Note to leader: Prior to this class, provide for each student the article “Being Here” from Christianity Today.
We live in a transient age. Researchers suggest that most of us will have as many as seven successive careers during our lives. What’s more, these job shifts will move us away from our birthplaces in far greater numbers than did the Midwestern farm flight of the “Dirty Thirties.” We then become confronted with questions such as: How do we find stability and community in a time of temporary homes? How shall we plant and nurture roots in our communities while protecting our heavenly citizenship?
In “Being Here,” Charles Colson describes a group of Dutch immigrants who have managed to cling to their ethnic and religious roots generations after settling in western Michigan. Ask members of your group to tell stories from their own experiences of the cities or neighborhoods in which they and their parents grew up.
[Q] How stable is the community that you grew up in? In what ways has it changed? In what ways has it stayed the same?
[Q] Do you still feel like you belong to that community even though you have moved away from it? In what ways? Do you feel some sense of obligation to that community? If so, how do you express that?
[Q] In what ways is your faith linked to the community in which you grew up? In what ways might it have differed in another town or city?
In Christ and Culture (Harper, 1951), H. Richard Niebuhr suggests five ways to look at the relationship between Christ and the communities in which we live:
Christ against culture. Our faith opposes culture at every point, and we would do best to separate ourselves into counter-culture communes and monasteries.
The Christ of culture. Whatever is good in any culture is really the presence of Christ already there. We should appreciate these things as God’s gifts to us.
Christ above culture. We can do what we please in any culture so long as we bring Christ along with us. His power is greater than any human authority, so he will baptize our actions and make them part of God’s larger purposes.
Christ and culture in paradox. We live in two worlds, the Christian (spiritual) and the human (ordinary life); we move back and forth between each, but we cannot reconcile them to one another. We must be faithful to both in ways appropriate to each.
Christ the transformer of culture. Because of human sin, all our cultures are imperfect and ultimately dehumanizing. Yet God created us to have cultural expressions. Therefore only when we recover God’s designs for human life through the power of Christ can we work to restore appropriate cultural intent for our communities.
Leader: bring some copies of local newspapers to class. Position them around the room for people to look at, or pass them around. Then answer the following questions.
[Q] Look at some of the headline events and news in your community right now. Which indicate that Christ is at work through churches or individual Christians?
[Q] Which news items indicate a desperate need for the transforming power of Christ’s work?
[Q] Do we have a responsibility as Christians to get involved in groups or activities that might help alleviate community problems? What are some ways we could do that?
[Q] Do you think of your community as pro-Christian or anti-Christian? Cite some examples of both. How can we contribute to communities that have anti-Christian elements?
Teaching point one: Our lives are rooted in community because of God’s creational design.
To be human is to be part of a community. We cannot live in this world without touching or tasting or thinking or working or playing in relationship with others. This is part of the essence of human identity. A number of Scripture passages point to our imbeddedness in human culture. (Have group participants read each of these passages at the appropriate times)
The Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:26–28):
God made this world as the place where humans would take the lead role in shaping society and culture. While some have accused Christians of recklessly playing with God’s mandate to subdue and rule, no one can question God’s desire for his people to invest themselves in the on-going development of life and its unfolding story.
[Q] In what ways are we fulfilling the command that God gave to Adam and Eve to subdue and rule creation and everything in it?
[Q] What effect does sin have on our ability to develop communities that reflect God’s intentions for human life? Give examples.
[Q] How can our spiritual communities prevent us from responding to the needs of the greater communities around us? Do these greater communities perceive us as contributing citizens or as self-protective isolationists?
Israel’s Purpose (Gen. 12:1–3; Deut. 28:1–14):
God’s purpose for Israel was for her to influence all nations by reflecting the great goodness of the Creator and by calling others into the holy and healing ways of God’s covenant. Although Israel failed to carry out that purpose to its fullest extent, the Old Testament clearly indicates God’s desire for his people to build communities that reflect divine designs.
[Q] (1) If Israel had lived out her calling, what might life in Israel be like today?
(2) Name some things—positive and negative—that other nations might have learned about Israel’s faith through her sense of community.
(3) What might our non-churched neighbors learn about our faith through our sense of community?
The Church’s Mission (Matt. 5:13–16; Gal. 6):
God’s relationship with the nations during Old Testament times was channeled through Israel. Other nations had to come into Israel’s borders or under Israel’s care in order to experience God’s goodness. That approach changed in the New Testament as God scattered believers throughout the world. Christians are now called to be witnesses wherever they are to bring people to Christ.
[Q] Jesus says we must act as light on a hill or as seasoning salt. What are some ways we can behave that way within our neighborhoods and communities?
[Q] Colson writes about a group of people who, according to historian John Bratt, arrived in Iowa and Michigan in the mid-19th century explicitly to plant “Christian communities to serve as radiating centers of the gospel.” Are we planting such communities today? Explain.