What would the ideal Christian community look like? In one of my previous posts, I reflected on the need for church communities to be more welcoming toward visitors and strangers. Today’s passage seems to direct my mind toward this subject again, and I believe Christians would serve their communities well if they all reflected on the issue more often.
Jesus says to his apostles, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” As we see time and time again within the Gospels, Jesus does not tell his followers that only people from a particular genealogical background will have a close relationship with God, and He also doesn’t limit the group by race, nation, or tribe. Jesus advocates a very broad community, and He does so because God loves all people.
The “commandments” that Jesus gives throughout the Gospels add up to a long (and repetitive) list. For me, the most difficult commandment is to accept that Jesus is of God “the father” (or that God is within Jesus), but understanding the great mystery of how Jesus and God can be one and the same has always been a struggle for me. (Click here to read a past entry on this struggle.) For other people, the difficult commandments might be to love our enemies or, perhaps, to give up our selfish needs and follow Jesus.
Despite the long list, most of Jesus’ commandments are radically simple, but this does not mean they are easy. Just about anyone who wants to abandon all selfish acts can follow them, so a life with God is available to everyone from every background, but how many people do you know who are truly selfless? To not focus on oneself is a challenge for most people.
This brings my thoughts back to the opening question: what would an ideal Christian community look like? The short answer is it would be full of selfless people.
First of all, the ideal Christian community would be as diverse as the surrounding population is diverse, and this is where many churches today fall short. We all want to hang out with people who are just like ourselves, and this can result in communities where everyone looks alike and shares the same tastes. Most people enjoy this human-uniformity, but I find such a place utterly boring. Why would I want to see a church full of clones? I can’t even stand to listen to the same music from day to day, so nothing about a community where everyone thinks alike appeals to me. I think the ideal Christian community would be diverse: a church filled with people from all sorts of backgrounds with a multitude of views about life and God.
Another feature of the ideal Christian community is that the parishioners would get together outside of church. The community would function more as a family than a typical church community, and this requires the community members to actually commune. Yes, they should get together to pray, but a healthy community also works and plays together, so there might also be groups who gather to work on each other’s automobiles or to help renovate a community member’s house. Perhaps there could be cooking groups or sewing groups. All of these examples describe people who support and help each other, and we can create such communities with relatively little effort and money. Unfortunately, most of us resist such close ties with our fellow human beings, and that is what prevents us from attaining the vision that Jesus presents. If we cannot embrace the rewards found in community, then we do not understand God’s love.
21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ 22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate,* the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.