Christian Community by Thomas S. Buchanan

Christian Community

“The sign of having reached perfection is this: if a man were to be condemned ten times a day to be burned alive for loving his neighbors, and yet not to be content with this.”
—Isaac the Syrian

Unlike the early days of Christianity, there are few local churches today that are true Christian communities. By community, I refer to an interaction of people that goes far beyond just Sunday morning worship services—where people really “dig in” and get involved in each others’ lives, forming deep and caring relationships, and where the individuals do not act like members of an exclusive club for the like-minded.

I was reminded of this recently when reading G. K. Chesterton’s musings on the clan: “The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies, groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique.”

To live in true Christian community is to give up our narrowness. A Christian community is artificial when it is composed of cliques of individuals from the same social or economic class, when everyone is there because of their “sameness” rather than their love for Christ.

This is not to say that a community should be tolerant of new heterodox ideas. Certainly, it should not. Political correctness should not be a concern. True Christian community is built on orthodoxy and held together by a love that transcends individual preferences and styles. And, of course, at its heart is a eucharistic table. Apart from the body and blood of Christ, it is merely a social club.

In the end, the test of a community’s strength lies in its children. If, when confronted with temptation from peers outside of the community, a child replies, “No, my people don’t do that,” then a Christian community has honestly lived up to its calling.

We need to think of ourselves as a people. Our Jewish friends have done a much better job then we have of maintaining a sense of community for this very reason. We are called to be a special people—a people of God who would lay down their lives for their brothers and sisters. It is easy for us to feel smug, thinking, “Yes, in a crisis, I could do that. I could lay down my life for even that person in my church,” without ever thinking about inviting him over for a meal because he isn’t really “our type.”

We need to learn how to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, with a love that goes beyond just a handshake on Sunday mornings. Until we are willing to do the work it takes to go beyond this, we will never know what Christian community should be.

“To live in true Christian community is to give up our narrowness.”

Thomas S. Buchanan is the George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware. He has studied at UCSD, Northwestern University, and MIT, and has held visiting professorships at the University of Western Australia and the University of Aix-Marseille. He has served as department chairman, deputy dean, and institute director, president of the American Society of Biomechanics, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Applied Biomechanics. He is on the Board of Trustees of Saint Katherine College, the editorial board of Touchstone, and the board of The Fellowship of St. James.

Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!

Online
Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.


more on Christianity from the online archives

32.4—July/August 2019

A Case of Win-Win

on Probability, Death & the Existence of God by Graeme Hunter

33.3—May/June 2020

Deliberation, Inc.

Human & Divine Societies Require Careful Thought & Discourse by Anthony Esolen

28.3—May/June 2015

Dumb Sheep

on the Truth About a Slanderous Accusation by James S. Spiegel


more from the online archives

20.2—March 2007

Simply Lewis

Reflections on a Master Apologist After 60 Years by N. T. Wright

31.1—January/February 2018

In Defense of Prudery

The Wisdom of the Victorian Quest for Innocence by David Sandifer

32.4—July/August 2019

The Two Faces of Modern Misandry

2018 Conference Talk by S. M. Hutchens

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

00