Lesson 10: Community

baptism in communityFrom the beginning, a critical question has been who speaks for God. God relates to us primarily through words, so determining who is his spokesperson in every situation is pretty important.

Sometimes God speaks through one person, the prophets being our prime examples. But an even more significant instance is proclaiming the Gospel to a friend, the one who says, “God loves you” or “God forgives you.” However, when it comes to Church and Society, things get more complicated.

I have been arguing God’s Word is heard in the conversation between leadership, tradition, and community. The last plays a special role in our society that is radically individualist. The Christian Community critiques what I think and do. It compliments and corrects my understanding of what the tradition says. It checks the authority of the leadership.

Article VII of the Augsburg Confession describes the Church as the gathering of believers who proclaim the Gospel accurately and practice the sacraments appropriately. It quickly notes this does not mean the Church in every place and time must agree on all matters. This minimalist definition provides a foundation on which we can build. Let me suggest some other essential characteristics.

It is time we acknowledge this is a catholic community whose loyalty to Christ goes beyond national creeds. One of the most damaging teachings of some American churches is the Exceptionalism that claims God is working in a special way through our nation. That always boils down to the affirmation that democracy provides the opportunity to become successful financially, and that this is dependent on the competition of capitalism. Christian community takes into consideration what believers from all parts of the world, living in all kinds of government, have to say.

The model of the Church found in Acts is based on co-operation not competition. Giving according to your ability and taking according to your needs goes far beyond being fair to one another. It involves sharing all we have. That is quite a challenge to our present economic system.

In our electronic age, it is also terribly important to see this involves a face-to-face community where proclaiming “I love you” and “God loves you” involves real commitment. There is no way the essentials of Christian community can be practiced on television or any other electronic device. You cannot share a meal without passing food to real persons. You cannot baptize without a real person pouring water on another real person. And you cannot proclaim the Gospel without sharing the situation of the one to whom you speak.

This is not to say we can discern what God is saying by taking a poll of everyone who claims to be Christians. However, it does mean that the Voice of the People must be heard. It must compliment the authority of certified leadership and the standards of tradition. This Voice of the People is often the means by which the Holy Spirit brings new insights into God’s Truth. Speaking with other believers attempting to follow Christ often leads us to see all sorts of beautiful new ways God expresses his love among us.

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