Every culture has communities. These communities either function well or they do not. Each community or network of people makes some contribution to form what might be identified in that time and place as society. By functioning well I mean that people love each other rather than just tolerate each other. The needs of children and the “weak” are provided for through the cooperative efforts of extended family and neighbours. The gifts and passions of people are harnessed for the good of the community through patterns of trust and creativity. Reality–both that which is delightful and that which is awful–is consistently integrated into the common conversation and metabolism of the community. In a community that functions well “looking back” is means of extracting story and values that move the current generations into wisdom onhow to pour out one’s life for the benefit of others.
The Great Catastrophe described in Genesis 3 shows us why community is so easily interupted. Rejection of communion with God has set us into the perversion of relationships as accomplished by Satan who seeks to destroy those who bear the image of God. Humanity is pictured as racing toward chaos with the first murder and the first war, and ultimately towards the judgement of Noah’s days. And then Genesis 11 makes it obvious that our efforts toward community building are so easily sidetracked into the creation of structures for our own glory. The spirit of lawlessness as described in 2 Thessalonians reminds us that the one who undertakes the Gospel work of city or community tranformation does not fight against people. There is a spirit that wages war against the Spirit and community of God.
Don’t let anyone decieve you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God…And now you know what is is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-7
“Sin,” writes the elder John, “is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4) It is a consuming desire to throw off restraints and make self the centre of life. I have observed the agony of lawlessness in many cultures and settings. In fact my heart was awakened to Jesus’ call on my life in a setting where the transforming work of the Gospel was set against the desperate conditions of lawlessness in New Orleans in 1986. I have since delighted in the description of a community interrupted by the cross from Titus 3.
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not becuase of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by grace, we might become heirs haveing the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. Titus 3:1-8
I have been encouraged by Bob Roberts in his book, The Multiplying Church: The new math for starting new churches. He says the direction of our mission should be: Gospel–Disciple–Society–Church. In this way the Gospel transforms a disciple who contributes to the transformation of society from which the church emerges. I live in a city that has a thin veneer of community constructed on self-righteousness. Perhaps you don’t believe me; case in point: a few years ago concerns over our water supply sent people racing to the stores to purchase bottled water. Fist fights erupted in the aisles! With such little pressure we became overcome by our fears and our sins. Imagine the pressure on people in a community that is not functioning well! When community identity located in the gifts of God is displaced generationally, lawlessness gladly takes its place in the void.
As I read the New Testament my imagination is captured by what it would be like for every disciple captivated by Jesus and His Gospel to live in their community with the redeeming work of the Kingdom of God fully present. My experiences last week reminded me that unfortunately the disciples of Jesus can get this out of order. This is well known in the history of missions, the church, and Canada. I think that disorder came about through a serious misunderstanding of the Gospel-Disciple-Society-Church transformation process. When the church seeks transformation through the imposition of the “church” and that church’s culture on a people then a community is interrupted. However, when apostolic people hold fast to the Gospel and loosely to their culture, then new disciples transform their own society and the church emerges as an indigenous reality.