Christian community in a new context
Can Christian community exist without a building and without a pastor?
There’s an old song about how we are the church together – and that the church is not a building. While we say that, and even sing about it, we have trouble living it, at times. It’s hard to dissociate ourselves from the concrete, glass, and wood – especially if our parents or grandparents had something to do with it, whether in building the structure or being baptized, married, or buried, there.
And Lutherans have worked at being egalitarian about how church life is lived out. We have guidelines about how many clergy attend convention (and can vote) versus how many laity. We recognize the gifts – even call – that different people have for different parts of our life together. In Ephesians, chapter 4, we read:
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it is said,
‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.’
11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
So we are to live together; we are to share of our gifts with one another; whether we have a communal gathering place, or whether we have a designated leader, we can do these things and be a model for Christian living together.
Theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote a book in the late-1930s, “Life Together.” I would not want to get formulaic in any model for ministry – as though there’s a pattern or recipe that can be followed for any context – but I would say that there are basic ways in which we might all strive to come together.
As we work at living together, we must be intentional about study; we must work at openness. We can gather and engage good Christian education resources such as Living the Questions. We can learn about each other, and enjoy each others’ company in social gatherings – meals together, singing together, sharing stories together. It’s important, in Christian community, not to become insular – that is, to allow the community to become exclusive.
Lutherans have structure about how they gather. We have the larger church structured around synods and administered by bishops and office staff. We have the local church gatherings often structured around liturgy. We work at being thoughtful about who we are: why do we do what we do? We seek to engage current thinking in the culture around us, and we want to be able to comment in meaningful ways that work towards the needs and welfare of all.
Being church in the 21st Century in Canada is a challenge; we are called to engage with life around in new ways.