Church is about a community to serve, not a service to attend

Relationships are both the means and the end of this life. We were made for community, and yet it is the most difficult thing we ever do.

The biblical account confirms this.

After an amazing creation story punctuated by affirmations of good, good, good, good,good, and a final exclamation of exceptionally good, we come across a single “not good” in Genesis 2:18. “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

The one and only not good element of God’s otherwise perfect creation is human aloneness — the lack of human companionship, help, community.

Our Lord remedies this deficiency through the creation of a relationship of mutuality. Husband and wife as counterparts, made for and fitting to one another in every way. It is so beautiful, the man bursts into creation’s first song (Genesis 2:23). We’ve been singing about it ever since.

But things don’t go so well from there. Deception, mistrust, hiding, accusation, control, and pain disrupt this beautifully song-worthy relationship. And Genesis 3-11 paints in broad strokes a picture of human alienation — humans from God; husband from wife; brother from brother; men from women; humans from creation; nation from nation. The rest of the Bible is the story of God’s unfolding redemption and restoration of each of these broken relationships. In Genesis 12:2-3, God launches a new community that will create community.

That is why the psalmists and prophets looked forward to the day when all the nations would find a home in Zion, including those who had been hostile to God’s people: ““I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me— Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush— and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion’” (Psalm 87:4).

This is why in Galatians 3:28, Paul would write, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” These three sets of relationships — racial, economic, and sexual — are often arenas of tension and out-right hostility. But Jesus brings the broken pieces together.

The theme of Ephesians is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:10). This is why there is so much emphasis on reconciling nations to one another (Eph. 2:11-22 and on into Eph. 3). This is why there is such an emphasis on oneness: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:3-6, which is echoes in 4:13). This is why the body, which only works well as a unity, is the image used for both the church (Eph. 4:12, 15-16, 25) and for marriage (Eph. 5:23, 28-31). This is why the often power-struggle relationships of parent-child and of boss-employee are highlighted and given a new Jesus-perspective.

God wants to bring unity through Jesus in every busted apart relationship we are a part of — not just our relationship with God. Sin has stained and strained them all.

This is why the Ten Commandments deal with both our relationship with God and with others. This is why the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray about our relationship with God and with others. This is why the Great Commandment is to love God and to love others. Our Lord wants to redeem and restore our entire relational web. All of it.

Now we get to the “therefore.”

There is an individual element to this, but mostly this needs to be worked out as a community.

The way Christians do church must not be about singing songs and hearing sermons alone. And discipleship must not be about reading the Bible and praying alone. Remember, it is not good for us to be alone. But the way that we often do church might as well be alone.

When church is a spectator event that we “go” to, where everything important takes place up on a stage, we’ve gutted what Jesus set out to build.

If the entire history of humanity is about God restoring relationships, then the way that we do church absolutely must reflect this. If the way we do church doesn’t show this explicitly, then we are guided by some other purpose.

This is why we at The Table gather in smaller communities every week and why these communities always eat meals together when they gather. Community happens over the table. It’s as we figure out how to deal with each other’s food intolerances that we learn to tolerate and even love our differences. It’s as we share the seemingly unimportant details of our lives that we come to truly know each other and knowingly pray for each other. It’s as we extend the table by hosting parties with and for our neighbors that we begin to live our mission.

This is why we don’t just sing songs and listen to sermons when we gather for worship, but we sing, interact over the scriptures, and share a simple soup meal together. We want to enact community with one another, not just speak about it.

This is why we celebrate communion every time we gather for worship, for we want communion’s community with our Lord as we eat and drink from him and with him. We believe it’s significant that the story of redemption starts with a stolen meal that leads to isolation (Gen. 3) and ends with a feast that celebrates the union of two who had been separate (the wedding supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19:6-9), with the Lord’s Table to sustain us in between.

Our God is Trinity. There is relationship at the very heart of who our Lord is. It is no wonder, therefore, that there would be relationship at the heart of those made in the image of our God.

Everything we are and do must reflect the relational nature of our Lord or else we’ve gotten our God wrong and ourselves wrong in the process.