Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.
Often what one can find on Christian forums, websites and the like is this absolute need for Christians to have community. Some Christians tell of the depression they went through not having community in cities to which they moved. There is no denying that the early Christians obtained great strength through their community. They ate together, (Act 20:7) they sang and prayed together. They also admonished each other and comforted each other (Romans 15:14; 2 Cor 1:3-4; 1The 4:18; 5:11; 2The 3:11-15; Titus 1:9; 2:4,15). Paul also admonished the church to not neglect getting together as a community:
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)
It is obvious that God expects His servants to assemble together. All one needs to do is to type “assembly” in Bible Gateway Online (or any other Bible Lexicon) to find many examples of God’s people assembling together either to hear God’s word, pass judgement or even to submit to God’s wrath. We are meant to have community. To deny community is like denying our human need. God recognized the fact that it was not good for Adam to be “alone” when God created Eve (Genesis 3:18). When God created Adam and Eve, God expected families and communities to be created as a result.
However, is community in the very sense of the word, an absolute must. I must say I have been confronted with this dilemma: is the need for Christian community necessary for one’s salvation? Some Christians seem to suggest this, however, I hope they do not believe that community is equal to salvation because there is only one name upon heaven and earth that one can be saved:
"by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead... for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12)
"that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Nonetheless, there are many Christian groups who do place much emphasis on the need for community. I happen to work in a private christian school where we often have conferences describing the need for the school and church to be a community. Many of my colleagues believe that their children are protected from the world and its lusts just by placing their children in Christian schools and communities. There is no denying that "Evil company corrupts good habits.” Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame (1 Corinthians 15:33-34). I need not remind my colleagues that even in so-called Christian communities terrible evil can happen. Sadly, acts of evil within so-called Christian communities scores another point for the devil. Anyhow, I do enjoy where I work because at least, the people I work with believe that their is a God and a Creator and I believe that often, in public school environments "some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34). Nonetheless, here I am among Christians at work who belong to a church community and yet, I do not belong to one in my city. Sometimes I wonder, am I mistaken?
We need not go into the various doctrinal problems that the majority of these Christians groups and churches have; which are many. And yet, those called by a love for the truth, are often called to leave their communities because of their love for the truth of God’s word. For God loves those who seek to worship Him in spirit and truth: "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” (John 4:23) We have many examples of men and women who left their communities or families to follow the God of the Bible. Some of us are born into the truth and some of us come out of atheism, other gods or christianized paganism. Nonetheless, one great Biblical example for all of us is the example of Abraham.
Abraham left his community and his family. He came from a community that served other gods other than the one God of the Bible. It says: “And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods” (Joshua 24:2). Therefore, we know that Abraham served other gods because the Bible describes this past history of Abraham. The story continues: "Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac.” (Joshua 24:3). So it is obvious that God brought Abraham out of false religions. However, imagine how difficult this might have been for Abraham at first to move to the other side of the River leaving behind the gods that he had once known for the living God. The Bible continues to describe Abraham’s journey: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8). Abraham was definitely a man of tremendous faith. The Bible does not describe any difficulty on Abraham’s part with regard to leaving his home and religion. And yet, to leave one’s home is difficult let alone going to a place that one knows nothing about. Nonetheless, the moral of the story is that Abraham left his community and family to follow God. We have a biblical example to remember because we do not need community in order to follow God’s truth. Abraham’s community followed other gods, therefore, Abraham could never get the right support for choosing to follow the one God in truth. Just like those of us who leave church communities and families for a tiny community called the Church of God. The communities from where we come are often acting contrary to what God’s word says. When we are faced with the question as to whether we can spiritually survive without the community, we must remember Abraham.
Anyhow, we have Abraham’s example where he obvious went out on his own with confidence that God would provide. There are other biblical examples were groups of God’s so-called people or “community” allowed for many people to sin. The Israelites in the desert after waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai “gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1). Now, this is an example of a community who are supposed to be the people of God. They asked Aaron to make other gods to worship. And not only that, the people do not even recognize that it was God or YHWH who brought them out of Egypt. The people declared that was a man who brought them out: in the people’s eyes, God has completely left the picture. Whether Aaron put up some resistance to the crowd or not, the Bible does not describe anything of the sort. Aaron immediately asked the people for gold and he “fashioned and molded” a golden calf to worship. Once he had finished his calf, he even said: “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4). Aaron does not seem to show any form of abhorrence to his grand proclamation. It is quite shocking to see someone who was at Moses’ side from the very beginning and who saw God’s wonders performed in Egypt, to be so quick to fabricate a god to worship. When Moses grilled Aaron about his participation in the entire affair, Aaron said he asked the people for gold and threw the gold in the fire and a golden calf had just so happened to jump out of the fire (Exodus 32:24). Aaron did not admit to his own sin. There are a couple of morals to be learned from this Biblical example. Aaron was a leader in the community and he openly submitted himself to the community’s desire to go after other gods. Aaron even made the idol himself. In the guise of community, Aaron sinned and probably allowed for many others to sin along with him who may not have sinned if Aaron had not. God’s people must be wise. We must respect our leaders but as in this example, a powerful leader openly committed a grave sin towards God. God calls on everyone one of us, not just our leaders to declare sin outrightly and to not follow after it. God’s people are all chosen to be a royal priesthood in the kingdom of God (1 Peter 2:9). As God’s chosen, we are to follow Jesus our High Priest and Mediator on behalf of God the Father (Hebrews 8:1-2).
As we can see from the examples, community can cause others to sin and can also place enormous amounts of pressure on our leaders to sin along with the whole group. Aaron is a good example of this. Community often leads others within the community to sin who would not have otherwise sinned. It is very wrong to believe that community is what protects the people of God. If this was true, Israel would not have sinned. So for those of us who have chosen to leave church communities or do not have a neighborhood community to belong to, we must also remember Elijah who said: “I alone am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men” (1 Kings 18:22). Elijah must have felt quite alone at times. How often do we feel alone when we see everyone around us celebrating Christmas or Easter and yet we say: But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). Can we do this without community support? Yes, we can with God’s help and with prayer of course.
Another example is Lot, who “was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)— then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:8-9). Ruth also recognized the one true God and did not return to her gods when her husband died. (Ruth 1:15) Other examples from the Bible are Noah, Naaman, and Daniel who either left their community or lived within communities who practiced everything abominable to God. Did they overcome? Yes, they did. And we also have the same calling: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21). We must place our trust in God with all our heart. God will not forsake us if we are right with God. “And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8). Let us allow for God to go before us, because God’s truth will triumph. His Holy Spirit can guide us through terrible wickedness if we allow it.