There are many things that the early, Pre-Nicene Church retained as she grew from the persecuted Church to the Imperial Church. She retained the personhood of Christ and all of the doctrines that were attached to that. She retained the way we worship and pray, but she also retained something that is extremely important in the Christian faith: Community.
When Christ commanded us to love our neighbor, to feed the poor, to not chase after wealth, and to turn the other cheek, he was not teaching us these things for the sake of an intellectualized dogma-message, rather, these things were meant for us to use for actual community.
In Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 4 we see how this fleshed out, where the entire Church sold all they had to “have all things in common.” There are some modern day scholars and teachers that claim this was for the sake of persecution, and certainly this is true…The Church had to take extreme measure to stand against the pagans of that time. But what happens when we are not being persecuted like that of the first three centuries? Are we to abandon community simply because there is no one being slaughtered in our immediate area? Or was Christian community meant to have a much deeper meaning behind it? If we look to Christ and what he commanded from us, we can indeed see that community is far more than about escaping persecution, or somehow saving our flesh.
Not About Simple Connections
In our modern day of the more masonic community, where many of our communities revolves not around the Church and the faith, but around institutions that have replaced the ministries of the Church and faith, we may think that community consists of simple connections (social gatherings, etc.). This can certainly be considered as some type of community, but only in a persecuted environment. In other words, if we are persecuted by the state or some other entity, then, yes, we can only meet together when we can meet together, lest we be instantly slaughtered.
Are we being slaughtered or somehow persecuted in the West? If we are not, then why in the world do we not have what we had before, which is an entire Christian empire? The reason seems elementary: We are indeed being persecuted, because we know that if we tried to build any sort of Christian community in the USA, we would be smashed by local and federal governmental laws that are designed to stop any type of governmental takeover. But this type of reaction presupposes a rebuilding of our “Byzantine,” imperial community. This would be ideal, but it’s not necessary. The necessities of Christian community revolve around the very way that the saints have traditionally evangelized:
The traditional way of evangelizing a community is with the help and support of the monastics. We can take St Herman and his monastic community within North America as a contemporary example. An ancient example might be that of St Anthony, himself. St Anthony ultimately created an Orthodoxy model for establishing new communities throughout the world. What the Church had within the times of the Apostles, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles, St Anthony was able to preserve as a foundational element of evangelization. The monks retained the communal and ascetic efforts of the house churches and the catacombs. The Church then catapulted this into the entire world, building Christian communities around these monastic communities. We can rescue this way of evangelism, this way of Christianity, but we first need to understand where we are being deceived.
Are Modern Societies Restructuring our Faith?
Take a close look at the definition below, found in the latest Webster’s Dictionary. One cannot help but notice how modernized the definition is, offering the traditional definition (Number 1) and the modern (Number 2).
1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
“Rhode Island’s Japanese community”
|2.a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”The sense of community that organized religion can provide”|
Here is the 1828 Webster Dictionary definition:
1. Properly, common possession or enjoyment; as a community of goods.It is a confirmation of the original community of all things.
2. A society of people, having common rights and privileges, or common interests, civil, political or ecclesiastical; or living under the same laws and regulations. This word may signify a commonwealth or state, a body politic, or a particular society or order of men within a state, as a community of monks; and it is often used for the public or people in general, without very definite limits.
There seems to be some confusion amongst us, today! We have gone from understanding community in a very real way to understanding it in a very artificial way, as Christians. We have somehow been divided by someone or something and we have actually been accepting it, especially in the West (with America as the heartbeat of this acceptance).
- Is community a real concept, where people actually organize their lives together, forming villages and even entire nations? Or is community something that only involves our senses, as the modern definition above suggests it can be?
- Can community be either one of the two definitions? If so, how do we reconcile almost two thousand years of the traditional definition?
- Why are western – especially American – Christians not willing to embrace the traditional definition?
The Ultimate Deception
The ultimate deception of our age involves us becoming numb to what the Christian life is all about, and that is to be the salt of the earth. When Christ commands us to be the salt and light of the earth, he does not ask us to establish good feelings of community, he commands us to build actual community. This is why the Church became an empire, and continued to grow across the earth as an empire for many centuries. We are called to evangelize people into a very movement that is both spiritual as well as existential. Christ does not call us to form “a feeling of fellowship with others” as the modern definition states.
No Christian will deny that our good feelings and postures are to manifest into good works, but many, I think, will deny that these good works manifest into even the very risk of martyrdom! Imagine if the early Christians were not willing to be martyred. Imagine if they simply submitted to the Roman government and only became a ceremonial community. Imaging if they did not insist that the community at large be infiltrated by Christ’s community. This is what they did: they refused to allow the government to place Christ as just one of the many pagan gods. They refused to give allegiance to the state, rather than the community of Christ. They could have escaped much persecution if they just bowed to the pagan czar, and then walked out of the court believing that bow was only “outward,” and that the real work was to evangelize into a ceremonial community alone!
When we read the stories of the early martyrs we see how men and women stood for the very advancement of real and living community, a community that was interdependent on one another; where Christians were dedicated to much more than a system of feelings brought on by modern leaders within the given society.
So, what do we do? We cannot all move to Greece or Russia to help them revive. We really cannot even take a stand for “the east,” within America. We cannot say “I stand for Russian, etc.” The reason is that Russia may or may not make it back to being the empire of Christ. Prophesy says they will for a short time, but where does that leave us Western people, if it is only temporal, just before Christ’s return? Our identity is not wrapped up in what will one day come to pass, but it is wrapped up in what we actual do with each day of our lives.
Does this leave us to just throw in the towel and enjoy what many Americans believe to be the “freedom” that God has given us through Walmart, Costco, Hollywood, etc? Or does it perhaps leave us with making serious and positive changes in our lives, regarding our family and church? Whatever this may look like in each of our lives, it is likely going to revolve around something that the current secular culture does not approve of. The road is narrow, and there are few who find it, Christ says!
What does this road look like for you?