Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What is the point of Christian community?

The answer is- spiritual growth, which sounds nebulous. Growing spiritually means growing in your relationship with Jesus Christ. The relationship we have with Jesus is a friendship, yes, but we are his disciples, that is, the ones who follow him, who practice the things he taught us. For example, if you don't pray, read Scripture, spend time in solitude, and, as Catholics, not just participate in Eucharist, but do so worthily, which means making it to confession when you need to go, it is difficult, if not downright impossible to know Christ as he wants us to know him, as he seeks everyday to make himself known to us in and through everything that happens to us. Beyond that, we believe that it is in Scripture and the sacraments that we have direct encounters with the Lord.

Today I came across a very brief interview with Dr. Dallas Willard on the Christianity Today (to which I have long subscribed) blog Out of Ur. According to Dr. Willard, a well-regarded academic philosopher and a leading expositor of the writings and thought of Edmund Husserl, the father of phenomenology, too often we measure the success of our congregations by faulty criteria. Too often we measure success by attendance and, more often, by the collection, when, Willard suggests, "we should be looking at more fundamental things like anger, contempt, honesty, and the degree to which people are under the thumb of their lusts. Those things can be counted, but not as easily as offerings."

Without a doubt these things are much more difficult to measure, but not impossible. When asked if he is discouraged by there not being a greater focus on spiritual growth, on discipleship, Dr. Willard says, "I am not discouraged because I believe that Christ is in charge of his church, with all of its warts, and moles, and hairs. He knows what he is doing and he is marching on." To which I can only respond, Amen! Nonetheless, he says that this state-of-affairs causes him to grieve for those who are hurt and suffering "because much of North America and Europe has bought into a version of Christianity that does not include life in the kingdom of God as a disciple of Jesus Christ... [n]ew people are entering the church, but a lot are also leaving. Disappointed Christians fill the landscape because we've not taken discipleship seriously." To live this way requires more than good intentions, it requires a method.

Thanks to my dear friend Suzanne, who blogs over on Come to See, for this from Don Giussani: "The immanence of the mystery of community, to the extent that it is recognized, loved, and participated in, penetrates our being as if by osmosis with new moral standards and new moral sensitivity."

As we approach Ascension and Pentecost, let us be mindful of the Great Commission, given us by the Lord: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..." (Matt. 28:19).

Christos Anesti


  1. Perhaps a more basic way to express it is that Christian community is a school of virtues. It gives us the proximity to our neighbor to be tested and tried. We are tested most by those most intimate with us.

  2. While it certainly can be that and maybe ideally is that, it is too reductive for me.


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