The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? Seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we are all partake of the one bread (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
One of the drawbacks of our technological developments over the past two centuries involves the loss of a sense of community with our fellow man. Many of us live in detached housing, travel to and from work and other events in cars, and go shopping, dining, and a host of other activities without truly interacting with anyone else in a meaningful way. The Internet allows us to be connected to all sorts of people instantaneously and yet it has led to less substantive interaction among people. A lot of people feel alone, isolated, fearful, scared, and have few outlets. The incidences of depression and related difficulties continues to increase. Far more know that things are just not quite right, but do not know what to do about it.
Despite what many may think at times, man was not designed to be alone (cf. Genesis 2:18). Humans are social and communal creatures. Humans always fare better when they work together and depend on each other than when they try to strike it out alone. Despite all the things you have ever heard, no one “pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps.” If and when people are successful, there are always other people who have allowed that success to take place.
In short, man was not made to live in isolation from his fellow man. God knows this, for He made man that way. And when it comes to spiritual matters, God established the church, in His wisdom, to be the community of His people, encouraging each other and those who are without (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:23, Ephesians 4:11-16).
The church is uniquely suited to be the community of God’s people. As we see in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, the Lord’s Supper represents a “communion” with the body and blood of Christ. The word for “communion” is the Greek koinonia, which means “fellowship, association, communion, joint participation, community.” This “community” with the Lord demonstrates that “we,” although being many, are “one body” because we partake of the same Supper. The Lord’s Supper, in part, is designed to reinforce the “communion” or “community” among the constituent members of the body– and that body is the body of Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:25-27).
That image of the church as body well demonstrates the need for community (cf. Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-29). Our bodies are extremely complex– each part has its own function that it contributes to the whole, and yet none of it works without the rest. The human body is a wonderful example of an interdependent series of systems that comprise a greater whole, and the fact that Paul considers the church to be like a body means that the church itself is to be an interdependent set of persons who constitute a greater whole. Just as parts of the body work together to accomplish a greater good, so Christians within a church work together to accomplish God’s purposes (cf. Matthew 6:33). Just as parts of the body must compensate for damage or illness in other parts, so Christians within a church help strengthen the members who are weak or struggling (cf. Galatians 6:1-2, Hebrews 12:12-13). Just as the hand or the foot or the kidney cannot decide to strike out on their own, so neither can Christians decide to strike out on their own and separate from the Body and be saved (Hebrews 10:26-31). And, just as different parts of the body have distinct and yet necessary functions, so individual Christians have distinct yet necessary functions, and none are more important or greater than any other (1 Corinthians 12:18-25, 1 Peter 4:10-11).
Your body only works because all the parts know that they need each other and to work with each other to continue to exist. Thus it must be also within the church. For too long, arguments regarding the work of the church versus the work of the individual have overshadowed the vital role of the community of believers in the lives of each of its constituent members. It is not the role of the church to institutionalize the work of the individual and do it for them; the church, as the corporate collective, must involve itself in only those things with which God has burdened it (cf. 1 Timothy 5:16). But this does not mean that the members of the church are to have little to nothing to do with one another. It also does not mean that since so much of Christianity must be done on the level of an individual that the community of believers is irrelevant or unnecessary!
Any time people come together or identify themselves as having a common purpose, a community exists. The question, therefore, is not whether there will be community or not, but will involve the strength of the bond of the community. Far too many churches function more like social clubs or country clubs than a body of believers deeply involved in each others’ lives. The social or country club atmosphere might be somewhat comfortable but it cannot lead to the relationship among believers that leads to growth, encouragement, and salvation. It is only when the community functions like the body it is supposed to be that God is glorified within it!
In this world full of isolation, misery, and despair, the church ought to be a strong beacon of light. The church ought to be the place where isolated people can become part of something greater than themselves– a community in which they are accepted regardless of what they have been in the past or their race, nationality, style, or any other factor, and in which they can work together with other believers to magnify and glorify God. When a church exhibits a strong level of community– members involved in each others’ lives, constantly seeking to love one another and serve each others’ interests (cf. Philippians 2:1-4)– it will grow. People will be interested in being part of it, since it reflects something they do not have and something they know they need (cf. Acts 2:42-47). If a church has the same level of community as a local social club or the local country club, what is distinctive about that? How does that reflect Christ’s purposes for the world?
If we are believers in Jesus Christ who are recognized and accepted by Him, we are part of His body (Ephesians 5:25-27). If we are all part of His body, we must associate with one another and work together for His purposes (cf. 1 John 1:6-7). The stronger the connection between one another, the better servants we can be, and the greater the Body of Christ can grow. Let us reflect the fact that we are one body and work to strengthen our church communities!
Ethan R. Longhenry