Messy Community

Community can be a fickle thing. At times it can be easy and at other times it can be hard. It can be both exciting and a drag. Both spontaneous and obligatory. I’m pretty sure that any relationship or community you have had, from parents to coworkers, have encompassed both ends of the emotional spectrum. Yet, despite the unpredictable nature of living life with fellow humans, I’m convinced everyone craves their own versions of “true” community.
For some, it’s a big group of people who can go out to dinner and talk for hours; others only want a few close friends for pizza and a night in. Some might find their ideal community in the gym, or others online through dating apps. No matter what it looks like, who is involved, or where it takes place, all humans have an innate desire to interact. However, as Shakespeare put it: therein lies the rub. Despite the fact that people all around us seek community, there always seems to be a standard to meet before engaging. The most common excuse, ironically, is “We just don’t have anything in common.”

But, as Christians, we don’t have that problem, right? We are supposedly anchored around the gospel, we are all supposedly sons and daughters of Jesus, and we can supposedly gather together around him. We come together as a church on Sundays and happily greet one another, and we fully understand that it’s Christ that brings us together. I mean, this sort of commonality is all throughout Scripture, isn’t it?

These are nice sayings and true in theory… until we take a deep look at our own hearts, and once again: therein lies the rub. We’re human. We’re all sinful people. Every Christian has their own ideal of what the local church ought to look like or how “true community” should be lived out. Indeed, one of the most commonly used passages to describe this “true” community is Acts 2. You've probably heard the call to be an “Acts 2 church.” I’m not claiming innocence either; I’ve called people out for not living like an “Acts 2 church” (on more than one occasion), thinking people needed to re-read that passage and consider what “true” community looks like.
When I saw that people are still needy in the church (Acts 2:45), or when I saw we don’t break bread together (2:46), or when I didn’t see the Lord add to our congregation day by day (2:47), I would get discouraged. “It seemed so easy to these guys in Jerusalem to sell their possessions and be united,” I’d think, “so why can’t we just do it??” For me, it's easy to go out there and fume that this is what the church ought to look like. But it's easy to forget that these people were still people. No matter how culturally different the early church was from the church today, the members of the early church were still sinners with passions that were "at war" within (Jas 4:1). There was conflict regarding doctrine (the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15), there were selfish and greedy individuals (Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5), and there were problems within the community that they had to come together in order to overcome (confronting the neglection of the widows in Acts 6) – all subjects that we struggle with even today.

See, while Acts 2 provided an amazing descriptive model of the church, the chapter alone cannot be prescriptive without the rest of the narrative. Everything after chapter 2 is an honest look at how the church is imperfect. Our communities are filled with imperfect people (including you and me) who have a tendency to wander and be selfish and pick fights and think mean thoughts. We show partiality at times, moving toward those we know better and straying from those we are unfamiliar with. Yet, still, a perfect God loves this imperfect church and its broken members so much that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8).
Not only that, but He made each one of us a temple that contains His own Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), (just for context, the temple was the crown jewel of Israel, an architectural masterpiece that King David himself spent somewhere around the modern equivalent of $4.6 million on). That temple includes the person in your community group that holds a different political opinion than you and the new college kid who sits by himself during a church service. This should ultimately be the lens through which we view one another. Community will never be perfect, but each individual within it is to be loved and understood with more adoration and respect for each other than even the temple described in the Old Testament.

Here was the fundamental problem with my frustrations about the church community: It was “me” centered. At the end of the day, the reason I called out people in my community was not out of love or because I wanted to really strive for a biblical community, but because I wanted to be with people who were only like me. We don't need to shy away from encouraging each other through Scripture – there is absolutely nothing wrong with Acts 2 – but we are to speak the truth in love for one another (Eph 4:15). If Christ did lay down His life for His sheep (Jn 10:11), we are so much more precious than the temple in the Old Testament. Seeing one another in this light, as people worthy enough for God Himself to die on our behalf, is what can help us grow in compassion towards our communities.