11 February 2008

Book Review: Community 101

"Whether community happens or not may not be left to chance. Christians are under obligation to make it happen, and to make it happen as God intends it to be, not according to their own traditions and preferences, and certainly not according to alien patterns of non-community imported into the church from a world that is itself bereft of the joy of authentic community and yearning for it." -- Community 101 (p.44)

com-mu-ni-ty [kuh-myoo-ni-tee] - noun
  1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
  2. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.
  3. Ecclesiastical. a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.
Community 101, by Gilbert Bilezikian, is one of those books that if you'd asked me if I've read, I would reply, "Parts of it." It's been on my shelf for years and I have regularly referenced it during my experience(s) with community life, but I figured it was time to read it in its entirety.

In essence, Bilezikian is making a rational and passionate cry for the church to fulfill its essential nature and calling. A backwards way of saying that would be, the church is not fulfilling its essential nature and calling in the current conventional model that most of us are accustomed to.

In the past I've groaned a bit about how the word community has become one of those overused (and misused) Christian buzzwords.  Like any word in the English language, it is nothing more than a principal carrier of meaning that we use to communicate or express sentiment and emotion.

Bilezikian states that authentic community is absolutely critical if the church is to fulfill the mission that God intended for it.  The first third of the book focuses on the commutual interrelationship between oneness and community, resting firmly on the concept that the Trinity (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) is the original community of oneness.

Bilezikian does a wonderfully thorough job of laying a biblical foundation to all of his talk on the importance of community.  As stated before, he draws on the centrality of community, as well as siting the story of the Fall when community was lost, how community was once again reclaimed through Jesus Christ, and ultimately the community of oneness created by God - the Holy City, the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2).

In addition to the extensive commentary on the community of oneness, Bilezikian goes on to address how community can be expressed within the ministry and leadership of the church.

If you have never given serious thought to what it means to be a member of the bride of Christ; to belong to the body of believers... not just by way of salvation, but by way of obedient, submissive, sacrificial living, I urge you to pick up this book and read it now.  You'll discover that living in community cannot be a side issue or optional for Christians.  It is as important to God as one's salvation.  Without community, there is no Christianity.  Community is central to God's purposes for humankind - not manufactured community; not selective community; not exclusive community; not mandatory community - biblical community, as described, defined and demonstrated in scripture, found at the intersection of the two segments of the cross, where those who are reconciled with God can be reconciled together.

There is a rebellious nature in all of us.  There is no place for lone rangers in the fellowship of the unashamed.  I know this firsthand.  When I have been a lone ranger in my own ministry life, I have found myself apart from the community, isolated and separated from the oneness that God intends for all of us to have.  No one has the right to claim exemption from community for being different (I Corinthians 12:14-16). Nor does the body consist of only one kind of element or one kind of member - sameness is not a prerequisite for membership in the fellowship.

There are myriad examples of unhealthy, imbalanced communities all over the place. Nevertheless, as stated earlier, without community there is no Christianity.  I encourage you to discover the importance of life in community as stated in Bilezikian's Community 101.   

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