year or more, we arrived at church an hour early just to find a seat. Spontaneous worship would break out and flow over the people like a river, and a sense of wonder fell over everyone with a thick blanket of pregnant silence. The Holy Spirit hovered– no other way to describe His loving caress. Everything was beautiful, we all were brothers and sisters, and while I can’t speak for anyone else, *I* was changed day by day meeting the One I loved in such sweetness.
And then the Holy Spirit lifted and did not return. Talk about a bunch of sheep without a shepherd! Flouncing around, totally heartbroken. The congregation kept trying to recreate the experience, trying out new songs, getting more worked up. And no one understood why. Years later, I found out that the pastor and the youth leader were engaged in gross immorality. I have to believe the Lord could no longer continue to bless that fellowship and, looking back, I believe He was wooing His own, capturing our hearts so we would follow Him.
I spent years and years and years going from one fellowship to another, begging God for revival, asking for Him to return that way. Having tasted His goodness, nothing else would substitute. Instead, two decades in organized religion proved to be a heartache–fighting, betrayal, wolves lurking about to destroy the new lambs. Finally, I understood that He had no intention of recreating something from childhood and He wanted *me* to follow Him.
Once important point– because of that time so long ago, I knew the difference between true community and dead religion and nothing else ever satisfied.
Thankyou for sharing your own experience here Ida Mae. Sadly, I think there are too many who can identify somewhat with aspects of your journey. I think your final point is an important one:
If nothing else, experiences like you have described do create in us a hunger for that which is real and sharpen our discernment.
Thankyou for joining this discussion.
I like your phrase ‘conscious need of God.’
After commenting, I came across a quote from Oswald Chambers, “The Church ceases to be a spiritual society where it is on the lookout for the development of its own organisation.” Maybe this adds another nuance to the discussion…
Yes, maybe ‘organisation’ is a key word there. We (the church) seem to have started down a slippery slope as soon as we started organising ourselves 🙂
I may be wrong, but I suspect from my reading and observation that true community flourishes best in situations where there is pressure of one kind or another, e.g. poverty, persecution (overt and subtle), rejection, etc. Maybe because these force us back on to God, simplicity and dependence on Him rather than on the plentiful resources so common in Western ‘churches’ and scenarios. For example I have seen on two visits to China what I have seldom seen in my own country. After close on 8 years of house church facilitation in my home city, I am BEGINNING to see in embryo the community you are describing. My wife and I also recognised it in a house church group our eldest daughter and family are part of in Cape Town. It is truly, as you have put it so beautifully, something not created but imparted by the triune God.
Like you, I would love to hear and LEARN from others on this vital subject…
That’s an interesting and insightful observation Erroll. Perhaps a conscious need for God is part of the equation here. In the generally more affluent western church we (as Christians) may acknowledge Him but not really consciously need Him in the same sense as those who must rely on Him for the basics of day to day life. I have seen a much stronger conscious dependence on Him in East Africa and in some parts of Asia where the believers are poor in material things but often stronger in faith. Perhaps that also feeds into the need for one another also, which I have also found to be lacking among Western Christians….again generally speaking. Thankyou for your contribution. I too am interested to hear what others have learned in attempting to move towards authentic Christian community on a regular basis.