Biblical Community is Choice not Affinity

This post is a re-post for the upcoming Missional Leaders Network meeting, a relational forum for those who are committed to  doing church through”smaller” missional communities (even if in the context of a larger church gathering.  If you are in Cape Town and would like to come check it out – email me at jpscheepers@gmail.com.

Being now about a year into this missional community/ gospel community thing, I have come to realize a basic mindset shift which most people fail to make concerning biblical community:

Biblical community is more about choice than affinity.

What do I mean?

Most of our relationships are based around affinity. We share common interests, similar personality, background, economic level or personality. Not so with true biblical community.

Biblical community is more like family – we are unable to choose our brothers and sisters. As a result our Christian community may look rather different in terms of affinity, background or personality than that which we would naturally choose.

Where most community breaks down in churches is that we maintain a “small group” superficiality with those who differ, whilst functionally pursuing relational depth with those “like us”.

Hence my point – biblical community is more choice than affinity.

We have to choose to hang out with, share life together with and engage in mission with. Our mindset must be – yes there are many people out there with whom I enjoy relationship or connect with but I choose to commit myself to this local group of believers. Sometimes even at the expense of my natural affinity group. There must be an intentionality about our choice of community that overrides our personal preference.

This “choice over affinity” community is counter-cultural and challenging to the average unbeliever. Why should you choose to hang out with and share life with people with whom you do not share a natural affinity? Why would you choose to share life with a group of people with whom it is more difficult or even awkward to get on with?

Why the gospel of course!

Anything less than this simply fails to be biblical community.

Extra: If you are interested here are some reflections from an earlier Network meeting

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6 thoughts on “Biblical Community is Choice not Affinity

  1. Marco

    Hi John,

    I need some help in “coming with you” in your thinking, so I’ve posed some questions below.

    1. The article is built around the phrase “Biblical community” but this phrase is not defined. What exactly is a “Biblical community”? And, as it is being labelled a “BIBLICAL” community, I would anticipate a definition that flows clearly from the Bible.

    2. The argument that “Biblical community is more like family” because “we are unable to choose our brothers and sisters” and a result of this is that our “Christian community may look rather different in terms of affinity, background, etc..” and that we may therefore not “share common interests, background, economic level, etc” seems to me to be a self-defeating argument. The fact is that my (natural) family and I DO share common background (same mom and dad), economic level (we grew up in the same house and ate the same meals), and so on. I think what the article means to say is that we have all been made one in Christ, and are now members of a new household of faith that transcends all these other things.

    3. The article asserts “we have to choose to…”, “our mindset must be…”, “there must be…”. These are strong claims. Why do we “have to”? Why “must our mindset be”? Why “must there be”? I think the answers to this set of questions will follow from the answer to my first question: the definition of “Biblical community”. If there is a sound Biblically-rooted definition of “Biblical community” then it can rightly be said that we “have to” and we “must”.

    4. Finally, the logic of the last three paragraphs seems to progress as follows:

    * We ought to do this counter-cultural thing (choice over affinity);
    * Because of the Gospel;
    * Therefore to not do it is to fall short of “biblical community”.

    The argument equates the “Gospel” with “biblical community”. I see two problems with this:

    4.1 The “Gospel” is not equal to “biblical community”. Certainly the “Gospel” produces “biblical community”; the one flows from the other as do apples from an apple tree. But the one is not the other; an apple tree is not an apple. The logic would be correct if the article said (1) we ought to do this thing (2) because of the Gospel (3) therefore to not do it is to fall short of the Gospel. But that isn’t what it says. Even if that were what it said, though, the article would still need to show that the Gospel necessarily causes / requires us to do this particular thing – which leads to my next point:

    4.2 This goes back to the problem of definition. The article assumes (but does not provide a Biblical argument for the idea) that “biblical communities” are counter-cultural in that they deliberately reject natural affinity groups in favour of not-natural-affinity groups. Where is the Biblical basis for this idea that we “must” actually reject natural affinity groups in favour of not-natural-affinity groups? Note: I’m not saying that there is no Biblical basis for this idea – I just want to know what it is.

    I think it’s worth saying that it is not at all my intention to attack the article. It is a thought (and heart) provoking article and it achieves both of those objectives very well. I just need some help understanding what is meant by certain phrases and where certain of the ideas are drawn from in Scripture.

    A thought: Perhaps you should write a series of blogs on this topic; beginning with “a Biblical definition of “Biblical community”” (blog 1) and then “how / why the Gospel must / does produce Biblical community” (blog 2) and then “Biblical examples of Biblical communities” (blog 3) and then “natural affinity vs. Gospel-motivated choice flowing from the previous three blogs” (blog 4) concluding with “some thoughts on how to engage in this practically” (blog 5).

    I’m not trying to create work for you – I would just really like to read the series!

    Many thanks, and I look forward to chatting again soon,

    Marco

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  2. John Post author

    Hi Marco,

    A lot to interact with here so I will try to be brief and you can respond where you feel I have inadequately dealt with your concern.

    1) Yes there is much that is assumed/not clarified in the blog post. The medium of blogging by the way is different to that of an article. Most thinking is that an effective blog post should ideally be 500 words of less – so it does mean that there must be some things assumed or not spelt out. But that is where the comments can lead to a useful discussion. Having said that it, I should still aim for simple and clear communication in what I am attempting to communicate. Thanks your questions and observations are good to force my clearer articulation.

    I like you idea about building out some thinking in this article – I was already thinking about that due to some other interactions and your suggestions as to how to do that are excellent. Thanks

    2) Your point on the affinity is well made. The intent was merely to make the point that we cannot choose our family but often in the church we choose to relate to only certain of our family – and in natural terms that is a dysfunctional family.

    Having said that though perhaps it would be more helpful to say that the gospel redefines our relationships of affinity as those who share the Father’s likeness and who belong to his family, through the gospel. So perhaps it would be more correct to say something to the effect of “biblical community redefines our family affinities” and we have to choose to express these affinities rather than simply follow our natural affinities.

    3) I agree with your analysis – but as explained in point 1 – this was a (perhaps naively) assumed presupposition of the post.

    4.1 I agree with your understanding/logic here – and this is certainly my intention in the post. I have re-read it a few times and I am not sure why you say the post equates biblical community with the gospel. Theologically I think we agree but clearly my writing is unclear and would appreciate your input.

    Based on this and other interactions I agree that some biblical backing would have been helpful. I have probably assumed to much and asked readers to make too big a jump without walking them through it. And hopefully I can contribute some more thinking

    4.2 Now I am going to disagree with you 🙂 I think you have over-stated my point in saying there is a call to reject affinity groups in favouring of non-affinity groups. It is not a call to reject affinity but rather a call to embrace non-affinity. I am not anti-affinity but when affinity is the basis of the majority of the church’s interaction, we have probably failed to grasp the new and over-riding affinities of our new identity in Christ. And therefore failed to express that in our local communities. Of course it is still valid to spend time with an old friend – but is there space for those “not like you” in your life? That is probably the presenting question in my mind when I wrote this.

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    1. Marco

      Many thanks for your reply John. As you said above, I think we are substantially in agreement about these things. There are (minor) points I would debate – but I see the heart of your argument and I agree with it. Given that I agree with you on the “major” I think debating the “minors” publically may have the effect of drawing too much attention to them. Let’s pull these writings out and go through them face-to-face when we next see each other.

      Of course, us being in agreement with each other is far less important than us being in agreement with the Bible – which I do hope we both are!

      I commend you for having the courage to put your heart-provoking thoughts out in the public domain where they (and you) are open to being misunderstood. May your labours for His fame be fruitful.

      With love in Christ our Lord,

      Marco

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  3. Colin

    Nice interaction guys. Will see you on Thursday. I almost rocked up last Thursday …. I am a bit out of sync with my diary or something!

    By the way, I enjoy hanging with both of although you are quite different from one another. There is something I love about you and I suspect that may have something to do with Jesus.

    Does that qualify as a comment on the post?
    🙂

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  4. John Post author

    It does qualify as a comment on the post. But what is interesting (and I never actually stated this up front) that this post was born out of a reflection on people who were content to attend a few church meetings – and enjoyed them and were a great blessing when they were there – but in their daily/weekly rhythms they had no time to consistently be community with those who were in their “gospel community” because they were too busy hanging out with Christians all over the city, other churches, long established relationships etc. Now those are good things but my aim was to suggest that in order to faithfully express biblical community at a local level we have to choose to rather commit ourselves to these people in this community right now. And spend less time with some of these other relationships, even thought the other relationships are the preferred ones.

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  5. Pingback: A week in Woodstock « a missional life

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