John Scheepers states that biblical community is more about choice than affinity.
Two months after the 'official launch' of VOX City Church in Cape Town, and just a few weeks into the start of the Woodstock Missional Community, which I run, I have come to realise a basic mindset shift which most people fail to make concerning biblical community:
Biblical community is more about choice than affinity.
What do I mean?
Most of our relationships are based around affinity. We share common interests, similar personality, background, economic level or personality. Not so with true biblical community.
Biblical community is more like family – we are unable to choose our brothers and sisters. As a result our Christian community may look rather different in terms of affinity, background or personality than that which we would naturally choose.
Where most community breaks down in churches is that we maintain a 'small group' superficiality with those who differ, whilst functionally pursuing relational depth with those like us.
Hence my point: biblical community is more choice than affinity.
We have to choose to 'hang out with', 'share life together with' and 'engage in mission with'. Our mindset must be: yes there are many people out there with whom I enjoy relationship or connect with, but I choose to commit myself to this local group of believers. Sometimes even at the expense of my natural affinity group. There must be an intentionality about our choice of community that overrides our personal preference.
This 'choice over affinity' community is counter-cultural and challenging to the average unbeliever. Why should you choose to hang out with and share life with people with whom you do not share a natural affinity? Why would you choose to share life with a group of people with whom it is more difficult or even awkward to get on with?
The answer must be the gospel. It is in the gospel that we see Jesus spending time with, loving, serving and ultimately dying for those who are 'other' than himself. Not only are we given the example of Jesus to follow, but in believing the gospel we are set free to lay down our rights, preferences and affinities in order to serve others.
Through the gospel, God is busy creating a new community where love of God and neighbour win out over personal comfort and preferences – a community where diversity is not merely conceptually embraced but actually experienced in the daily life of the gospel community. It is a community where black and white, rich and poor, male and female, educated and uneducated are called to walk together in the common life of the gospel. This will not happen simply through natural affinity; the gospel frees us to make the kinds of choices which both run counter to our culture and which ultimately begin to change our natural affections.
Anything less than this simply fails to be biblical community.