Biblical Teaching on


He kept telling me about his "loving community" like he thought it was an attractive sales pitch to persuade me that I should come join him, except it wasn't. Besides the fact that I cannot imagine a presentation less loving and less desirable than his, something was off. Today it came to me: there is no Scripture promoting the idea of "Christian community."

Unlike the notion of voluntary membership in a group of people (such as a local church), which is thoroughly modern, the word "community" is older than the English language. The word certainly existed in print long before 1611, so why didn't the King James translators use it to tell us how wonderful church membership is? Not even once! The oNIV (1978) translation of the Bible used the word 89 times, every one of them to refer to the Jewish people as a collective, and then only when the word "nation" was inappropriate, such as before King Saul and after the Exile, but never in reference to the church nor any body of believers. Were these Bible translators wrong? I don't think so.

Both in 1611, and also separately in recent times (like 1978, after the word changed meaning), the word "community" represents an idea or ideas that are not taught in the Bible. Originally it related to its cognate Latin word meaning to share, as in sharing some characteristic or attribute. The Church that Jesus Christ set up and that the Bible teaches us about, is universal, across all different kinds of people. Modern churches don't do it that way, but they should, and they know it. In particular the translators in 1611 knew it. "Community" (back then, meaning homogeneity) was not what the Church was supposed to be all about.

In modern usage, "community" refers to sharing a single attribute, the same geographic locality. "Community services" are services that are managed locally within the relatively small geographical area they serve. Some mega-churches notwithstanding, a "community church" is locally managed -- the implication being that it is not under the thumb of a national or regional denominational hierarchy -- for the benefit of the local membership. Again, this is contrary to the basic New Testament model, where each person who confesses Jesus as Lord becomes a member of the Body of Christ, the church universal, and the locality of any particular congregation is basically irrelevant (see "Local Church Membership"). Therefore the modern idea is also not to be found in any New Testament teachings, and the modern translators wisely did not use the word.

So what's the big deal?

I think it has to do with the personality type of the people who seek to become pastors. The early first-century church tried a communal ownership model for resources (the modern word is "commune" but that has acquired irrelevant political baggage), for which the same Latin verb for sharing gets preserved in our English words. People are basically selfish, and the model quickly broke down. Many modern churches try to reinstate that sharing model artificially, clustering a small number of families (or singles, with a shared homogeneous interest) into groups which they hope can be discipled the way Jesus discipled his followers. It might be a good idea, except that people are still basically selfish. Those who want to be shot-callers look at these groups as a place where they can call the shots, with free rein to bully the more passive personality types (see "Personality & Biblical Values"). God said don't do that, but nobody pays attention -- especially not the guys who want to be shot-callers.

There is another effect I first noticed back when I was reading science fiction (see "Sci-Fi Redemption"). When people are properly connected to Jesus Christ, he supplies their every need. When they are missing that connection, or it is not fully functional, then their need for interaction can feel unfulfilled -- especially if they are extroverts -- and they go looking elsewhere for completion. The atheists have nothing to connect to, so they see the hive mind in utopian terms. St.Augustine famously said, "Our hearts are forever restless, Lord, until they find their rest in thee." Like getting stoned on alcohol (or other mind-bending drugs, see Prov.31:4-7), pushing "community" in a church is unBiblical and not for front-line Christians, but if it's all you got, (like wine) it's a gift from God for the hopeless.

Tom Pittman
2016 April 21