A Question I Was Asked:

Community Theology; A New Danger?

The Question:

I have noticed a new "community theology" thing which is starting to spread. Is this yet another diversion, teaching a message about people and their "needs" rather than what Almighty God reveals in the Word? Some Christian teachers now say that humans were created for "community," that is very nice but isn't that a sort of theological reductionism?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Yes, I too have noted the spread of a new 'community theology' type of reasoning/teaching. I also must agree that to state that 'humans were created for community' is a theological reductionism. It could be a good way to start a sermon, possibly, as long as things are then broadened out and fully explained.

Even worse, some people who say this are also beginning to reject 'substitutionary atonement,' that is, the clear biblical teaching that the Lord Jesus died for our sins, they are going back to the old liberal, 'He was just a great example for us to follow' sort of thing. They are saying that human sin did not cut us all off from God, 'sin' just being an archaic way of saying 'community-destroying.' Of course, sin could be stated as 'community-destroying' but that is to reduce things a bit too much - one has to go much further to properly explain.

A few are rejecting the teaching that man could have been restored to God in no other way (other than by the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ). But this is what the Bible teaches, whether people like it or not; that is: the sacrifice and resurrection of the very Son of God was utterly necessary in order for us to be reconciled to God. I hold that all believers must stand by that! The problem is, that - as ever - there are forces out there who want Christians to be as much like the world as is possible.

Now what about this new 'community' thing? I picked up the following comments from a typical 'Christian community-type' website. Let us 'pick the bones' out of some of this:

There is a groove in the heart of every human for authentic relationships. We have an intrinsic desire to be part of, and belong to, something; however, the suburban world in which most ... live is a great obstacle to this God-given desire...."

The Bible teaches that people are created for community, deep relationships with other people. Several Biblical texts illustrate this point. Ecclesiastes 3:11 shows how God put eternity into the hearts of men and women. We were created with a deep groove that only community with God can fill. When Jesus was talking with the woman at the well, He offered water that would quench her thirst. Only God can quench the communal thirst of the human heart."

"WE ARE CREATED FOR COMMUNITY WITH PEOPLE. The stream of community broadens to the body of Christ. After God created man, He makes an important statement in Genesis 2:18, "it is not good for man to be alone." (Notice, this was before sin entered the picture.) There is also a groove cast into the heart of men and women for earthly companionship. As practical evidence of this fact, consider the emergence (or explosion) of coffee shops and social-networking sites. One of the primary images used for the New Testament church is the body, with each part of the body being interdependent and connected to the other. An essential truth: People need to be involved in meaningful (and constant) community or they will continue on indefinitely in a state of intense loneliness. We believe the church body provides the solution to our communal thirst for God and authentic relationships with others."

Now, of course, we can agree with some of that, perhaps more than some of it, but please notice a certain inference that the matter of community is more important than dealing with sin; suddenly 'church' is more about meaningful community, indeed it is something primarily about meaningful community. The matter of the restoration of mankind to God is suddenly secondary, if mentioned at all. Further on, this particular website states this:

"Proper community ultimately reflects the image of God. Therefore, in an effort to promote Biblical community, we deeply and passionately encourage our members and attenders to be involved in the lives of others. Our hope for community is more than you getting to know other people. Rather, our hope is for you to engage in the battle for deep and lasting relationships within our church body. ..."

Hmm... perhaps it is me, but I have a problem with the way this is being stated. Could not much of the foregoing paragraph apply to most any social group/club/local pub? I think that to overly focus on the congregational experience of 'rubbing shoulders' with other believers is often a mistake. Let us be frank: have not we all occasionally been in a situation in which certain fellow church attenders have just 'rubbed us up the wrong way'? When that happens we have to look at our beliefs and think about why we are there in the first place. We have to consider that the church is a place for sinners, for those who need help, for those badly needing the spiritual nourishment of good sermons. Is it all just about "community"? About continually good-naturedly nudging each other with a thin smile on our faces?

In fairness, in considering various aspects of what it calls "biblical community," the website I looked at does mention the "sacrifical love" of Christ, but only as a passing comment, it 'majors' on this comment:

"Authenticity - The last principle describing Biblical community is probably the most difficult. Authenticity is allowing people to know the real you. Authenticity means people know you "behind the scenes." Biblical community only surfaces where authenticity develops within a group of people. Therefore, we want to create environments where people are comfortable confessing their sins to one another and praying for each other (James 5:16), where we can be challenged to put sin to death and live surrendered to Jesus."

Look, I know that there is good in some of this and it finishes quite strongly and, let me say, that I am not here impugning the integrity of those who put that web page together, but I do say that it is typical of the new community-type Christian theology in that things are just a bit 'out of kilter' with the main things about Christianity and congregational worship not being stressed enough, with everything being forced into a community-oriented surface-friendliness jacket. That, I think, is not a good trend.

For those who saw it on BBC Wales television, the Easter passion play starring Michael Sheen which was acted out upon the streets of Port Talbot, Wales, during Easter 2011, while certainly occasionally inspiring, was the purest community theology. That production - well done and notable though it was - changed the message of Jesus to one about people getting together as a community. Jesus was changed to a 'teacher,' the Pharisees became black-uniformed riot police seemingly only concerned to destroy 'community,' with Jesus, apparently, only having a concern to "save" Port Talbot from its abusive industrial heritage. But it was good that, perhaps thousands, in this Welsh town started again considering the person of Jesus of Nazareth; certainly thousands went out to look at the spectacle and large numbers were seen to be in tears at the crucifixion scene. See this link.

Of course, some aspects of a more community-based theology are not bad, indeed at times they are good. Without question much modern Protestantism has become far too individualistic. Writing in 2007, Jay Guin worote this,

"... in a society defined by such ideals as "self-actualization" and the American sense of self-sufficiency, our members tend to have a radically individualistic, atomistic view of Christianity. I get saved. I pick a church that meets my felt needs. I find a place where I can grow. After all, my needs are the most important thing! As a result, church leaders find themselves selling their programs based on what's in it for the members. Give to the church because God will bless you. Come to class because you'll gain so much from it. Be in worship because it'll be exciting and beneficial to you!" (source: http://oneinjesus.info/2007/11/the-new-perspective-the-theology-of-community/).

The above highlights a very selfish approach which might be evidenced in much modern Protestantism. Guin has a point here.

Christian community? Now, don't get me wrong, I am all for it - but let us keep these things in balance. There are still thousands of believers in this world who cannot meet with other believers at all because it is just too dangerous, or because travel costs are too high. The irony is that some of these people are among the strongest Christians one can ever meet. Being part of a large, warm, loving and interactive community is indeed wonderful but, make no mistake, that - in itself - is not Christianity.

Robin A. Brace. April 7th, 2012.