​Community and the Full Shilling

I’ve lived in community* for 40 years, mostly in houses with over a dozen people. I have loved it (mostly), getting shot of personal wealth, finding who I am in the reality of living together, doing a ‘communism’ of love.

Love one another, deny yourself – it has to mean community in some form for all Christians doesn’t it? Caring, sharing, being a new creation family; isn’t that church? And isn’t living in intentional Christian community the answer for all?

Well, it depends what you mean by community. Making one form of community special, a higher way, a different category, a special style of membership, can be a problem. That makes anyone else not quite ‘the full shilling’, by definition.

Add to that the limiting of community to meaning people sharing a big house together… It can be marvellous, but it also makes community a huge step away from ‘ordinary’ people, instead of being just one end of a long scale, from a Christian on their own through every shade of sharing life.

Issues arise with big house community: isolation, institution, a state-owned mentality and more. They can all be worked out with care, but the paradigm itself creates problems; it might be called a category error, a model limitation. Community must mean everyone, or else it can be elitist.

If we bolt down what we mean by community too hard and fast, we exclude the other models and the other people, and that version would not be the full shilling.

Community is love. Let’s keep working it out.

* For those used to a more general definition of community, I refer here to an ‘all things in common’ community of believers like Acts 2 and 4.
 

If you’ve got to the end of this article and you’re thinking “yes, but…” or “no, because…” write your “yes but” or “no because” in the comments below.

I am a member of Jesus Fellowship Church and have lived in Christian community since 1975. I have coordinated the Prayer Watch since 1982 when it started, with help from friends.

  • True, we’ve traditionally defined community with quite a tight blueprint, a community charter and this stiffens the wineskin, to use a religious metaphor. Sure, Acts 2 & Acts 4 described no differing tiers of membership. We do need to change our approach here.

    However I do think saying “everyone’s in community” makes the community vision quite muddy, it devalues the word, and it’s not the kind of thinking that galvanises a group into living a radical way of life together.

    We need words like “community” to express something potent, but not something rigid and rules based. I’m convinced this will come more from listening to the Spirit, expressing new vision and doing it, than from simple reaction and critique. The flourishing of the new is the best justification for the change of the old.

    • Community must mean everyone – well I mean that the everyone of church must express the breadth of community, sharing lives practically. Defining it too tightly excludes too many other expressions and implies that church is ‘community’ and ‘not community’, which I am challenging.

      • I would like to see as many expressions of community among us as we have households, with each household shaping its way of life around its unique mission field and gifting.

        Then the question arises “how should we express our vision for community without boxing it in with a community charter”? What does “community” mean? Would a distinction between common purse community and non-CP community be welcome within this?

        • Let each group work out what they mean, and foster sharing, generosity, purity, practical love generally, and not worry about definitions. A giving people will share, care for the needy, move in faith, run enterprises, etc etc, and let’s just call it church.

          • I see. So you’re saying it’s unnecessary to define “our” corporate vision for community as it should be plural “visions”, each group working out what community should look like for them, following God’s lead to them. Yup?

          • Yes that’s about it. A bit paradoxical, because community is our distinctive, but bolting it down to one definition makes it immediately elitist. It’s really about working out Jesus’ command to love in practise, and that can be done in many forms of community. Our franchise style 3 model turns out not to be ideal in the long run, not least because it relegates everyone else to second class. So somehow we need to still major in (a diversity of) community without making community an idol and a cause of corporate pride and self promotion. It should be just normal church, seen by neighbours as attractive rather than as those strange people behind walls in big houses. And so on.

          • Yeah, something more descriptive the prescriptive, like the examples I offered at the end of my Forward post on the future of Christian Community http://forward.jesus.org.uk/2015/12/04/future-of-christian-community/

  • wayne

    john wimber was told by God that he would be a viceroy for him.he was not called to be in community. acts chapter 2 is ok to defend your type of church community lifestyle,but remember,God has a separate load of callings for each new believer…otherwise he would have never used Derek Prince and many more others as worldwide as he did.

  • Oliver CSM

    “Community is love”
    Hmm…. interesting.
    I am often thinking about community and often my thoughts turn to aspects of it like the UK welfare state, international trade, parishes, and my own home where I live with my wife Lin and a small black cat with an unusually long tail.

    I reckon there are two types of community, or two sides of one coin. There is a literal community – a group of people living behind the same wall – and an actual community – a group of people who actually cooperate.
    I don’t see that love can describe a literal community, so you must be referring to an actual community.
    Certainly it’s orthodox to say that the Holy Trinity is a community, and that God is love, so from a scholastic point of view the assertion is proven.
    Could we mean just that community is a consequence of love? I don’t think anyone will disagree. Or do we say love is what community actually is? Perhaps we can say love is the substance of community, and then the qualities of the various and varying forms of actual community we see are the accidents. I think that must be right, for surely the substance of the body of Christ is the substance of Christ. Cool.
    🙂