“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. ” I John 1:7
Normally, I’m a little averse to quoting a single passage of scripture and then reflecting on it. In many cases, it can lead to some pretty awful violence against the meaning of a passage. In this case, though, I think I’m justified.
In the middle of John’s diatribe on the need for people to live in keeping with the call of Jesus Christ on their lives, he puts in a very (seemingly) odd sentence; the one noted above.
I think both the sentence, and its placement in I John are important. The central message of the passage is that we follow Jesus in all we do. We cannot claim to be in unity with Jesus, and then walk in darkness, but at the same time, we cannot pretend we have no sin. Instead, we are called to confess and repent of our sins, and as a result get cleansed from all unrighteousness.
In all of that, John makes the statement that if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.
From what I’ve been learning in my classes, this is counter-intuitive. Many people would claim that the main thing we need to do is to be intentional in the Church about “building community”. That we are called as a people to build accepting places where people feel free and accepted and loved. In that context, they claim, we can build the kingdom of God.
While I am sympathetic to the idea, I honestly think that such is a fools errand, and I think the scripture leads me to that conclusion (we’ll see more of this at some later point when I finally deal with the non-egalitarian nature of love, as it’s reflected in Christ’s quote of the Shema Israel). Most clearly, this is taught from the above text.
My contention: Community is not built, it just happens.
Now, this does NOT mean that there isn’t work involved in the proper functioning of a healthy community, but that the point of that work is not the community itself, the community is a side effect to the seeking of the primary goal. This is why I disagree wo vehemently with people who talk about “The Kingdom of God” as the ultimate goal. It’s not. The goal is the glory of the King, and as we seek that glory for the king, we become part of the kingdom.
As it says above, as we walk in the light, the effect is that we have fellowship one with another. It does not say we have fellowship one with another so that we may walk in the light. Thus the work in building a Christian community lies not in how well we build a community, but in how well we build Christians. It is how we manage to edify one another, and build each other up in following God and avoiding the “deceitfulness of sin” (see Hebrews 3:12-13), that makes us community, as we become closer in our seeking after Jesus.
This isn’t surprising. Think about a good dating relationship. We don’t maintain a good relationship by focussing on the relationship itself, but by focussing on the people we love, and their good. My (as of yet non-existant) girlfriend shouldn’t particularly impressed if I talk about how valuable our relationship is unless it’s valuable because I find HER valuable. The point isn’t the relationship, the relationship is an effect of the point.
This is in stark contrast to the old adage that one can be “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”. Indeed, at least as far as community is concerned, we are earthly good in precise relation to how “heavenly” (Godward) minded we are. It is only as we are Godly minded that we develop Christian community properly, and as we fail in community, it is because we have somehow been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin to not walk in the light. God promises as we walk in the light we have fellowship with one another. So if we have no fellowship with one another, some of us are simply not following Christ.
This brings me to my title. The question is not whether or not we meet a boundary, but whether or not we swear fealty to a king. Lamin Sanneh in a short book (of which I cannot remember the title) points out just this point. We are Christian insofar as we are aimed at Christ. Not in how many points of doctrine we agree on. Indeed, someone can be aimed at God, though very far away from Him, and be more Christian than someone who adheres to many of the doctrines, but whose heart is aimed away from God.
This does not mean that doctrine is unimportant. On the contrary, it is vital. This is how we tell if we’re aimed at God, as it is God’s revelation in Scripture that shows us what it is we are aimed for. Namely God, and specifically the God we see incarnated in Jesus Christ. Yet the question is not whether we hold to the doctrines, but whether we hold to the God that those doctrines describe. We love the doctrine because we love the God they describe.
So then the question of where our hearts are is inestimably important both for eternity, and for our lives here. It is MOST important for eternal reasons, as it is God that is of ultimate importance, but if we do not see God as ultimately important, we will find even our temporal goal of community is unattainable. This is why we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (note: not just the Kingdom of God). All the other goals come from that one, not vice versa.
This is why, in the more mundane facets of reality, Churches must be made up of primarily believers. Why marriages must be between believers, why the closest friendships should be between believers. In each case, the lack of believers means that the Churches, the marriages, and the friendships are doomed to failure. It’s why if we love our friends, we MUST tell them about Jesus and pray that they come to faith (as its only through belief that our friendship has any chance of lasting). It’s why Churches must have both preaching for conversion and church discipline, as in order for the church to survive, people in it must see and savour Jesus above all else. It’s why we should seek to marry believers (if we marry), as it is only through Jesus that a marriage can thrive properly, as it is through Christ that we have fellowship one with another.
Indeed, as with all things, our relationships as Christians are dependant on our relationship with Jesus