Against Community

These days, everyone is talking about the importance of community, authentic relationships, and being part of a group. This is true whether you are a Christian or a neo-pagan. All sorts of groups are trying to build community: neo-monasticism, new urbanism, political parties, homosexuals, foodies, and socialists.

This desire to build and be part of a community is inherent in what it means to be human. From the beginning, people were designed to be part of something larger than themselves. We are made to be with other people. This reality is inescapable.  

Even though the desire for community is natural to humanity, this does not mean we are doing it correctly. In fact, our society mostly has it backwards and upside-down.  

Postmodern Communities

The errors we find in today’s community projects stem from the Postmodern ideology rampant in our society. When Modernism failed to build universal truth on human reason, Postmodernism came in and began to question all universal narratives. This skepticism of universal claims, often fueled by the desire to be free from all authorities, encourages people to “find their own truth” and to live by that.

But once the Postmodern project has demolished universal truth (or at least tried to), it leaves people with lots of unique, individual experiences and there is no way to connect them all. Francis Schaeffer says it this way:

“…if he is going to be really rationally and intellectually consistent he can only dwell in a silent cocoon; he may know he is there but he cannot make the first move out of it.”[1]

The Postmodern project has left people in a lonely and desolate place but people are not made for that kind of desolation so they rush to build communities to push back against the darkness. 

The Postmodern myth urges people to build communities because groups offer the individual a chance to be part of something larger than himself. If universal truth is too hard for any one person to find and know, then that person must settle for what he can find: a group of other people who think and act like himself. In this way, people think they can find some meaning by being part of a community.  

The LGBT community is particularly strong in this kind of community work. Rosaria Butterfield testifies to this work in her book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. In some ways, the LGBT community builds community better than many Christian churches. But even these kinds of communities do not really last.

Postmodern communities do not endure because they are trying to build community on shared experiences and interests. Can there be something like “shared experiences” in a Postmodern cosmos? Not really. The Intersectional Movement is reinforcing the loneliness: I have such unique experiences that no other human can know and understand what I have been through. When a community is merely based on experiences and desires, then these communities crumble when these things change. If I no longer care for the current food trend, then I am no longer part of the foodie community. The common desire and experience that brought us together is no longer there.

In this way, we can see that the Postmodern project of community building will fail. There is no way to maintain a vibrant community when there is no universal standard that both individuals and groups can appeal to. Inevitably, the individual’s freedom and desires will be swallowed up by the desires of the larger community. Without a universal standard, the community will either bully the individual into submission or kick him out of the community. In this way, the desire for community eats itself and the individual is consumed by the Postmodern community.

Real Community

The only place real community can be found is in Jesus and in His Church. This is true for a couple of reasons. First, the Church is a real community because it is the work of the Spirit not the work of man. The Church did not come into existence because twelve guys back in Palestine decided they wanted to form an “authentic community”. The second point is related to this: the Church is not built around shared common interests or experiences like a club or interest group.

The Church, from beginning to end, exists because it is a work of the Spirit. In fact, the Church is the opposite of an interest group. If the people in the Church had it their way, they would probably pick a lot of other people to hang out with. But because it is the work of the Spirit, these people are brought together into the same community. In this way, the Church is the only place true and genuine diversity and harmony can be found. There is no other reason all these weirdos could be gathered together into one community. This kind of community just isn’t humanly possible.

How Christians Mess Up Community

Christians are tempted to mess up Christian community in two ways. One is for us to think like the Postmoderns and claim that Christians are the ones who build authentic community. The church is made up of Christians so it can look like it is made by Christians. The second error, which comes from the Postmoderns also, is to think that Christians find their true purpose in community. We think, if only I can be with these people, or if I can worship with those people over there then I will be part of a real community and I will have a purpose. Both of these errors make an idol of community and these desires will destroy true community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it well, “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter.”[2]

True Christian community can only be found when one is seeking the creator of the community: Jesus. Bonhoeffer writes, “Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim.”[3] The first place we must look for true community is the fellowship of Jesus. Only in Jesus can real Christian community be found. The only way to hold on to community is to look away from community and toward Jesus. In this way, Christian community is not like Postmodern community at all because as Bonhoeffer says, “We are bound together by faith, not by experience.”[4] 

Jesus is the head of His Church and He is the one building the community with His Spirit. All other communities are shams and fakes. The key then is to look to Jesus first and then true Christian community will flow from that.

[1] Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, p. 124.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 27.

[3] Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 30.

[4] Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 39.

This article originally appeared at Kuyperian Commentary:

Image by scartmyart from Pixabay 

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