Community Built On The Cross

small-groupsBeing in community with other people is extremely difficult. The married couples I counsel regularly evidence this, my own marriage evidences this. The reality of sin in our hearts and lives makes the actualization of community extremely difficult. Most social clubs simply can’t endure the messiness of individuals’ lives so they tend to either dissolve or maintain a surface level “community.” The church has the potential, however, to offer something better. We have the potential to offer deep and enduring community. That’s because our alternative community has a different foundation. Deep and enduring community can be cultivated when it is built on the cross. The foundation of the cross allows us to build deep and enduring foundations because it grants us  forgiveness, reconciliation, and purpose.

Paul establishes the community-creating-role of the cross in Ephesians 2:14-22. There he writes to the church, saying:

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being  the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

It is through Christ, who is himself peace, that unity and fellowship are possible. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Christian community means community through and in Jesus Christ.” The cultural, socio-economic, differences that sin has turned into “walls of hostility” are torn down in Christ. People who were different, people who were far apart, people who were divided by hostility, are now “fellow citizens” of God’s Kingdom. They are now “members” of the same “household of God.”  Even more pointedly they are now being “joined together,” built into one another, dependent upon one another. God is weaving the lives of his children together into one. This is the testimony of the cross and it is upon this foundation that we build our community.

The cross is the means of our own forgiveness. Sin always creates a separation between me and God, and between me and others. It’s hard to be involved in community, to commit to community, when I fear that my sin might be exposed. When I still bear the shame and guilt of things I’ve done wrong then I am too terrified to join up with others, too terrified that they might discover who I really am, too terrified that they might reject me. Community without the cross is not possible because sin creates barriers. Shame and fear associated with unforgiven sin will never let us enter into the depth of real community. We will either bolt when things get too intimate, or we will simply never join.

Community built on the cross, however, provides me a new way to interact with people. When I know that Jesus Christ has taken away my shame, given me a new identity, and forgiven my sin, then I feel the freedom to share my story with others. I feel the freedom to let them into my world, and to step into theirs. If I know that I am a sinner saved by grace in a room full other sinners saved by grace the dynamics can completely change.

Community built on the cross also grants us reconciliation. One of the realities that our world consistently reminds us of is that we are often at war with one another. Divorce, child abuse, relational conflict, actual military conflict are all evidence that humanity cannot get along with one another. But the cross of Christ can take those who were divided by hostility and make them one. I love how Brad House explains this concept. In his book Community he writes:

The sin that disintegrates our communities and alienates us from one another is what put Jesus on the cross. He experienced the worst isolation and the worst evil – separation from God the Father. He was relationally severed from the eternal community of the Trinity. In trade, he gave us the greatest good, reconciliation to God and others, making community possible. (32-33)

Christ makes real community possible. You see real community is not a place where sin is not seen, not discussed, not encountered. Rather real community, the kind that is deep and enduring, sees that sin and confronts it head on, loves people through it, and forgives others of it.  This can only happen when communities are built on the cross. The reality that we sin against each other, even as Christians, can only be endured when we understand the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ says that you and I have offended God far more than anyone else has ever offended us, and yet God grants us grace and mercy and love. He sent His Son to die in our place and to take our punishment, in order that we might be reconciled to Him. He forgives our sin and loves us through it. This same gospel then calls us to extend the grace we have received. When I understand the gospel clearly I am motivated to live it out in relationships. Jesus makes community possible. Without the cross I will never endure the sin of others.  Without the cross I will bolt when I am sinned against, or when someone’s life is “too messy.” Without the cross we will keep our community at the surface level, so that we never have to know about, encounter, or be impacted by one another’s sin. But that is not real community. Jesus creates real community through the cross.

Finally the cross grants our community purpose. As a pastor of small group ministry at CBC I think often about how we can get more people involved in community. There are a variety of purposes given by churches for starting small group ministries. Brad House observes, however, that many of them fall short of  expressing the real purposes behind Christian community. Again, he writes:

Because community takes sacrifice and intentionality, our view of community must be bigger than a way to belong, making church feel smaller, or closing the back door of the church. We need to see the eternal purpose in order to inspire the devotion to community that we see in Acts 2. (31)

So what is this eternal purpose? Why has God created community? He has done so in order that we might manifest the gospel to the world. Repeatedly the Bible tells us that the way we love each other is a manifestation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the watching world. Jesus says it plainly (John 13:35). Paul says the community of marriage is a pointer to this gospel (Eph. 5:32). Paul says it again to the Ephesians in chapter 3. The purpose of the church, he says, is that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). Small Groups exist as manifestations of the wisdom of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we love each other, dig deep with each other, and endure with each other we testify to what God’s love has done in our hearts. House says it poetically when he says, “When we live in community as a declaration of the gospel, we announce that Jesus has restored what sin had broken, and we experience life as God intended” (35). Community built on the cross gives us a purpose: the proclamation of the gospel to one another, and to the watching world.

Community grounded on anything else simply won’t last. We can’t endure sin, messiness, and depth without the cross. That’s why at CBC we want to keep the foundation of the cross constantly before our small groups. It is because of Christ that we can have real community. Community built on the cross is true community.

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