Which Community?

Lone Individual

In a recent post I used material from Watchman Nee to discuss the nature and necessity of being part of a local body of believers. In summary, community provides essential functions (covering, restraint and supply) necessary for human flourishing. Being a member of a local fellowship of Christians who love each other is the only way we can embody the gospel and reveal the Triune God.

Interestingly, in reading Robert Nisbet’s seminal work, The Quest for Community, I’ve gained a deeper understanding, from a sociological point of view, of why we need community and what happens when we don’t find it in local, concrete relationships.

Nisbet explains that since the Enlightenment and the dismantling of medieval society, there has been a gradual move towards radical individualism and a concomitant centralizing of power and importance of the State. This has led to, among other things, the disintegration of smaller social groups (PTA, churches, clubs, etc.) and a general emptiness and longing for connectedness. Robert Putman calls it, “Bowling Alone.”

At the recent Democratic National Convention they ran a video which contained the line, “The government is the only thing we all belong to.” This seems to me a striking example of this atomizing tendency in society. George Weigel has an interesting article comparing the issues in this election with the philosophies of Edmund Burke and Thomas Hobbes. Burke and Hobbes represent two general views about which community people should be primarily related to (Hobbes – the State; Burke – small civil associations).

If we don’t consciously choose to relate to a local body of believers, in a way that really matters, the societal current will wash us up on the shores of individualism and we’ll find ourselves making the State our primary community. We’ll be forced to find our covering, restraint and supply from a distant, bureaucratic government and lose the relational nourishment necessary to become whole persons. God is a community of love and we find wholeness by embodying community with others nearest to us.