Whatever your worldview, it’s likely you see community as integral to humanity. Humans are communal creatures. We exist as families, friends, teams, and tribes. Community is also central to the Christian story—to the point that identity as an individual is inseparable from identity found in community.
Community is central to our story
The first book of the Bible, Genesis, spells out the Christian narrative on community quite clearly. Humans were made to be in a relationship with God and each other (Gen. 1:26; 2:18; 3:18). God in and of himself is relational and exists as a mysterious three-in-one entity, termed the Trinity by Christians (Matt. 3:16; 28:19). Even the concept of sin, which is the “fault line” that runs through the Christian narrative, stems from the time Adam and Eve rejected God’s advice because they wanted to be more independent (Gen. 3). The result was that humanity became self-centered instead of God- and community-centered.
Our purpose is carried out in the context of community
Christians believe that every single human being has purpose, and central to that purpose is our calling—or vocation, as we sometimes call it. This concept of vocation is not confined to our job or career; it encompasses all aspects of our lives: our family, our friends, our role in the economy, and our local and global citizenship.
Our vocation was defined for us when God created humanity in his image (Gen. 1:27) and essentially said ‘go take care of the earth’ (Gen. 1:28) and ‘be my of likeness in the communities you operate in’ (1 Corinthians 7:17). Every person contributes according to their skillset, personality, intellect, etc. In this way we function as the “mask of God” in every community: marriage, family, neighborhood and beyond.
As Christians, central to our purpose as humans is not individualism, but loving and serving other people, our ‘neighbors’ (Matt 22:37-40). God intended this from the beginning of creation. And the concept of neighbor isn’t just confined to the folks we like or get along with; it also includes people in need and people with whom we’d rather not be associated with (Luke 10:29).
The kingdom of God
The biblical narrative tells us that as much as humans have tried to live in community the way God intended, sin has always been a barrier. Sin causes us to be driven by our own (often selfish) desires—not the needs of our communities. But Jesus, through his death and resurrection, reunites relationships and reinvigorates communities. First humanity with God, and then humanity in community. The coming of Jesus ushers in a new era for humanity, referred to as ‘the kingdom of God.’
Jesus uses this term over 80 times in the four books of the Bible that tell us about his time here on earth. Jesus defines his purpose this way: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:18; Mark 1:14-15). The kingdom of God is the start of a process of renewal and restoration in creation back to the way it was originally intended. And this new era is marked by the liberation of the needy and oppressed (Luke 4:43).
The kingdom of God will only be fully implemented at the point Jesus returns, but we should see evidence of that renewal and restoration in our communities today. Despite our selfish inclinations, God decides that we get to actively participate in his plan of establishing his kingdom. This piece of the narrative can change the world we live in.
The role of Christians is to introduce the kingdom of God to the communities they operate in through their vocations. Whether it’s with people, creatures or the environment, Christians should be bringing love, hope, justice, compassion, inclusion, healing, peace, etc., (the impact of the kingdom of God) into all corners of the world, one step at a time.
We live in a culture that says we, as individuals, have the right to think and do whatever we choose. Accountability and responsibility to community seem like requirements, not benefits. For many people, social media has created a fractured and lonely world. Individualized media makes for exclusive communities and narrow-minded factions. If there was ever a time when the kingdom of God is needed, it is today.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., referred to something he called The Beloved Community. According to the King Center , “The Beloved Community was not a lofty utopian goal to be confused with the rapturous image of the Peaceable Kingdom, in which lions and lambs coexist in idyllic harmony. Rather, The Beloved Community was for him a realistic, achievable goal that could be attained by a critical mass of people committed to and trained in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence.
Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.”
King’s concept of Beloved Community is a reflection of the kingdom of God. Sadly, today it seems that faith has either become an exclusive community or a personalized belief system. Christianity is meant to be a faith that drives Christians to engage in all of our communities, not just our own churches. And Christians are meant to be agents of God’s love, peace, justice, healing, compassion, hope and peace in all those communities.