In a world increasingly defined by its crises, it is time for a radical shift back to an old approach to Christian community. The 21st Century has barely begun and already we are confronted with a growing plethora of complex challenges that must be overcome. The global economy that has defined much of world politics over the last 100 years appears to be increasing in instability. The ecology of the planet is increasingly taxed by unsustainable human practices, some of which could very well bring in the devastating effects of droughts and famines. Technology has allowed for great leaps forward in human wickedness, including the massive growth of the pornography and sex trafficking industries. In addition, here in these United States, the political situation is rapidly increasing in instability since our government has broken loose from its Constitutional moorings and has been careening wildly towards Federally imposed tyranny limiting free speech, freedom of religion, and the other freedoms American’s claim to hold dear. In the midst of all these difficulties the Church of Jesus Christ, as a body called out to serve their fellow man and seek and save the lost, has an incredible opportunity to take the lead in resolving these difficulties.
From its inception, this blog has been about Faith, Sustainability, and Liberty. The idea that follows is still in the rough, it needs refining and tempering, but above all it needs people of God to be willing to make radical changes in obedience to Him. What follows represents Thetonedeafbard’s total solution to the crises that are converging around us. Please join the conversation by leaving a comment or sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
That this shift is definitely necessary needs to be made clear, but effort has been taken to not overly dwell on the problem. The following is a brief summary of the problems looming on the horizon of the 21st Century, details of each issue are abundantly available from other sources.
As this post is rather long, those well acquainted with the difficulties I mentioned in the first paragraph may skip this section.
First and foremost, the Western Church is facing a crisis. Much of it is becoming increasingly irrelevant to young people, while simultaneously many churches are selling out core Christian values and in the process giving up any influence they had left. Even good churches struggle to accomplish their Biblical role because their members aren’t really doing life together. Even for those who are still truly following Christ, it has become increasingly difficult for their worship not to be crammed into one of several compartments in their lives. At the end of the day, Christianity must be communal to survive in an increasingly antagonistic post modern culture, and right now it just isn’t.
Simultaneously, the Global Church is experiencing a massive transition. The success of Christian Mission in reaching the unreached, while not complete, has seen massive success. So much so that the West no longer makes up the majority of the Christian world. Western influence is still very strong, but will likely begin to wane in the near future, as our Majority World brethren take more and more responsibility. In the meantime, there are still thousands of unreached people groups perishing without the Gospel. The Church needs to make a concerted effort to make a functional hand off of this task, before the Western Church drops of the scene more completely.
Industrial agriculture is failing. All the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, genetic tampering, monoculture, etc. is beginning to take effect. The global food supply is increasingly vulnerable to disease and an increasingly unstable climate. In particular soil degradation and deforestation are taking a heavy toll, causing decreased crop yields, alterations in weather patterns, drought, failure of the soil to retain moisture, increased plant disease, aquifer depletion, and a whole host of other environmental issues. Our expensive fossil fuel based inputs are yielding more and more diminishing returns. Sooner or later, as yields decrease and soil depletes industrial agriculture will no longer be able to feed the earth’s growing population.
Our cheap energy era has also come with tragic human consequences. Urbanization and industrialization, while allowing some to reach levels of prosperity never before imagined, have also created massive pockets of urban poverty. In many of these pockets people are unable to meet their own basic needs for food, water, shelter, healthcare, hygiene, etc. Those living in these areas are suffering from daily deprivations, and are also more prone to exploitation such as that by the global sex trafficking industry. The Church of Jesus Christ has a Biblical command to meet these physical needs while introducing the Savior. At this time we have seen great strides towards relieving this suffering, but what is needed most deeply is a cultural shift that will address the larger problems causing poverty and suffering.
Exacerbating all the problems listed above is the increasing risk of economic collapse at the hands of rogue nations. The United States has led the way in treading a path towards tyranny and economic slavery. Americans are losing more and more of the liberty they cherish, while supporting a military industrial take over of the rest of the world spearheaded by super corporations. The tragic results are that, while even American’s who have more traditional ability to defend themselves against the rise of authoritarianism are giving up their liberty, those in the rest of the world with less resources are also paying the price for our negligence. As the cost of all of this government increases, the entire globally connected economy is facing increased threat of hyperinflation and collapse. Since this is happening simultaneously to these other global issues, the entire world could face massive amounts of suffering and loss simultaneously as much of what we have thought of as civilization risks passing away.
With a series of issues of this proportion and level of interconnectedness, a giant game of whack-a-mole isn’t going to work. These solutions call for a concentrated solution that will address all of the dangers and suffering that are happening now and are yet to come. The good news is, that solution has already been found. There is a historically validated answer to the current situation, that can be implemented today.
A Historical Solution
Count Nicolaus Zenzendorf and the Moravians provide one of the most fascinating expressions of Christian community available. While not historically well known in many circles, the Moravian community continues to have a disproportionate historical impact. The Moravian community launched the Protestants into world mission well ahead of the “Father of Modern Missions” William Carey. Their community life influenced the thoughts and practices of both John Wesley and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Even now there are churches all over the world who originally received the Gospel through the ongoing ministry of the early Moravian missionaries.
The Moravian Brethren were originally from a variety of theological backgrounds that were being persecuted in other parts of Europe. Count Zinzendorf provided them with shelter and allowed them to form a community on his estate. When theological infighting grew intense, Zinzendorf decided he had better take a more active role in the community. He sat down with the various community leaders and they studied the Scriptures continually until the issues were resolved. What came out was not a unified doctrinal statement in the traditional sense, but instead a set of standards for Christian living in community. Over time this deliberate practice of Christian community in sharing of the word and life together developed into a mission sending community the world has not really seen the like of since.
With an emphasis on practical skill development such as agriculture or various useful trades, the Moravians went forth equipped to provide for their physical needs while physically serving those to whom they went. They went forth with a passion for Christ so deep that several literally sold themselves into slavery to reach unreached African slaves. A survey of the modern mission movement, and how disproportionately it has been touched by this small community of brothers and sisters, gives us a great deal of insight into the effectiveness of doing life and mission in intentional community.
The temptation when looking at such an effectual community as that of the Moravians is to think that such a place must have been a historical anomaly. The fact of the matter is though, it has long standing in the classical Christian tradition. Eusebius records communities such as this one as early as the first century, and while it is not entirely clear, the Acts gives us some clear indicators that the New Testament Church was living in a very communal setting as well. All the way through the medieval period, and even today in the Roman Catholic church, the monastic tradition emphasized life together as a means to know God and serve man better. The trouble with discussing the monastic movement, for the purpose of this conversation, is that many today focus on how withdrawn members of the monastic movement were from daily life so much that they fail to see the innumerable acts of intentional mission performed within it. Suffice it to say, that the Moravians provide an excellent example to work with, provided it is recognized that they stood on the shoulders of others and did not represent some entirely new idea.
The New Moravians
The question then is: How could such intentional living impact the difficulties faced by the Church today? This kind of intentional living comes with an impact that has the power to reverse a great many of the problems faced today. What follows will be a brief outline of the impact of a return to Christian community in the Church today.
Many of the problems faced in the Church, especially the western churches, stem from a lack of true Christian community. Despite being active members of local churches, regularly attending services, and even partaking in a plethora of church related activities, many Christians are not in anyway getting the kind of community required for a vital Christian faith. Biblical Christianity cannot be had apart from Biblical community. This is why we are a called out body of believers, not merely called out individuals. The Christian life can simply not be attained without Christian fellowship.
This is particularly true when we are talking about purity and relevance. Purity cannot be maintained in the face of a hostile post-modern society without a community for support. Even if a theoretical individual had the will not to give into perceived social pressures, the ability to recognize the numerous areas where ground had already been given would be absent. Only in community can individuals see the dangerous flaws in the societies they have grown up in and then actively reject those flaws through their actions. This is a process, it doesn’t happen over night; but it can’t even begin if there apart from a group of people doing life together.
Without community, Christianity is also largely irrelevant. The Gospel was written for communities, not individuals. The command to love one another only applies if there are others to love. How can the transforming power of the Gospel be modeled before a broken world, unless radical disciples submit themselves fully to the life together. When Christian interaction is limited to intentional times of worship and fellowship and then each believer goes back into a largely secularized environment, what is put on display? Nothing more than the actions of a single individual. However, when a body of people do life together in a way that reflects the love of Christ in them, then their individual witnesses joins together into a compelling case to a different kind of life – a life in Christ. Separated Christians have very little opportunity to impact the world around them, but in intentional community whole communities, and even nations, can be transformed by the power of the Gospel.
Not only is intentional community required for basic Christian life in purity and relevance, it is also vital to the Christian mission. The Moravians successfully sent a disproportionate number of laborers into the harvest field largely because they had the community support structure to do it. There was a community to hold accountable each individual to the call of God to the nations, but there was also community in place to insure that each individual was equipped and supported in living out that call. No one left for the fields unsure of who would be upholding them in prayer 24 hours a day. In a time when the global leadership of the church must transition, nothing can be more unifying or missional than moving back towards this kind of intentional life together. As the majority world church rises to influence, now is the time to insure that the Church moves forward rooted in solid community, rather than empty times of fellowship.
This isn’t simply a matter of transitioning to a better form of Christian community while we transition to new leadership. Moving towards more intentional community will also make this transition more smooth and effective. The Western Church has gained a tremendous amount of insight, through experience, over the years into how to Biblically and effectively reach the unreached. As much of this knowledge as possible needs to be shared with our brothers and sisters around the world as quickly as possible, so that they can begin to fulfill their role in the mission of God. Unfortunately most Western education structures, among them colleges and seminaries, are not very compatible with the majority world church. Even if they were more compatible, they have often proved to be a barrier to those headed toward full time Christian service. The model Jesus provides for us, and that the Moravians displayed so well for us, is that of the life together. The disciples experiences with Jesus were ultimately the base of their entire ministry in the book of Acts. In the NKJV, Acts 4:13 says of the Pharisees “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” It was this act of doing life together that resulted in the Apostles missional effectiveness and understanding of the Gospel. Life together takes education and information sharing out of the classroom where it is theoretical and out to the streets where it is practical. Not only is this a more effective tool for teaching and equipping God’s people, it is also universally applicable in all cultures because community life is defined by those who live it.
At this point it is clear that community, as modeled for us by Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians, has a powerful impact on Christian living, but what about some of the other 21st Century issues in discussion? In an age where our agriculture system is such clear trouble, there has been a growing movement of people “back to the land” who are focused on subjects like self sufficiency. The reality is, there is no such thing. The success of our ancestors in living sustainably off the land was rooted firmly in community not individualism. That said, if a dedicated community chooses to radically focus on Permaculture as a sustainable design system, it can live in a way that not only protects the community itself from the growing list of short comings of our current system, but that, whether urban or rural, also protects the larger community around it. The ability to design and work together in restoring natural patterns of design in the land, provides the ultimate opportunity for communities to live out the already present positive alternatives to our failing industrial model.
This kind of sustainable living together also answers the questions posed by urban poverty and suffering. Focusing on sustainable food production and high quality community healthcare that combines modern knowledge with natural patterns allows us to not only alleviate the suffering of the poor in the short term, but also to educate poverty out existence by modeling a better way forward. Hands on education that demonstrates the success of those who practice it can cause the whole economics of poverty to be abolished. Especially where we are talking about greening the food deserts and equipping people with the ability to meet their own basic needs. This is especially true when intentional Christian communities make the choice to set up in the heart of poverty blighted urban centers. The end result of this change not only removes poverty, but also makes impossible the all to uncommon exploitation of the poor that is too common today.
Finally solid communities doing life together in a way that is sustainable by design to the glory of Christ are not only hedged from the destructive effects of sin and temptation, but also from global economic uncertainty and the growing push towards statism. How this ecological liberty impacts poverty and redefines local economies has already been discussed, all that needs to be added is that this redefinition removes those local areas from the chaos of global markets by bringing all of the most important economic needs of the community back within the community. When all of these needs are met locally, communities are not so adversely impacted by the larger scale economic problems we face.
Community also lies at the root of solving our problems with the push towards Federal control of everything. First, it reverses the push to honor the state as though it were God through dependency, instead asserting the value of each member of the community to assist in living sustainably before God. Second, in community, those who love their God given liberty can more effectively work to protect it. Since small, self sustaining communities are already economically fairly autonomous and free, they are much less susceptible to being bullied by the State. With so much of the aggressive tyranny happening at the local level, replacing local governments with deliberately free communities puts a stop its growth. Not only that, but the kind of community being discussed here also sets forward a model for free living that can continue regardless of what happens in the country as a whole.
Intentional communal living then is a key tool for educating and equipping the church to carry out its essential mission. In addition, it is the key to sustainable living on this planet and will assuage and shelter against the suffering present and coming in our nation and world. It should be a great comfort that this has been done successfully before, and, while perhaps not being done as completely as discussed here, is being done successfully even in our times. It is time for the Church to make a concentrated effort to return to vital Christian communities, communities that heal people and the earth they inhabit.
The Next Zinzendorf
Only one thing is lacking. The leadership necessary to begin implementing and calling for this change needs to emerge. The Moravian community was successful to a large degree because of the passion and commitment of Count Zinzendorf to the success of Christian community. In a day in age where much of the Church has moved far away from such principles of community, it will take strong leadership to return to it. The call and push towards effective community is urgent and time is moving quickly.
Would the next Count Zinzendorf please stand up?