The Nature of the Church: The Church as Community
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).
The first church in Jerusalem serves for us an excellent example of how a local church should function. We see from this passage that one of the important matters of the first Christians was “fellowship,” in which they continued steadfastly. The word here translated “fellowship” is the Greek word koinonia, defined by Thayer’s as:
Fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse.
We can see from the definition that koinonia requires a high level of interaction and that one of its meanings is “community”. The Scriptures indicate that God expects the local church to function as a form of community: a group of people who come together for the common cause of Christ. Let us spend some time considering the nature of the church as a community.
We can gain much from considering the definitions of the terms for church and for community in the Scriptures, ekklesia and koinonia. In its proper definition, ekklesia means “assembly”; we have seen above how koinonia is defined. Both definitions help us understand how critical it is for the church to be together constantly. What kind of assembly is there that never assembles? How can people participate in anything jointly if they are not together? What association can exist if people do not associate? If the church will be the community God desires, it must come together and associate!
The earliest church in Jerusalem demonstrates this level of community. In Acts 2:42-47, we see that the brethren are constantly together, selling what they had and distributing to any who had need, and enjoying both physical and spiritual association. It is no wonder that many were added to their number daily (Acts 2:47)!
The church is to be a community and one constantly strengthened through the association of its members. While we may live in an individualistic society, the Scriptures make it clear that Christians must rely on one another for aid and strength. While Americans often do not feel as if they are accountable to anyone, Christians must realize that they are not only accountable to God but also to one another (Acts 17:30-31; 1 Corinthians 5:11-12, 1 Corinthians 6:2-6, James 5:16). How can we “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:1-2) if we do not inform one another what our burdens are? The community must also be strengthened so that it may shine as an example for the world (cf. Matthew 5:13-16). Have you ever heard anyone say that they are looking to join a cold organization in which the members want little to do with one another? I certainly have not! How often do people leave the Lord because they feel like they have no share within the local church? How many never desire to be identified as a Christian because it seems like no Christians want to identify with them? While each person is responsible for their own decisions (cf. Ezekiel 18:20), we need to also consider ourselves and how we can help the local church be a community worth joining!
How can we work to strengthen the community? Peter provides a good answer in 1 Peter 4:7-11:
But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer: above all things being fervent in your love among yourselves; for love covereth a multitude of sins: using hospitality one to another without murmuring: according as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; if any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God; if any man ministereth, ministering as of the strength which God supplieth: that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
First and foremost in this listing is to be fervent in love among ourselves. This must not be a love in word only; it must also be manifest in care and concern for one another. How often are we satisfied with the hollow social platitudes we give one another in the assembly? Should we really believe that everyone is always “doing alright” or “good”? If we took the time to know one another, we might perhaps learn what difficulties our brethren are experiencing, and we can do what we can to encourage them!
The importance of hospitality can scarcely be overestimated. It should come as no surprise that such is one of the qualifications of an elder (1 Timothy 3:2-7); after all, how can a man shepherd a flock concerning which he knows little? Experience attests that you cannot truly get to know someone by just assembling with them and talking with them before or after an assembly. If you really want to get to know your brethren, invite them into your home! If you do not feel comfortable having people in your home for whatever reason, invite brethren to go with you to one of the many restaurants in the area! It is also important for us to use the gifts which we have received from God. Each one of us is different; each of us brings something to the table. Let us use our talents for God’s glory (cf. Matthew 25:14-30)!
How can the church be a community pleasing to God? When the members decide to be proactive and not reactive. When we seek to help one another without first being asked, we demonstrate the strength of the community that we have worked to establish. By showing love, hospitality, and using our talents to help one another, we will manifest a wonderful and attractive spiritual community, and perhaps the Lord will add to our number daily (Acts 2:47)!
Ethan R. Longhenry