As the religious landscape in America continues to change and orthodox Christian beliefs are being met with greater disproval, believers may soon be living with another orthodox Christian reality – isolation. While difficulties may abound, this should lead to an increase in genuine Christian community which has always been an avenue for the gospel. In a recent Christianity Today article, K.A. Ellis shows how this is true in other countries…
They answer to this hostility with what I describe as “productive perseverance working through community.” They are filled with a deep hope in Christ that drives out fear of man, and their lives are often marked by radical personal transformation and a communal discipleship that it is so attractive, others risk stigmatization to know it.
In most societies, religion and community are inseparable. Since the Enlightenment, we in West have emphasized individual belief more and more. Religion has become an intellectual and personal choice that we choose to assign to ourselves. But throughout the rest of the world, religion is part of your social identity. We see our religion as only defining our relationship with God not the community around us. But as non-Christian society puts more and more pressure on the church’s faith and practices the bonds of love between believers will be forced to strengthen. As this happens, Christians in America will rediscover the beauty of Christian community for the glory of God.
In ministry, we will always struggle with extracting new believers from their community and trying to transplant them into something new that’s defined by our background. Of course, some will bravely believe on their own, but true shifts in cultural belief will be marked by community transformation. It’s no wonder that the examples of true transformation around the world mirror the examples found in the New Testament of whole families and crowds being saved together. This is why individual discipleship and leadership training is so important, because true change is only going to happen through the example of a few brave individuals or by everyone discovering an even better community all at once.
We must not neglect the gift that we have in Christian community. It’s a fragile freedom that is under attack in many countries. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, at the cusp of WWII, wanted to remind believers of this when he wrote…
Let those who until now have had the privilege of living a Christian life together with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and realize: it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today.
My challenge then is twofold: 1) pray for the continuing endurance of these brothers and sisters who must persevere under intense societal pressures, and 2) fully embrace and love your Christian community for the gift that it is.