Organic Community in Hebrews 10:25

I've recently been following an interesting discussion (here, here, and here) on organic church and community over at my friend Jeff Rhodes' blog: Chaordic Journey.

It all started with a couple of posts (here and here) on Hebrews 10:25 by Maggie (a.k.a. "Mudsy") over at Alternate Church. [UPDATE: Maggie has also since mused over the discussion thus-far with her article "Striking a Chord."]

Maggie said,

I began to study Hebrews 10:25 with passion. What first hit me was what it did not say:
  • It didn’t say be sure to go to church every Sunday
  • It didn’t say be sure that you gather in a specially designed building
  • It didn’t say be sure you join an institution
  • It didn’t say gather in one place around one primary leader
  • It didn’t say make sure you hear a 1-hour sermon every week (or a 40-minute one, or a 30-minute one)
  • It didn’t even say how often to meet.
These verses imply a number of things about the purpose [of] Christian community. Here are a few, I see:
  • To draw near to God
  • To experience forgiveness
  • To help each other hold fast and to not waver in our faith
  • To spur each other on to love and good deeds
  • To encourage each other
....I began to view "church" differently. Sometimes, I would be really tired on Sunday mornings, and would not feel up for going. I would feel the old indoctrination pulling at me saying: you really should go....

Anyway, when the "should" came into my mind, a simple question would come each time in response: "Have you forsaken gathering together with other people of faith?" Each time I heard this question, I realized I had, in fact, not forsaken Christian community (usually I was so tired because I had been to numerous gatherings with other believers all week). Further the question itself revealed to me that it wasn’t the joy of community that was drawing me to the Sunday morning service, but a sense of religious obligation.

Please understand, I am not "anti-Sunday-morning". I am only saying that whatever day we meet together our purpose should be to encourage and strengthen each other, and if we are doing something that doesn’t do that, then we’re not really doing "church" (which means "gathering") according to Hebrews 10:25. I’m also saying there really is nothing sacred about meeting on Sunday morning per se, unless it’s sacred to you.

Later in the discussion, Jeff commented:

This particular article caught my attention because it so closely resembles so many stories I have heard over the last few years and that of my own. Sometimes these stories are told with fists clinched and teeth grinding. Sometimes they are recounted with tears and great humility. Often, they are told with great pain and disillusionment. No matter, I think we should all listen to these cries. There is a prophetic voice ringing loud that something in our Americanized Christianity has gone awry. We have, over the course of time, drifted from the Center, which is Jesus. We have become comfortable with attending meetings, planning programs, arguing about music and clothing, tearing particular traditions apart, emerging, missionalizing, forgetting the masses who are not concerned with our petty arguments, and pretty much ignoring how to do life with one another.

As a result, much of what we do as Christians has become quite irreverant and irrelevant to those who do not yet know the God we claim to love. They see more hate and bitterness than the love that Jesus said would show people that we know Him.

Please understand, I do not mean to imply that "house" or "organic" churches are THE answer to all of our problems. I am not saying that everyone should leave and forsake the institutional church. In fact, I haven’t really heard anyone saying that. The point of this growing conversation is to cause us to really think about what we do and why we do it.

When I came across this discussion on Jeff's blog, I had been thinking about Hebrews 10:25 for two or three months. I think I was talking with someone about the principle of organic church when it dawned on me, much like it did with Mudsy, that the spirit of 10:25 isn’t that we make sure that we just so happen to be in the same place as a bunch of other Christians, nor even that we just so happen to listen to the same sermon, at the same time, and in the same place as other Christians. The point is that we ensure that we actively involve ourselves in authentic Christian community as we are able.

We can attend all kinds of meetings and services if we want and never be involved in authentic community. Most church people do.

So, what often happens is that people think, consciously or emotionally, "If I don’t go to church today, I will get dukie points with God, because I’ll be disobeying that verse the preacher quoted the other week." And so, they go, maybe chat a little, leave, and maybe, just maybe, even go out to eat with someone, and never experience any depth of community. So, despite their intent, they totally miss the point of Heb. 10:25 anyway. Friendship is not the same as community. Having Christian friends does not necessarily mean that you are involved in Christian community with your friends.

Furthermore, it's not enough that Jesus is the subject of conversation. Being actively engaged in genuine Gospel community with fellow followers of Jesus means, yes, that we discuss Jesus and His kingdom, but also that we confess our sins, receive accountability (much more active, effective, and relational than mere "church discipline"), provoke each other "to love and to do good deeds" (to embody the Gospel), encourage each other and draw each other closer to God with joy and passion for His glory, and act as a functional part of the Body in all the various ways that the Body functions (follow the discussion of "the fullness of Christ" and "the body of Christ" in Ephesians).

And if you aren’t a part of this kind of community, then you aren’t living out the fullness of Jesus’ ecclesia. True, the "fullness" cannot be present where evil is present—and there is plenty of evil in this world—but present reality never stopped a man from trying, when he was a man with hope.

It is only an empowered, grace-oriented, intentional, obedient, organic, relational, de-centralized, simple, humble, and passionate community with real believing faith in the character and power and wisdom of God that can change the world as Jesus intends.

There is no room for pride—there is no perfection in human community (prior to the coming of the Kingdom in its fullness), but how can we not pursue the revelation of these realities in our lives and within our influence!

It is possible to be "intentional, organic, relational, de-centralized, simple" and meet in a "church building." But if so, then such a church is not institutional, though also not a house church. It is, however, my opinion that this is a very difficult thing to pull off in Western culture as it is. I haven't seen it often.

Radical changes require radical choices, usually. The problem is, every American Christian seems to admit "something needs to change," but then a large majority of them also say "but we don’t want to change anything."

Whatever you do, something has to change if you are going to see a spiritual development from the current state of affairs. Sometimes those changes are purely metaphysical (spiritual or theological), and sometimes those changes are really practical. The business maxim is true: "Your systems are perfectly designed to produce the results they are getting." So, if you want to see different fruit in your life and in your church community, you can’t just expect business-as-usual to produce them. There is no magic formula; life is messy. Just get in there, live simply, obey simply. You will learn how incapable you are to accomplish anything worth accomplishing, but you will learn how to let God accomplish something through you.

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