Community is a word that is discussed a lot in Christian circles. The question is asked often, how do we create Christian community? There is a sense in which any Church could be said to be a Christian community but many Christians would quickly admit that there is not much community in a deeper sense in their Churches. There is a community of like minded believers that gathers for Sunday worship and maybe stays for a fellowship time afterward and that is good but not much more than a superficial sharing of lives. There may be a Sunday School class that has met for years so that people get to know each other at a deeper level. That is community, too. Some Christians are involved in a small group in their Church that meets weekly for study, prayer and sharing of lives. That may be the deepest community experience most Christians have in their Churches.
Chris Rice in Grace Matters tells the story of Antioch Christian Community in Jackson, MS. Antioch grew out of a commitment on the part of several African-American and White Christians to live together. They attended the same Church but this was an experience in living together outside their Church fellowship. They shared a house, meals, money, childcare and other household chores. So, not only did they have the usual tensions that arise out of sharing a bathroom or menu preferences, they had to deal with cross - cultural issues, as well. Community is hard enough but when you are dealing with issues of Black and White, community stresses get magnified.
St. Paul talks a lot about community in his letters to the Churches. In his day, most of the Churches were small communities that met in homes. They worshiped, and fellowshiped, and ate meals together, in a word, they spent a lot of time together. So, Paul had to respond to the interpersonal issues that would arise in such a context. These responses led to a number of Paul's "one-anothering" passages, ie, forgive one another, accept one another, love one another, etc. Those passages are the heart of any community.
Rice's book tells the story of Antioch's struggle to love each other even as they got to know the "others" very intimately. Love and acceptance is sorely tested the closer we live together. During Antioch's struggles, they often called upon John and Judy Alexander who pastored a community somewhat like Antioch. The Alexanders were veterans of community living and Antioch benefited from their wisdom. On one of their visits, John shared this: "One of the foundations of community is knowing that you will sin and be sinned against. It needs to be our daily expectation. But there also needs to be an expectation of forgiving others their sins and being forgiven. For some of us being forgiven is harder, because we want not to sin."
Sin should not surprise us. We should expect it. The issue of community is what we do with it, how we handle it. John Alexander simplified community living down to this slogan: care for each other, forgive each other - and keep washing the dishes. It's a good motto for community life whether our community is the Church that gathers on Sunday mornings, or a household of people that lives together day in and day out, or something in between.