Community Nourishment

In his book, The Body of Christ: A Reality, Watchman Nee teaches about three functions the church provides for its members: covering, restraint and supply. These functions are not unique to a church, however, but are essential “services” people need from any community in which they relate. The inherent social dimension of humans makes participation in a community vital to one’s happiness and well-being. No one can live as a radical individual. Covering, restraint and supply coming from one’s primary community provides the essential help to live and grow as a person.

Since the Fall, a perennial lie that often beguiles people is the notion that we do not need others to be whole. The ultimate aim of sinful rebellion is to be one’s own god. The irony of this idea is that even God isn’t a radical individual, but as Trinity He has His being in community. Being made in God’s image means that we too must find our wholeness in relationship. In fact, communion with others is what defines us as a person. This impulse to be self-sufficient is what robs people of their God intended destiny to flourish.

The problem with thinking that we can be sufficient apart from others is that it is impossible to actually achieve. Even if we could find a deserted island to live on, from birth through childhood we are indelibly shaped by the matrix of relationships we are part of. Feral children, who have had little to no interaction with others, can never develop into mature persons even when integrated back into society. If one is not part of a human community as a child, he or she simply will never know what it is to be a true person. If we are self-aware persons that means we have been born into and lived in community. Being a self-sufficient, radical individual simply isn’t possible for persons.

Community, as Watchman Nee says, provides the social nutrients necessary for human life and growth. These nutrients (covering, restraint, and supply) give us knowledge, protection, direction, purpose and a host of other things. Without them we can’t function. But the community we choose to make primary will largely decide the character of these essentials. We will choose a community, and by extension its provisions, because as humans we must. If it isn’t the community of family, church, neighborhood or other “little platoons,” it will be the state. Whatever the case, our primary community will nourish and shape us.

Next post I’ll explain why not consciously choosing a community to find covering, restraint and supply will mean that we’ve chosen the state as our primary community by default.