Driving by DTS last week, I saw a little old lady fall on the sidewalk. Not seeing anyone around to help her, I pulled into the nearest parking lot around the corner and then ran back to see if there was anything I could do. I returned to find two men walking away from her, having obviously helped her to her feet. As I passed the men, I asked if she was okay and they replied, “she thinks she needs to go to the hospital” and then kept walking. I was confused as to why they were not calling an ambulance or helping her any further as I watched her shuffle along, head slumped down, left arm cradled by the right.
This image got me thinking about community. Are we like the men who helped the lady to her feet and then left her to fend for herself? Without ultimate concern for her health, without sacrifice of self, there is instead concern merely to do one’s moral duty. We help our “communities” to their feet and then leave them to shuffle along with broken bones, left to fend for themselves.
Biblical Community is authentic.
Authentic means real, genuine, and valid. If there is “authentic” community, then there must be unauthentic pseudo-community, community which shares the name of community, but not the elements which truly highlight that form of fellowship which corresponds to the biblical imperative for community. What elements distinguish biblical community from its worldly façade?
Though the distinctions are many, we want to focus in particular on vulnerability and accountability.
Vulnerability and Accountability
There is a strange paradox in humanity. Humanity is lonely and hates isolation. We are wired with a communal image from our triune God. Yet, paradoxically, while we hate to be alone, humanity longs to be hidden.
Was this not the first scheme of fallen man? Having tasted of the fruit and fallen from community, where does Adam go but to the bushes and trees? He wants to be hidden. He wants to be covered. But a few dried leaves can never cover guilt and shame.
People have not really moved beyond this proclivity – this tendency toward concealment. All these years later, the flesh loves figs and shrubs.
This inclination is exposed in John 3 where Jesus says that man loves the darkness and hates the light. The only cure for a fallen nature is a new nature that is the entire context of John 3 and Christ’s talk with Nicodemus. What God demands He provides – a heart that finds pleasure not behind plants, but in the cover of the cross.
The gospel calls us out of our fear and into faith. Out of the shadows and into the Light of the Son.
Fear of Confession:
When exposed, many of us still long to hide. We cram our skeletons into our closets and hope no one ever needs to go in there. So no one really knows us; because we have this huge closet full of secrets. Our houses become nicer and nicer on the outside, which only forces us to keep up the game. Those skeletons seem more and more out of place. We can neither give nor accept love. Those skeletons bind us. We can’t leave home for fear that someone will break in and see our past.
We know that honesty is the best policy. We intellectually know that. But fear shackles us. It deceives us. It paralyzes us with persuasive promises of shame and humiliation.
Confession without Repentance:
But that’s not all of us, for many of us, we are okay confessing, but our confession falls flat. So each week we confess the same sins to the same group who perhaps struggles with the exact same sins as well. Round and round we go on an unending merry-go-round of “confession.” We may open the door to our closets, but we don’t stop putting skeletons in there. You might even think we are proud of displaying them. But here’s the point—we are still collecting skeletons.
I think that many of us only confess our sin because we don’t really expect our community to ask us to do anything about it. Truth be told, we cherish our little pet sins. We confess, not to get rid of the sin, but to get rid of the shame. We are not terribly concerned that we have offended God, we are rather bothered by our conscience and simply want to feel better.
Confession of this kind is like going to a doctor and telling him all of your symptoms and before he even has a chance to speak, you get up off the butcher paper lounge chair thingy and say, “there, I feel much better” and just walk out.
This is where accountability comes in. Confession is meant to move us to repentance, not simply ease our conviction. Community does not consist of priests who merely hear confessions, it is instead a group of people who are passionate to shepherd someone toward the light. The goal of confession is repentance. Confession for the sake of confession is worthless. Confession that leads to true repentance results in holiness.
Our communities must not function not merely as confessionals? What good is it to listen to the little old lady ask for an ambulance if you are not going to call for one? What good is it to help her up from the ground only to let her shuffle a few feet and fall again? This time with a broken arm effectively eliminative any opportunity to soften the blow. If she falls, there is nothing to protect her.
Biblical community is a radical commitment to both confession and repentance. Not either/or. Neither is sufficient in and of itself. It doesn’t simply hear the lady say, “I think I need an ambulance” it calls the ambulance and waits with her and talks to her and prays for her. Then it gets in the ambulance or meets her in the hospital. It confronts her when she is tempted to rip out the IV and leave the hospital against the doctor’s orders. It sits in the waiting room and at her side and brings her meals, and reads the Scriptures over her and encourages her with talk of Christ. It stays by her side through rehab and beyond.
Community is not simply a place to share your sin, it is a place to struggle against your sin. It is a battlefield.
The Danger of Drifting1
Hebrews 2:1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
What happens if you are driving and take your hands off the wheel? You start to drift. If your alignment is good, you can go quite some ways before the drift is noticeable. For some of you, you are scared to change the radio because your car will end up immediately swerving into a ditch the moment you take your hands off the wheels. Our lives are just like that. There is a very real danger of drifting.
The sermon referenced in the footnote below makes this observation, that our lives are not lakes, but rather rivers. And the rivers are flowing, but the surge of the world is rushing away from God. Ocean tides ebb and flow, but the currents of the flesh always carry us away from Christ. If we simply lounge and allow ourselves to float on the lazy rivers of complacency, we will not drift toward life, joy, fullness, and satisfaction, but rather toward destruction. Drifting is exceedingly dangerous.
Conformity to Christ Accomplished in Community
Hebrews 3:12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.
Chapter 3 contains the same idea as in chapter 2 in regards to the danger of drifting or falling away, but with a twist on the application.
Hebrews 3:13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Straining at the oars to keep from drifting is no individual struggle. The author clarifies that this is a communal effort. We are to exhort “one another” so that “none of you” may be hardened and fall away. This means that we have a responsibility in the sanctification and perseverance of others. I am accountable to you and you to me. The more our lives overlap, the more responsibility we have to each other to exhort, encourage, warn, correct, discipline, teach, rebuke, counsel, caution, and persuade. Love demands that we not allow our loved ones to drift.
If this is going to happen there must be authenticity. There must be vulnerability. You need to be vulnerable with your community and they need to pay attention so that they can see signs of drifting.
When they see you drift, they can ease you back onto the path. You need to agree to give them that kind of responsibility and they need to agree to guide you slowly and carefully. We’ve all known the guy who sees that he is drifting to one side of the road and so overcorrects by yanking the wheel 45 degrees further than necessary. I have a few friends that I love and appreciate because I am forced to pray and consider my own mortality every time I ride with them.
This extreme overcorrection is not how biblical community should ideally confront sin. It is gentle and yet firm. And here is the great thing—it learns this over time. It matures into course correction. When I first learned to drive I was about eight, sitting in my grandfather’s lap on a deserted road near our lake house. He told me that I could not just keep the wheel in one place, but had to move it from side to side. I nearly caused us to flip right then. It took me a while to learn how to gently and yet firmly stay in my lane and correct my drift. Twenty-three years later, I don’t drive like I did at eight. Community matures and grows into its responsibility toward vulnerability and accountability.
When we say that community is authentic, we mean that it takes seriously the call to consider and clothe ourselves with Christ and crucify the flesh. We really do mean that The Village is a safe place to wrestle and struggle. “It is okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to stay there.”