This article discusses the fact that community is a natural outgrowth of Christianity, although it is not a necessary or essential precondition for salvation.
Christianity is personal. By my definition anyway, a Christian is a person who chooses to follow Jesus Christ. Such a decision can only be made for a particular individual by that very individual.
Furthermore the charge that a Christian is necessarily part of a religious community is demonstrably false according to scripture. The thief who died on the cross with Jesus went to heaven. That is the perfect depiction of the minimum Christian life; a relationship only between a man and the savior, Christ.
Although Christianity is necessarily personal and community or fellowship with a larger Christian group is not necessary, I do believe it is the natural outgrowth of Christian belief. That is to say, if the penitent thief had survived his crucifixion I believe he would have joined in with a group of believers, as he ostensibly did in heaven anyway.
The value of community increases when we account for a couple of other factors. Christ himself was there with the thief and they had a personal relationship, but is Christ with you when you are alone? I have no doubt that the answer is yes at least sometimes, but I am uncertain that the answer is always yes. In contrast, scripture says that where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, he is also there himself (Matt 18:20).
The result of these factors follows: If we assert that a personal encounter is a necessary precondition of a real personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then the risk of a false relationship is eliminated by fellowship with other Christians. Clearly such a dire risk should be avoided if the opportunity exists.
Here are two more, scripture-based and perhaps less complicated arguments that Christianity is well practiced in groups. The first argument is that scripture recommends fellowship:
- Hebrew 10:23-25, “24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
- James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
- Ephesians 5:17-21, “17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
- Many others.
The second argument for the natural community and fellowship of Christianity is that Christians are likened to a body, being called the body of Christ. The point, under my interpretation, is that we are designed to work together!
- 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, “12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves[d] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts,[e] yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.”
All of this community has a number of positive effects: It reduces the chance of extremism, improves authority of interpretation, establishes a chain of legitimacy, allows group efficiency for action, lays the groundwork for stable families and society and fulfills basic social desires in a healthy and constructive way.
In conclusion, if it’s at all possible find some Christian friends to hang with! It doesn’t have to be a formal church per se, but that would be cool too. Whatever you decide, just remember that community is a critical aspect of Christianity.