Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Church as Contrast Community

What is your image of “community”? One of the recurring themes I address in this blog is the nature of community, especially as embodied within the church. Not only is true community at the heart of the Christian life (and our Trinitarian theology), but healthy community is necessary for all human growth and spiritual development.

In Coming Together in the 21st Century: The Bible’s Message in an Age of Diversity, Curtiss Paul DeYoung provides several images of community found in the Bible. One of these is “contrast community.”

Although I first heard this phrase used in regard to the missional church, DeYoung points out that the concept is first introduced in the Hebrew Bible to describe God’s desire for the nation of Israel. They were intended to offer an alternative or contrast to the ways of other nations. He writes, “The laws given in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuternomy emphasized social justice and human relations. . . . The contrast community implies that for community to flourish, it must integrate equality and justice into the formation of its organizational principles and ways of daily living.” He concludes, however, that this was an ideal that was never fully actualized in the life of the Israelites once they entered Palestine.

What are the implications of this for the church that seeks to practice community today? We could quickly jump to the need to provide a contrast to society in our practices of justice and social equality, but I suggest that we look inward rather than outward for our critique. Our society (and the motivation may be economic rather than altruistic) has done more to promote equality and justice than many of our churches have.

Can a church that struggles with issues of gender and racial acceptance really be a Christian community? If we deny places of leadership to gifted women and look suspiciously at those of other races who worship with us, are we living up to God’s clear expectations for God’s people? Does the church exemplify humankind at its best or its worst? What do you think?

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