Click on the quote below to read the article...

I have always believed that living in community (as we do, and as the early Christians did) is somewhat optional. It is not commanded (in so many words) in what Jesus taught, although he and his disciples obviously lived together, travelled together, and had a common purse. I have felt strongly about the spiritual benefits of such a lifestyle; but I just didn't think there was a case for making it absolutely essential.

Of course, the concept of having at least two or three people together when praying, when going on an outreach, or any time we hope to have God's presence (see "Two Witnesses") is taught strongly throughout the Bible, and that includes the teachings of Jesus. Because "two or three people" is all it takes to have a Christian community, living in a community of some sort (even if it's just living in Christian unity with your own spouse) is an important fundamental of the Christian life.

The issue becomes even more important in the light of that famous passage in Hebrews, where it says not to forsake living together. (Hebrews 10:25) Living together is what "assembling together" actually meant. Notice that it goes on to say that we should heed the instruction in that verse "so much more as you see that day approaching". In other words, as we get closer to the return of Jesus, it is going to become even more important for us to "live together".

This presents a bit of a paradox, because the Bible also tells us that the institutional church will become progressively more apostate as we get closer to the return of Jesus.

Obviously, we don't want to become part of the apostate church. But the warning is not to become part of the rebellious world either. What God is going to be doing in the next few years before the return of Jesus, is putting together various "tribes". I've known this for years, and yet I have never claimed to be one of those tribes. In fact, I have cautioned against anyone rushing into some human attempt to hammer together an organisation and then call it the supernatural coming together that the Bible tells us is going to take place in the last days.

But I have stopped believing that this coming together is going to be anything like the mythical "secret rapture" dream that the churches have fallen for. I do not believe it is something that will happen outside our will, and without any effort on our part. What it takes for the twelve tribes of The Revelation to come together is exactly what it takes to follow Jesus, and that is a humble, obedient spirit, that hungers and thirsts after more and more of the truth.

Suppose you have a hundred people totally lost in a maze, and 90 of the people don't really care. They have picnic lunches with them and they just decide to settle down and enjoy their stay. But there are ten people who desperately need to get out of the maze.

Isn't it natural to assume that the ten who are genuinely looking for the solution are going to be drawn to one another? Aren't they more likely to find their way out if they share with one another their various experiences with different aspects of the maze? Won't they benefit from an overall plan that would call for different ones to major on different parts of the maze, and to report their findings back to the others, until they can all find their way out?

So it amazes me when I come across other people who say they have been trying to find the truth. Some of them even confess that we have helped them in their search. And yet so many of these people show little or no interest in further fellowship. They don't seek us out. They don't ask us to visit. They don't respond to our letters. They just head off on their own.

If you ask them, they will tell you all the arguments for why they don't need us. They have God's Spirit themselves. We each need to find God in our own way. They haven't got the kind of faith that we have (or we haven't got the kind of faith that they have), etc.

In some cases these people have had fellowship with one or two other people, and on that basis I have tended to shrug my shoulders and say, "Oh, well, it's up to you. At least you've got each other." But over the years, I've seen even the two and three member teams bust up, and now I am beginning to think that it is because something was wrong back at the start, when they thought that all they needed was two or three. Living in community can start with something as small as two or three; but it should not stop there.

The problem is that we should not be trying for the bare minimum. A genuine seeker after truth wants the absolute maximum. Sure, we will never be perfect; but it should not stop us from aiming for perfection. And so, the error is right there when we argue that we do not need other Christians in order to make it into heaven. How much desire for truth have we got when that is our attitude?

The question should not be whether or not Christian community is your ticket to salvation, but whether or not Christian community is going to help you to be a better Christian, and help you to be more effective for God. Obviously, it is going to be inconvenient at times. It is going to impinge on your privacy. It is going to test your patience. It is going to restrict your freedom. But at the end of the week, or the end of the year, or at the end of our lives, we need to ask whether or not we got more done and whether we grew stronger spiritually by working as part of a team, or whether we got more done and grew more spiritually by doing our own thing and going our own way.

The whole reason for the "two or three" rule to begin with is that one person on his or her own cannot be much of a testimony of God's love. Jesus said, "They will know you are Christians by your love." (John 13:35) The "you" he is talking to here is not one person. The "you" has to be at least two or three people. It is as the world sees our love in action, through daily sacrifice for each other that they know we are Christians.

But if two or three becomes an excuse to exclude numbers four and five, then the whole formula becomes distorted and sick.

The church has its counterfeit Christian communities, which are run by hirelings and populated by self-centered goats who are totally lacking in the most rudimentary Christian graces. But until we show them the genuine thing, the world will never know what real Christianity is all about (and for that matter, neither will we!)

Every now and then a loose cannon will roll into town and amaze a lot of people with his or her eccentricities, or with some superficial show of spirituality; but the true fellowship of believers who are willing to literally lay down their lives for one another day after day and year after year, cannot even be imagined by the world until we start living it ourselves.

Let me talk about these twelve tribes in The Revelation for a moment. I don't have any instructions from God about how they are going to be worked out, or who is going to lead any of them. But I do have instructions from God about how Christians are supposed to be living right now, and some of these instructions are part and parcel of becoming part of those twelve tribes. For example, one of the things that Christians are supposed to be doing, is that we are supposed to be sorting out the grievances that exist between us, in love and in truth. It's right there in the teachings of Jesus.

Anyone who tells me that they are practising the teachings of Jesus, and yet they are not willing to sort out their grievances with other Christians who are practising the teachings of Jesus, is only fooling themselves. And I can apply that in any direction you like.

Let's apply it to the churches. The grievance system calls on us to go to them with our grievances about what is not being done correctly. We have tried to do it, and they will not let us. We are not saying that they have to say we are right. But we are saying that there needs to be a mechanism for such grievances to be addressed and dealt with.

It is there in the teachings of Jesus. I expect that even if they did allow us to come with a grievance, they would still vote against us in the end. But they don't even want to hear us out, because in the process, we would point out that they are not following the teachings of Jesus (since that is our grievance in the first place), and why should they let their people hear us saying something like that about them when it is so obviously true, and when our cause is so obviously right? Because they hate the light and run from the light, and because their deeds are evil, they do with us like they did with Jesus. They seek to shut us up without a hearing. (John 3:19-21)

Now let's apply the grievance principles to the various "independents" who say that they are trying to get back to the truth. We are not going to get back to the truth if each one of us becomes a law unto ourselves, making and changing the rules to suit ourselves and our own selfish whims. We must each be willing to "fall on the rock" of Christ's teachings and be broken by them. Each of our thoughts, words, plans, and actions needs to be subject to the teachings of Jesus. And Jesus tells us to talk out our differences, through grievance meetings.

The Bible says, "How can you say you love God, whom you haven't seen, if you hate your brother, whom you have seen?" (1 John 4:20) Some will say that they do not "hate" us; and yet they run away from fellowship, and especially from the very thought of living with us.

If we have done something wrong, then have the courage to take a grievance against us. If we refuse to hear you out, then make the grievance public (under conditions where we are free to hear and respond to whatever charges you make as well). But don't be so hypocritical as to pretend that you love us when you cannot do that.

The message in these last days is for Christians to forsake all and live by faith. But it is more than that. It is that we learn to live in community. It doesn't have to be with us; but it does have to be with a community that is also willing to work out its differences with us. We must end this isolationism that has made what few radicals there are for Jesus into largely ineffectual conversation pieces.

Jesus prayed that his followers would be one, so that the world would believe. (John 17:11) The world is not going to be impressed with whatever stunts we get up to on our own. Neither are they going to be impressed with the political empire building that is going on in the name of ecumenicalism. But they will be impressed with a worldwide fellowship of people who have stopped running from the truth, and who have learned to lay their pride on the line along with their wealth, reputation, plans, and ambitions, in order to be used by God.

Between where we stand now, and where we will stand when Jesus brings together his army of 144,000 faithful spiritual warriors there lies a lot of uncharted ocean. But I know for a certainty that somewhere on that journey we are going to have to sail through a very narrow strait that makes the demands on us that living in community makes. Are you prepared to head into those waters?

"Enter in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it." Matthew 7:13-14

(See also Gathering Together.)

Register or log in to take the quiz for this article

Pin It
Don't have an account yet? Register Now!

Sign in to your account