The Role of the Community in Transformation

There is an interesting phenomenon in the scriptures regarding the link between our relationship with other people and our relation with God. Our relationship with God is somehow reflected in our relationship with people. This truth is demonstrated throughout scripture.

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20) 

The passage above makes it clear hating our brother is a negation of loving God. They cannot simultaneously co-exist. 

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Mat 5:23-24)

This verse shows how Jesus gave priority to reconciling with our brother above a sacred act of worship (in this case giving). Reconciling with others is to be done before worship.

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Mat 6:14-15) 

In the scripture above we are reminded that the God’s forgiveness of our sins is linked with our willingness to forgive those who sin against us.

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Pet 3:7) 

In the verse above husbands are told that if they don’t treat their wives with respect their prayers will be hindered.

He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”(Luke 10:27) 

In the passage above Jesus says that the second greatest command is to love our neighbor as ourselves…second only to loving God with all our being. The scriptures demonstrate that there is an important connection between our love for God and our love for our fellow man. This connection is vital to our understanding of transformation in community because it demonstrates a principle that:

a) A person is only as godly as he is godly in community. Our horizontal relationships with people are the crucible for the development of Christian godliness/maturity, and

b) Our human relationships are the most objective and important measuring rod of our pilgrimage towards Christian maturity (as opposed to bible knowledge, church attendance, time in prayer, etc.). The community helps us “see” where people need help just as the pressure from the rising water of a reservoir helps reveal previously unseen cracks in the damn. Cracks that were always there but undetected until the pressure rises.

Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that the ideal environment for Christian growth is in community (not in isolation) where knowledge, obedience, humility, service, etc are put into practice. Human community takes place on many levels. Five basic levels of community including a) marriage, b) family, c) work communities, d) faith communities and 5) neighborhood communities. Each of these, but especially marriage and family, provide ideal contexts for the self-denial and suffering, which facilitate biblical transformation. This is not to say that we don’t need regular seasons of silence, solitude, and reflections on our journey… of course we do. I’ll devote another meditation to the topic of developing a rhythm of retreat, reflection, and prayer in our lives.

Community Interdependence (unity) vs. Individual Independence

Author Stephen Covey has written on the process from dependence to independence and then from independence to interependence. A new-born is totally dependent on its parents. As a child grows he moves step by step from dependence to independence. The teenage an early adult years are about developing independence.The scriptures encourage independence. (1 Thes. 4:12). Independence and self-sufficiency are good and are signs of maturity. Yet there is something better than independence. 

Independence (or wholeness) is not an end in itself but a prerequisite for something even better…something called interdependence. Interdependence is where two or more independent people live in community. Wise parents not only prepare their children to be independent (to be able to stand on their own), but also for marriage…a state of interdependence. The concept of interdependence is best expressed in the biblical terms ‘unity’ or ‘be one.’

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Gen 2:24)

In marriage counseling I sometimes say, “Two halves don’t make a whole.” (i.e. co-dependents or broken people cannot make a healthy/thriving marriage. If a man is not mature (independent) he is not ready for marriage and cannot make a good husband. Two immature (i.e. dependent) people, when married make a mess. They do not complete each other (i.e. two halves don’t make a whole)…but co-dependency.

On the other hand, two wholes can become one…as in God’s command in Gen 2:24. But it takes two independent (whole, mature) people to achieve oneness (i.e. interdependence) in marriage. Marriage is the first and most foundational expression of human community. In marriage God commands us to find unity in plurality. Leaving mother and father (independence) is a prerequisite to becoming one in marriage. God also wants the church to find oneness and unity is plurality.

The concept of interdependence is expressed in the biblical terms ‘unity’ or ‘be one’ and is used repeatedly in regard to the local church (the community of believers). In the same sense God commands his people. 

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: (John 17:20-21)

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, (Rom 15:5)

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unityof the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Eph 4:2-3)

The verses above are clearly directed to the community of believers…the local church. The local church (like marriage) is a community ordained by God to function in unity…in oneness. God commands his people to find unity in plurality. The unity of the local church is of vital importance to God, yet I fear it is a low priority to many of us. In 1 Cor. 12 Paul uses the analogy of the human body and compares it with the body of Christ (the church). The body is one unit but has many parts. He goes on to describe how each part is dependent on the other (i.e. interdependent) part. He describes how they work as a unity even though they are different from one another. God has given spiritual gifts to each member of his body and thus each member contributes to the good of the whole. I maintain that the goal of biblical counseling is to help believers find sufficiently spiritually wholeness (independence) so they can participate as full contributing members of unified community. This in part means understanding their new identity in Christ. This requires each member to be contributing to the community in accordance with how God has gifted him. Thus biblical counselors need to help believers understand and practice their spiritual gifts.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measureof the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:11-13)

For it takes a degree of wholeness (independence) for true unity (interdependence). Our goal is not just to make the broken whole for the sake of wholeness, but to make them whole so they may take their true place in the community of faith, (the Body of Christ) for which they were made. A church full of immature (un-whole) people will not have unity. By God’s design the community itself is to be the primary environment for transformational change (wholeness, healing, maturity, etc) to take place. A wholesome, unified church community will also bear fruit.