The Boundary of Community: White Picket Fence or Razor Wire?

One of the topics that I think about fairly regularly is the struggle to resist the constant allure of “greener grass.”  We live in a culture that is highly mobile, presented with myriad options, and, generally speaking, the affluence to pursue those different options.  While it’s true that what’s billed as contentment may actually be complacency, I think the greater danger is confusing restlessness with the pursuit of excellence.

With this in mind, I have great appreciation for a recent 9Marks blog post that highlights the writing of Wendell Berry as “portray[ing] the beauty of a bounded life, a death to the options of Elsewhere, the embrace of a concrete place and its people.”

The author of the post explains that true community is “more than the welcome and affirmation typically communicated by the word today. To belong to a community is to be at its disposal, to have given over all you have to be used for whatever your community needs. … It is a submission of yourself—your identity, your interests, your ambitions—to the needs of those to whom you’re bound.”

This self-sacrifice for the sake of the community is a good thing, a biblical thing, especially when the community in view is the local church.  However, this absolute submission for the benefit of the community is also at the very heart of the scandal surrounding the potential cover-up of sexual abuse within churches associated with Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Like other stories of high-control groups, the allegations are that members were expected to submit to the wishes of their leaders, ostensibly for the protection of their community.

There are those who would have you believe that calls for submission to a community, such as those expressed in the 9Marks blog above, are major red flags, indicators of abusive leaders who demand total obedience from their followers.  However, the lesson we should learn from SGM (whether the allegations are true or not), is not the avoidance of commitment to a community, but the importance of the community as a whole (not just the individuals who make up the community) laying down its self-protectiveness.  In the same way that unchecked personal ambition is incompatible with true community, a church body that is overly worried about protecting their image, their identity, their ministry, is incompatible with the true Church.

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