Wednesday, May 07, 2003

I have tremendous admiration for Peter Leithart and always benefit from what he has to say on nearly any topic. Leithart has written a wonderful little article for the brand spankin' new Meshereth Magazine. Leithart cuts through much of the fluff surrounding the emphasis on community by pointing out that what is often the result of an emphasis on community actually ends up being quite self-serving and indeed a denial of the nature of Christ's church:

We can hole up in our little ghettos and wait for the storm to pass. We can nurture community life on a small scale, and leave the world to do what it likes, which is mainly to go to hell.

This is a snare, and a foolish, dangerous one. It is foolish because it perpetuates the modern heresy that confines the church to a private sphere. When we act as if Christian community is a "safe haven" in a heartless world, we are making common cause with the secularists, who are only too delighted to let us indulge our infantile communal fantasies in private, so long as we leave the public world to the (inevitably secular) grownups.

To the extent that retreat and withdrawal are seen as part and parcel of the nature of the church and its koinonia, the church departs from the biblical understanding of and vision for the church. Engagement, which is not of the world, but is most certainly in it, is absolutely necessary and that engagement will, at times, be quite costly:

This makes it impossible for us to think of Christian community as a calm harbor protected from the raging sea of secularism. On the contrary, it forces on the church and her members perspectives on world politics that will frequently be at variance with dominant political perspectives -- sometimes so much at variance that Christians will have to pay with their blood.

Leithart at this point steers toward the implications of this kind of an understanding for our political thinking and action--which is a legitimate and necessary application of the nature of the church that he's laying out here. Without neglecting this, I think it is just as important, if not more so, for the church to recover a biblical mind and a biblically faithful practice of mercy and compassion. The way the church often does community ends up being more of a withdrawal from the world in order to protect our own interests, which renders the church basically irrelevant. I don't mean irrelevant in the sense of not winding up on the NY Times besteller list or the Billboard charts or even the Fortune 500. Instead I mean irrelevant more in terms of unneccessary. Generally I don't think our neighbors (my neighbors included) see the church as having anything to do with their plight. Much as the first two passersby who retreated to the other side of the road and left their beaten and bloodied neighbor in the ditch, I'm afraid we don't offer much to our beaten and bloodied neighbors who are desperately in need of our care. There's an irreducible Samaritan element that ought to be exemplified by Christ's followers, that is to live on behalf of their neighbors, to put their neighbors' interests ahead of their own. This Samaritan (read Christlike) element must be part of our understanding and practice of community or it is to the extent that this is lacking misshapen and in need of biblical correction.

If Meshereth can maintain the standard of excellence set by their first offering then I'm indeed excited to see them enter the webzine fray.

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