This week Restoration began a new season of community groups and a new sermon series. Both are inspired by an amazingly good collection of essays titled Called to Community. We encourage everyone to buy a copy of this exceptional book that is rich and challenging while remaining accessible to any reader since it is broken into 52 short chapters with brief discussion questions. If you have been on the fence about whether or not to buy it, please buy the book. You will continue to value it beyond this season at Restoration and it will be a treasure on your bookshelf that you can tuck into on days when you question why we even bother with church or what it means to belong in Christian community.
I have been impressed by Called to Community and with other media coming out of Plough Publishing House over the past few years. In an effort to satisfy my curiosity, I went on a google deep-dive looking at the people behind it and discovered that it is run by the Bruderhof Communities. If you are imagining Amish-looking people living together on a farm you are not far off. They are Christians from the German Anabaptist tradition on a mission to restore a lost vision of Christian community to the Church. And I think they are credible leaders in this renewal because they live in a true intentional community that challenges all of my assumptions about the way we “must” live in a modern world.
Chapter 3, “Style of Life” was another one of those bracing challenges to my belief that I can read western individualism and spiritual interiority into the Gospel. In an essay encouraging radical dependence on the Christian family, including to meet the financial and material needs of members, Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt rejects any Gospel message that reduces Christianity to individualized forgiveness of sins. Following Jesus never produces a solely spiritual transformation, it remakes our social relationships and the economic order of our communities. Recommending this new style of life, Blumhardt writes:
For this reason I do not think much of “spiritual communities.” They do not last. People are friends for a while, but it eventually ends. Anything that is going to last must have a much deeper foundation than some kind of spiritual experience. Unless we have community in the flesh, in things material, we will never have it in spiritual matters (1 John 3:16-18). We are not mere spirits. We are human beings of flesh and blood. Every day we need to eat. We need clothing for every season. We must share our tools; we must work together; we must work communally and not each for himself. Otherwise we can never become one in the love of Christ, can never become the community of Jesus that stands up in the world and says, “Now things must become quite different. Now the individual must stop living for himself. Now a society of brothers and sisters must arise.”
As I read I kept thinking about how wealth isolates us. We are unwilling to make ourselves dependent on others while we still have any other options left to us. And the way that we give charitably to others usual happens within a power dynamic that keeps giver and receiver from living in close community. As a result, when we have real material needs we must overcome shame in order to bring them to our church community. We must resist the parable of the American self-made man or woman which is completely incompatible with the Gospel. The church, by design, is meant to be a community of radical generosity and mutuality in which we consider the needs of others as our own and feel no shame or fear when we are in need. This is the primary way that Jesus’ provides for his followers.
We will never experience church as family if we only look to church to meet our spiritual needs. First of all, we don’t experience spiritual need as distinct from our physical needs. Secondly, we will love our sisters and brothers in the family of God best by seeing their needs and gladly meeting them with our own resources. I’m eager to see if Restoration can form a new and different kind of community and it starts with forming close relationships over meals, at work, through play, and in every place where we live. Allow yourself to be challenged by Called to Community in our Sunday sermons and community groups. I would love to hear hearty discussions and practical solutions in our community about what it means to put this radical message into action.