Posted by: dacalu | 24 October 2010

The Lone Christian

Who are your Christian peeps?

I’ve been thinking alot about this question as I try to bring together a community at the University of Arizona.  I was arguing with a fundamentalist preacher on the mall and I thought to myself, “who are his people?” “What is his community?”  As far as I can tell, he doesn’t have one, and that saddened me.

Now I could ask the question far more academically, in terms like this:

What community shaped and sent you?

But it occurs to me that there’s something special going on here, different from “church home” or “denominational affiliation.”

Who are your Christian peeps?

Who are the people whose behavior allows you to define “love” in the Christian sense?

Who are the people you rely on to encourage you to do the right thing?

Who are the people you rely on to confront you when you don’t?

And who are the people who love you anyway.

Because, the older I get, the more I realize that Christianity is deeply relational.  Most of the Christian virtues are communal.  Love, certainly.  Doing a quick scan of the Bible, I came up with:

the utterance of wisdom, the utterance of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing,  the working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, the interpretation of tongues (in the context of community in I Cor. 12)

Patience, kindness, endurance, belief, hope, truth, faith

Lacking envy, boastfulness, arrogance, rudeness, selfishness, irritation, resentment, wrongdoing (in the context of love in I Cor. 13)


prophecy,ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, diligent leadership, cheerful compassion, mutual affection, showing honor, zeal, ardent spirit, hope, generosity, hospitality, patience in suffering, perseverance in prayer (in the context of community in Romans 12)

Of those I count 28 clearly communal virtues and only 6 clearly personal virtues.  It leads me to believe that the “personal” virtues may not be personal after all.  Faith in God, yes, but faith in one another as well.  Belief in God, too, but not solitary belief.

Christianity is something we do together and it’s been that way from the beginning.  Jesus began his ministry by calling disciples, and often calling more than one at a time.  Jesus sent them out in pairs and did his best to bind them together.  So I’m going to say that Christianity has always been about concrete love in a community, and never about abstract love for God.

Let me say that again, Christianity has always been about concrete love in community, and never about abstract love of God.  Even the Trinity speaks to the idea that God’s love is not unilateral, but communal.

The church is a wonderful institution, but it must be recognized as an institution.  The structures – be they physical, intellectual, social, or financial – must not be mistaken for the true ecclesia, the true Body of Christ made up of people in love with God and one another.  Augustine was painfully clear about this 15 centuries ago when he distinguished between the City of God and the City of Man.  The Earthly churches can be wonderful – though at times they can be awful as well.  It is better to be a member than not, I suppose, but it is only the first step (or sometimes the second or third step) in becoming a true follower of Christ.  True discipleship means living with others, loving and being loved.

So, I ask again.  Who are your Christian peeps?  Who models the love of God for you?

Some of us have fallen into error and sin by confusing a community of faith (mutual love) for a community of belief (mutual assent).  If your standard for church is people who agree with you, then you have made your opinion into an idol.  Worse yet, there are those who have made a community of like instead of a community of love.  This is the case for any community that exiles you if they don’t like you any more – if you cease to be like the majority of members.  If your standard of church is people like you – and people who like you – then you have made a club into an idol.

These are harsh words, but I think they must be said.  Our church, the group of us worldwide who identify ourselves with Christ, has become beset with idols.  Perhaps it was always so, but I think not.  It’s time that those of us who believe that God is love assert ourselves, because the opposition speaks far more loudly than we do.

Don’t mistake me.  Christianity involves a great deal of discipline. I’m not selling soft soap.
But it is a concrete love of neighbor we must defend and not an abstract personal piety.
God became human dwelt among us so that we might learn to live with one another.

So look to your peeps, and think seriously about what it is that binds you together. Love defines Christianity – concrete, challenging, confusing, and yes dangerous love.

And…never trust a lone Christian.

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Responses

  1. “never trust a lone Christian.” I am a lone Christian, living as an anchorite in a hermitage. Do not monastics and hermits, the Solitary Religious, have a place in the Church? According to your view, I gather that only congregational worship is valid, not individual solitude.

    • Dear Zacharias,
      You are talking to me, aren’t you? You communicate with your tradition and the writers of the Bible. I think the very fact that you can use words like anchorite and hermitage shows that you are deeply invested in the community. When I say “never trust a lone Christian,” or quote Tertullian (“unus Christianus, nulus Christianus”), I am not saying that Christians who don’t travel in packs are not true Christians, I’m saying that Christians who try to discern in isolation are not true Christians. Christianity is hard and we rely on the advice and support of others.
      Let me speak concretely. From my perspective, there are at least two reasons to pursue solitude. First, one may retreat to seek wisdom which may later be shared with the community. Second, one may be cloistered in order to pray continually for the community. I see both of these as flowerings of Christianity. (And thirdly one might consider those individuals so hurt by society or so challenged by inner demons that they feel a need for seclusion. I believe them to be beloved of God, if not necessarily Christian in a strict sense.) Perhaps you know of other reasons, from your own experience; I would be delighted to hear.
      Beyond solitude, there is also evangelical mission. Ideally this is done in pairs, but some like Patrick pursue it alone.
      So, no. I do not believe that solitude invalidates Christianity, only individualism and egoism.

      God is with you.
      Lucas

  2. Thank you for your clarification, Lucas. i now understand what you meant; I agree with you assessment. Neither individualism nor egoism have a place in a Christian’s heart as they lead to vanity and pride. It is the examples of our desert fathers and mothers that one engaged in the vocation of a solitary, contemplative prayer life follows and, while that brings me into minimal contact with society, it is for that society that I do pray and witness to through the acts of my life.

    God’s blessings to you, Lucas. May He hold you in the palm of His hand, always.


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