-Throughout my life I’ve met a lot of Christian families who have moved away from the cities in America and moved far into the country. These parents have literally told me, their decision was based on getting away from “the people of this world” and raising their children in a safer place.
In a more radical sense, the Amish do a similar thing; they live in closed communal communities as a way of preventing their people from being exposed to the evils of this world.
Generally, whenever people groups cut themselves off from society, there is a tendency for a cult-like spirit to arise. This is not to say that every Christian family who moves to the country exhibits traits of a cult, but it is to point out that at various intervals in history, this is one of the first marks of a cultic behavior.
Jesus told us to “be in the world but not of the world”. While this verse has been analyzed ad nauseam since He first uttered the words to His disciples, without getting lost in the weeds, suffice to say there is an element of the Christian life where we are not supposed to run into the hills and live a life separate life from society like a monk, but rather, we are called to live our lives for Christ right in the center of our cities.
Ancient Israel, God’s covenant people through Abraham, were placed by God in the land of Canaan, which at the time of the Ancient Near East, was smack dab in the middle of the entire known world. Instead of God putting His covenant people in a safe little part of Southern Africa far away from all of the pagans, God did the very exact opposite; He put his people at the very center of every major trading route between ancient Egypt, Greece, Babylon, Rome, Persia, and all the major empires of old.
In the Great Commission, Jesus said, “Go into the whole world and make disciples of all men”. Throughout the bible we see this emphasis on living among the very people we have been called to disciple. True discipleship cannot occur if we remove ourselves to the hills and country, away from the people of our culture.
If we take seriously the Great Commission in our lives, then at some point we must ask ourselves if we are effectively connecting with the people within our own society.
The Great Commission of the church is not to preserve a Sunday worship service or mid week prayer meetings; those are important things that the church should do, but they are not our Great Commission. Making disciples of all men is the Great Commission of the church, and in order to fulfill this commission we the church must be living among the people of this world; we are called to daily interact with our neighbors and fellow citizens. Even more so, we are called to disciple others which involves a far deeper connection than merely chatting with people at a soccer game or waving hello to neighbors as we drive by their houses on our way to work.
Sadly, too often the modern Christian life looks something out of a suburban handbook of Better Homes and Garden. Families spend exorbitant amounts of time focusing on perfecting their particular perception of what an American suburban family should look like, at the expense of practicing pure and undefiled religion.
The non-Christians of this world are perishing due to lack of discipleship. For that matter, the great majority of churched people of this world are perishing due to lack of discipleship.
True discipleship involves an entire paradigm shift in our thinking. It requires a reevaluation of our priorities and perceptions of how we should live in the world but not of it. True discipleship involves living in the same community as the people who we call disciples. True discipleship involves far more than a once a month potluck, or a midweek men’s group.
A number of years ago, a pastor told me that his church was a “commuter church”. That is, he believed his church culture was not based on living in the same community, but rather the church building was merely something his church members, from all parts of the greater metropolitan area, drove to in their vehicles. The pastor did not think there was anything wrong with this philosophy.
Of course, if we were to apply the pastor’s philosophy to a marriage, I’m not sure how many wives or husbands would be comfortable with their spouse living an hour away, and only getting together to visit each other for a couple hours once or twice a week. How would children in such a commuter-family look; most likely the children would suffer, just as the throngs of children from divorced families who have not grown up in the same home have suffered over the past few generations.
True discipleship is not something that occurs by driving to a church building. True discipleship requires a far more connected sense of community. Proximity is as central to discipleship as loving one another; for how can you effectively love someone who lives an hour away. Sure, you can ‘stay in touch’ with someone far away, but you cannot truly care for the entirety of their social, emotional, physical, and spiritual self if you only see them in rehearsed church meetings once or twice a week.
The church is not merely a building. The church is the living, breathing, redeemed men and women of the new covenant. True discipleship requires a renewing of our minds in Christ, that penetrates the misguided notions of church as a suburban club of theologically minded people, and elevates our hearts to a greater sense of true Christian charity toward each other.
*stock image Ben Duchac unsplash.com