The Test of True Christian Community
”Has the fellowship served to make the individual free, strong, and mature, or has it made him weak and dependent? Has it taken him by the hand for a while in order that he may learn again to walk by himself, or has it made him uneasy and unsure?”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
We’re in the midst of our third week of cancellations due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Those three weeks have been as busy as ever trying to make plans, but it feels like it’s been three months since we last gathered together.
It’s just like Corey said—I miss church.
That said, I’ve been doing some thinking on this question: “Is it possible that being unable to gather might actually make our community stronger?”
Learning to Walk By Yourself
For a lot of my life, it’s been tempting to make church a spiritual crutch. If we don’t understand the motives behind membership, regular church attendance might actually hamper our spiritual growth. If we believe being a member of a local church merely looks like attending services every week, staying “involved” by volunteering our time on a regular basis, and texting a few friends to check in on them, we’ve missed the point.
Look at the picture of the church painted for us in Acts 2, as the church is first being formed: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:42–44).
Now, obviously we are unable to “be” together. But we can still learn from the unity shared among the saints in Acts 2. We see here that the New Testament church’s ideals didn’t trickle down from its elders or overseers. Instead, it was the impetus of each and every individual to devote his or her self to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. They had to learn to walk before they could learn to walk together.
The believers in Acts didn’t have all things in common because they were united under the banner of a specific church building or 501c3 organization; the believers in Acts had all things in common because they were, individually, under the banner of Christ.
The Time of Testing
COVID-19, then, gives us both an occasion to be tested and an opportunity to grow.
First, self analysis: are we a church made up of individuals concerned with hand-holding and “doing church” in the place of one another, or are we a church made up of individuals who want to “do church” for the sake of one another? Put another way, am I bearing my church members’ burdens or am I merely listening to them? Spend this time to look inward and check.
Second, then, comes effecting change: carving out time for the study of Scripture and prayer in my daily schedule, along with learning what it means to be unified to each and every member of my church (not to my church as an organization). Create intentional rhythms of digging deeper in your faith and repentance.
These are times of testing for our community, First Baptist Alcoa. I hope you’ll not only use them to catch up on that one Netflix show or on social media, but also to grow in the knowledge of God and His Word.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll come out the other side of this social distancing thing with a healthier understanding of what it means for each one of us to run well—to walk by the Spirit, to be members one of another (Gal. 5–6, Eph. 4:25).