Scott Postma

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The Community Utopians Dream Of

When Sir Thomas More’s Utopia hit the shelves in the early 16th century, Erasmus suggested to a friend that if he “wished to see the true source of all political evils,” he should read it.

Utopia

Sunset on Babylon – photo credit: Raphael Lacoste (http://www.3dluvr.com)

A work clearly inspired by Plato’s Republic and likely Plutarch’s account of Spartan life under Lycurgus, More was searching for pure justice in the community of mankind.

Interestingly, for his title he coined the term Utopia from the Greek compound of ουκ and τοπος, meaning “no place.”

Such has been the pursuit–and the conclusion–of mankind throughout the ages—to discover the perfect community whose end is justice which does not exist in reality.

A Unique Community

In Jesus’ earthly ministry, he established a unique community within the greater human community, one with a unique ethos as well as a unique purpose (Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 16:13-20; Acts 2:42-47).

Although, in a certain sense, this community existed before Jesus, his redemptive work of dying on a cross and resurrecting three days after, forever changed the landscape of human relationships by inaugurating—not just theorizing about—this special community.

In the Scriptures, the New Testament writers describe Jesus’ community as analogous to a body (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Ephesians 4:11-16), to a family (Ephesians 2:11-22), to a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4-5), and to a new people group [chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation] (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Each of these metaphors reflects something of a whole interconnected and united by the communion of individual parts. They also highlight the idea that essential to the community’s health and perpetuity is a harmony and interdependence that is organic and innate in its members.

Both Universal and Local

Jesus’ community is both universal and localized. In its universal sense, it is a multi-generational (unbounded by time), multi-ethnical (unbounded by race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status), and multi-dimensional (unbounded by either the physical or the metaphysical) kingdom of committed disciples.

In its localized sense, it is visible and organized around a confessional covenant. These covenant communities gather together in various places throughout the world to worship God (exalt Jesus), serve each another (edify one another), and love their extended community (evangelize the world).

In addition to its unique purpose, Jesus’ community has a unique ethos, part of which is marked by the Greek word αλλελον (allelon). More than 100 times in the Scriptures, this word, translated into various forms of “one another,” is used to exhort Jesus’ covenant community to always strive toward harmony and interdependence.

Members of Jesus’ community are admonished to have fellowship with one another (1 John 1-10), to welcome (accept) one another (Romans 14:1-4; 15:1-7), to forbear one another (Ephesians 4:1-7), to forgive one another (Ephesians 4:31-32) to bear with one another (Galatians 6:1-5), to care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:12-26), to comfort (encourage) one another (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), to edify (build up) one another (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11), to greet one another (1 Corinthians 16:19-20; 2 Corinthians 13:11-14), to honor one another (Romans 12:9-21), to use hospitality with one another (1 peter 4:1-11), and above all to love one another (John 13:31–35).

At a cursory look, this is a community, it would seem, no one would want to be excluded from–the kind Utopians only dream of.

About Scott Postma

Scott lives in North Idaho collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. He helps people cultivate their capacity to perceive and appreciate the good, the true, and the beautiful by sharing rich insights into the arts and humanities, meaningful perspective on faith and culture, and valuable tips on writing and teaching. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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8 Replies

  1. angela

    Great post, Pastor Scott, thank you so much. So much encouragement! <

  2. I enjoy your comments pastor Postma and with sadness I have witnessed some pastors having all the right words but not the actions.. or just not the right motives.I have had hard time trying to find a church where I feel I belong to.I am looking for that church community you mentioned in your comments. Where there is respect, consideration, upholding, comfort and love. I know that we are not perfect and stumble . But I wish there was a church where there is humility syplicity and always thankful . More involvement with the needs of people making a change in the community. In other words a church body who stands for serving others in various ministry. Most of all be a light. May be I am asking too much. What do I need beside prayers and guidance to recognize here is where I belong.

    1. I’d say you want what we all desire, Palma… Sometimes I think it might only exist in the small community churches, but so many of those today are filled with grey heads and their days are numbered. May you have the blessing of finding a fellowship that satisfies. There always has been a difference between “Christianity” and “Religion”, and I think in the modern world of music, videos, and other enhancements, we’ve added the additional aspect of “Performance” to some of the larger and still thriving churches. Don’t feel that YOU have a failing in searching for a fellowship that meets your needs… we all have to find a spot that (for each of us) meets at least many of our needs.

      1. Good point, Francis. We need a resurgence of simple churches with people who want Jesus for Jesus’ sake, and not all the extra-curricular, entertainment fluff.

    2. Palma, I don’t believe you’re asking too much. Unfortunately, until the Lord returns to consummate the kingdom, we will always fall short of the edenic utopia. In other words, the perfect church (in a localized sense) doesn’t exist on earth. We are all on the sanctification journey and so there will always be disappointments, abuses, and failure in Jesus’ community. The beautiful thing is, however, as Jesus followers, we have all the tools for a fruitful and peaceful faith community–the hope and comfort of the Scriptures, the indwelling Spirit of God (because of the gospel), and Jesus’ example–unlike man’s alternate communities that exist on earth. I encourage you to pray for wisdom (James 1:5) and where ever he leads you, be a true follow of Jesus despite how anyone else lives–including the pastor. My prayers are with you and your family. Be blessed.

  3. A good study, Scott. Wondering about the phrase, “and love their extended community (evangelize the world)”. Not sure if “love” translates well into “evangelize”, though historically that’s the way we seem to have seen it. Perhaps if love was the first priority going into a foreign land (or our own), rather than evangelize, the second would have in its own time flowed into the first. Christianity would have had even more success and less of a reputation for wanting conversion so badly. I don’t think we’ve ever demanded it at the point of a sword, but I’m afraid sometimes we’ve wanted it before the hand of friendship was fully extended.

    1. Good point, Francis! I would venture that in most cases the want for conversions is an expression of love, especially if the evangelist is convinced a Christ-less doom awaits the unbeliever. However, the methods used by many in previous generations indeed brought the cart before the horse. As you said, “before the hand of friendship was fully extended.” Additionally, I’ve personally witnessed some evangelists whose motivation was conversion for the wrong reason. Like a notch in a gunslingers pistol butt, they sought the satisfaction of achievement instead of the wellness of their recipient. Further, when the recipient wasn’t ready to receive the message, they were dropped like a hot potato. Very sad to see such blatant disregard for a person. Had the evangelistic attempt been genuine, so would their friendship been genuine regardless of the recipient’s response… Thanks again for weighing in, Francis. Blessings.