Counterfeits of community

Religion itself has failed to foster a spirit of community

Martin Weber, DMin, is communication director for the Mid-America Union of Seventh-day Adventists, headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States.

Many have been the counterfeits of Christ's goal for His church: a community united in love. Back in the sixties and seven ties hippies in Western nations congregated in communes but failed to experience real love. In the eighties and nineties Euro-Communism finally gave up trying to create a new humanity out of shared participation in economic justice. Meanwhile, Western society beset by recession has failed to deliver its dream of a materialistic utopia.

Religion itself has failed to foster a spirit of community. In India, Hindus and Muslims kill each other. In the Middle East and Africa, militant Islam sponsors holy warfare with terrorist cell groups. Jewish settlement communities on the West Bank are fighting the Palestinian peace accord.

Even Christianity has not fostered much of community. In Bosnia, "faith" fuels the fire of fratricide. In Ireland, Protestants and Catholics bomb each other's funerals. In Latin America, the liberation movement betrayed its name. In North America, popular televangelists preached love while living in lust until angry donors pulled the plug.

Throughout Christian history the spirit of community has escaped many of its most ardent proponents. What will it take for God's people to renew the oneness of Pentecost? An important first step is to know what's involved in the biblical doctrine of community.

Back in the beginning, God created Adam and gave him a wife, and together they became one flesh a community. Beyond the marriage relation ship, all humanity in ages to come was intended to be a community of God's children through Adam. This corporate oneness is reflected in the very nature of the Creator, where three separate, eternal persons make up the unit of the Godhead.

When sin burst upon this planet, it shattered the spirit of community. Man and woman became enemies (see Gen. 3:12). They also severed their relation ship with God, hiding from His presence (see verse 8). Heartbroken at the alienation. God took initiative to re store the oneness given humanity at Creation. The Word became flesh to live among us and renew community---not just to reestablish our individual relationship with Him, but also to form a corporate body—the church, replacing the original community of humanity destroyed when Adam sinned.

The night before Jesus died, He gathered His band of disciples and washed their feet to create a spirit of community. Then He prayed to His Father on behalf of His people, "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I in You: they may be one as We are" (John 17:11). His prayer for corporate oneness embraced His entire church "that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me" (verses 20, 21).

Amazing! Jesus made the success of His gospel mission dependent upon the communal fellowship of His fol lowers, their corporate oneness in Him. He even declared this manifestation of community as the proof of His success as the Messiah: "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me" (verse 23).

Following that intercessory prayer, Jesus descended into the valley of Gethsemane, where His eternal oneness with the Father was broken apart. Representing fallen humanity, He had to take over where Adam failed, experiencing the separation from community with God that resulted from our sin.

At Calvary, two pieces of wood comprised the cross of our salvation. On the vertical beam the body of Jesus linked heaven above with earth below, restoring our community with God. On the horizontal beam His arms stretched wide to unite us in community with one another. At the place where those crossbeams met, the heart of Jesus broke. By that death He "abolished in His flesh the enmity, ... so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace" (Eph. 2:15). One redeemed humanity in Christ---this experience of community is what the gospel does for us.

The intersection of those two beams on Christ's cross, where His heart broke, is the bonding place of all re deemed humanity: Black or White, male or female, rich or poor; all now have oneness in Christ Jesus. The community of believers is the universal church, the body of Christ, "in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit" (verse 22). This unifying process within the body of Christ fosters genuine perfection.

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on the believers as they shared their oneness in Christ (see Acts 2:1, 2). It was a foretaste of what God will achieve again with His commandment-keeping remnant community (see Rev. 14:12). Then in heaven we will enjoy eternal "koinonia" with God and with fellow redeemed humanity.

* All texts are from The New King James Version.

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Martin Weber, DMin, is communication director for the Mid-America Union of Seventh-day Adventists, headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States.

May 1994

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