When we look at the new covenant images of the church, “the body of
Christ”, “a living sacrifice”, “a temple of living stones”, “a holy nation”,
“the family of God”, “the new humanity”, we see that the New Testament
authors conceived of themselves primarily as a community, rather than
individuals. They understood the revealed truth, which many have failed to
grasp – that Jesus came not merely to save individuals but to create a new community. The individualism of our times has blinded us to the corporate dimension of salvation. Most of the imperatives (commands) of the New Testament epistles are in the second person plural, addressing not just individuals, but flesh-and-blood communities. The result of such individualism is a flabby, shallow church with virtually no impact on its members or the surrounding culture.
What is a Christian community? Jesus calls the church a “city on a hill which cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). What an amazing, inspiring vision of the church. Notice three significant truths:
We are a “city”. Jesus, through the Gospel and the Spirit calls us to be a “city” within the city of Las Vegas. To be a “city” we must reflect the diversity of the city. So we will invite and assimilate into our community all of the different kinds of people in Las Vegas.
We are a city on a “hill”. We are to be in the city of Las Vegas and reflect its diversity, and yet we are to be distinct – “on a hill”. We are to be a community that is a living picture of the kingdom of God. We are a preview of coming attractions. We are to model an alternative lifestyle in our business practices, race relations, definition of success, respect for human life, sexuality, problem solving and approach to material wealth, etc.
We are “a city on a hill” which “cannot be hidden”. This is how SMPC will impact Las Vegas. People will see the wisdom, power and grace of God in this alternative city and they will be drawn to praise, with us, our “Father in heaven”. We believe that the only interpretation of the meaning of the Gospel is a community who believe it and live by the implications of it. We are “living epistles”, written by God and read by men.
Why is “Christian Community” important?
We need community to fully image God, i.e. to be fully human. God said before the fall, “It is not good for man to be alone”. Adam was lonely not because he was imperfect; he was lonely because he was perfect. God has wired us in such a way that we cannot be what He meant us to be unless we are living in community. We need community for three reasons:
To grow. We grow in Christ’s likeness in community, not in classes. Classes are important for conveying truth content, but real change comes in community. Jesus and His disciples lived together, ate together, experienced life together. Jesus modeled to His followers what it meant to love God and neighbor in very specific situations. Community allows us to “look over the shoulders” of mature Christians as they accept people who are different, grieve the death of a loved one, handle unemployment, resolve conflicts, grow old in grace. We need to live in community so that the Gospel can be passed on to the next generation.
To Serve. The quality of our community is the real secret to finding our calling in life. God has given each of us gifts—special abilities and skills—to serve Him in the world and in the church. But how do we discern what our gifts are and how to best employ them in service to others? It is by living in a community of believers where we can discuss our passions, test our gifts, and be encouraged, counseled and prayed for by those who know us.
To witness. “A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” The quality of our life together is a witness to the world. Jesus prayed in John 17:23, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me”. Our unity in community is the main way that people will believe the Gospel.
How can we be “Christian Community”?
By preaching the Gospel. Christian community is a gift that is received through the Gospel. In Ephesians 4, we are commanded to “maintain the spirit of unity”, not establish it. Christ has already established it through His cross and His Spirit. We are ushered into this unity the moment we believe in Christ. It is a gift that is received but it is also a gift that is cultivated. We will cultivate Christian community by continually reminding one another of the Gospel—we are far more sinful that we ever dared imagine, but in and through Jesus we are far more loved than we ever dared dream.
By devoting ourselves to one another. Christian community is cultivated as people believe the Gospel and in response devote themselves to the Lord and one another. When Luke describes the early Christian community he says that immediately after believing the Gospel they “devoted themselves…to the fellowship” (Acts 2:42). The word “devoted” means they “set as a priority”, “committed to” spending significant time with one another. They ate together in their homes, discussed God’s Word, worshiped, prayed and shared their resources with one another. That’s why the basic building block of Spring Meadows Presbyterian Church will be our Community Groups—small groups that meet to experience Christ’s presence in community. The promised result: “a city on a hill which cannot be hidden” (look at Acts 2:47).