There is a vast difference between community in general and biblical community in particular. For instance, Christians are called to lay their lives down for the good of others (John 15:13; 1 John 3:16), whereas much of secular community is about being made much of by others. Also, biblical community holds one another accountable, especially to sinful patterns of behavior (Gal. 6:1-2; James 5:16), whereas secular community is often a place to hide sin and promote godlessness.
Surprisingly, the lines are often blurred between genuine, biblical community and various impostors, creating confusion for Christians. Here are five lies about Christian community that sound true but are actually wildly deceiving.
1. Christian Community is Unnecessary for a Thriving Relationship With God
The idea of solo Christianity is widely accepted among professing believers today. Though it’s true Christians should foster a personal relationship with Jesus, the Bible does not teach isolation or promote the notion of flying solo. In fact, trying to practice your faith alone can cause some real issues. For starters, our understanding of God’s character is often formed and adjusted as we live in community with other believers. It’s the old concept of iron sharpening iron (Prov. 27:17).
As our view of God changes in community, our love for him grows and our relationship with him is strengthened. We are not omniscient. We need one another to grow in our knowledge of God and the Scriptures. We can’t have a true relationship with God if we don’t allow other Christians into our lives.
Furthermore, God himself exists within a community. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God exists as one God, yet three distinct persons. If God exists within a community, we shouldn’t feel comfortable with the notion that our relationship with him can happen apart from a relationship with others. God is a relational being. He has created us in his image to be relational beings. Therefore, community is vital for a thriving relationship with God.
2. Christian Community Can Happen Overnight
For much of my Christian life, I believed I could find community by relocating to a better city or finding a different church. Only recently have I discovered it takes time to foster biblical community. It does not happen overnight.
Three years ago, my wife and I moved back to our hometown after years of being away. It has taken time to feel known and loved again. It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t happened the way we thought it would. In my mind, we would show up and be the life of the party. People would celebrate our homecoming and place us in prominent ministry roles. It didn’t happen that way, but it is happening, albeit slowly. We’re serving more and are more active in the life of our church. We’re meeting regularly with people and feeling encouraged through their words and prayers.
You don’t have to leave the place God has you for what appears to be a greener pasture. There is always manure in the pasture, whether here or there. Just show up and be willing to serve. Don’t ignore the seemingly small moments and don’t allow the mess to frustrate you. God uses messy people to build friendships that honor him. No relationship grows without effort. It will take time. It will sometimes hurt. Yet the reward of being known and loved by a community of God-fearing people will be worth every minute spent in messy environments.
3. Christian Community Can Happen Apart From a Local Church
Biblical community can only happen in the context of a local church. It’s popular today to attempt to do Christianity apart from a local body of believers, but such an approach is not biblical.
In the book of Hebrews, the author tells us not to neglect meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. Instead, as we meet together, we should spur one another on in love and good deeds, especially as the “day” draws near (10:25).
There are two things to note here. First, the “day” refers to Christ’s return. The Bible often talks about the people of God as the bride of Christ. We should all be preparing for the day the bridegroom returns (Matt 25:1-24). There is work for us to accomplish while we wait, namely love and good deeds. That brings us to the second point.
We can’t do these things alone. It takes a village to grow in holiness. It takes all of us to form a healthy, functioning body (1 Cor. 12:12-28; Eph. 4:1-16). As we continue to meet together as a church body, we will be challenged by believers in ways that won’t happen by ourselves.
In today’s world, it is popular to look inward for truth and strength. The problem is the Bible says “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9 NIV). Looking inward is not a sure route to truth. We need to be challenged by other believers who are soaking in Scripture and being challenged by other believers. In essence, we must belong to a local church. The church is one of the primary means used in our sanctification, so we should press into it willingly and joyfully.
4. Christian Community Happens Only With People of Similar Interests
Community can certainly happen with people who share your interests, but it’s not the only way it happens. In fact, one of the best ways to grow is to live alongside people who see the world differently than you. Just because you love sports doesn’t mean all your friends should.
When I was in seminary, I met a student who loved football. He was a dedicated fan with a plethora of gear to prove it. Other than Cardinals baseball, I am not a sports guy. I figured we’d have nothing in common, but since our wives hit it off we decided to get to know one another. To my surprise, this man became my closest friend. I confessed my sins to him. I shared my fears with him. I dreamed with him about ministry and life after seminary. Our commitment to the Lord far outweighed the interests of our hearts.
I often wonder if shared interests can act as a distraction from pursuing holiness. My friend and I rarely discussed sports—though I later became somewhat interested in football—but we regularly discussed the point of our existence, namely Jesus. Don’t be afraid to seek friendships with people of differing interests. You’ll likely learn something you wouldn’t otherwise.
5. Christian Community Happens Only With People of Similar Theological Leanings
My wife and I currently worship and serve at a church that is part of a denomination generally out of our comfort zone. Although our church is orthodox in their beliefs, acknowledging the ancient ecumenical creeds, they differ from us theologically. Though there are clear differences in our interpretation of Scripture, we couldn’t be happier with the community around us. For instance, the tradition’s focus on holiness has been a great blessing to our faith journey. In fact, our current season is producing some of the richest fruit we’ve ever experienced.
We are loved. We are challenged. We are encouraged. We are greatly cared for. We are growing in holiness.
I have a group of three guys I’ve met with every Thursday evening since February 2020. Their friendship sustained me during the pandemic. We pray together, fight for our marriages together, confess our sins together, and spur one another toward love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25).
You can certainly find community with people of similar theological leanings, but it doesn’t happen there only. Sometimes, the rewards earned by being with humble brothers and sisters from different theological camps are many. Sometimes, God sends you places you wouldn’t choose for yourself. Don’t ignore those with whom you will spend eternity simply because you don’t agree with their views. The kingdom will be full of people whose journey looked different than yours.
Lies about Christian community are sure to come. How you respond to them, however, is entirely up to you. Do the hard work of fighting for truth. Seek wisdom from the Scriptures and surround yourself with God-fearing brothers and sisters. Your eternal joy is at stake.
Author’s note: This article was originally published at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.