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Together, Yet Separate

I walked into the lounge at the Bible school where I work and found five students sitting around the table. Encountering this small “community” of students should have been exciting—I believe community is one of our strongest elements for spiritual growth—but I noticed that each student was fully engrossed in whatever they were doing on their laptops. They were together, yet separate.

As I have grown older and hopefully added a little depth to my experience of Christ, I have become convinced that a fundamental purpose of God for us as believers is community. The one thing that was not good in creation was for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). I assure you that I believe that one of the purposes of mankind is to enjoy an intimate relationship with God (Deuteronomy 6:5). Adam’s relationship with God was more real and living than any human relationship we may experience. They walked together in the garden. They enjoyed communion and fellowship as we are all longing to enjoy it one day in His presence in heaven. And yet, even so, it was not good for man to be alone.

I am convinced that it is in the context of a loving community that we are to grow spiritually. Paul mentions this as one of the purposes of the Church. Just read the following words from Ephesians 4:15-16 (NASB):

    But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

Gordon Fee, a well-known New Testament scholar, says:

    Though entered individually, salvation is seldom if ever thought of [by Paul] simply as a one-on-one relationship with God. While such a relationship is included, to be sure, ‘to be saved’ means especially to be joined to the people of God … God is saving a people for his name, not a miscellaneous, unconnected set of individuals.

Currently, we could hardly say that man is alone. There are about 6.5 billion people in the world. Nonetheless, walking into that lounge, I discovered that even in the midst of multitudes, it is possible for man to be alone. As long as we are unwilling to connect closely with people, to be vulnerable and transparent, to confess our sins to each other, we will and ought to experience loneliness. We may excuse this loneliness with a “higher spirituality” (i.e. "I don’t need people as long as I have God"), but once more, God did not consider that to be good.

I wonder how many of our churches are represented in that lounge. People gather each Sunday morning to sing songs, read Scripture, listen to an inspiring message. They are together, yet separate. Someone recently told me about the experience a group of her friends had while visiting a particular church. After they expressed that their interest was only to attend on Sundays because of their many other responsibilities, they were advised to find a different church. As I began to ponder this, in light of Paul’s comments, I think this church may have the right idea. Perhaps we ought to be turning people away who only want to attend on Sunday morning, evening or other services and encourage them to go to the mall instead; they can be surrounded by many people doing the same thing without the need to connect with any of them.

So why are people not connecting? Maybe we can blame our disconnectedness on technology and the media. Or better yet, we can blame it on the fast-paced demands of urban life (for those of us who are urban). I’m sure that if we really try, we can find multiple culprits for our own inability to connect deeply with others.

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Personally, I think the problem is within ourselves. Who’s to say that the reason we spend meaningful hours in front of meaningless media is not to hide from others? I believe we have to look at our nature’s tendency to reject that which God considered good for us. We’ve never liked the imposition of what is “good for us,” much less when the one imposing it on us is God, with whom we are no longer walking in the garden and talking face to face. If it was not good for man to be alone, we can conclude that God thought that it was good for man to be connected. Since God imposed on us this need to connect, then our natural human tendency will be to withdraw.

So what do I conclude? People aren’t naturally going to seek connectedness. As Christians, connecting in community is not an option that we can choose to pursue or ignore. It is through connection that “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13, TNIV). If we want to make a difference in this world, if we want to make a difference as Christians in this world, if we want to do what is good, we must not be alone.

I’m not going to give up my laptop, but I may choose to put it down for a time and start a conversation instead. Maybe it will be a conversation on the great epistemological questions of life, or it may be a seemingly meaningless conversation on the weather. Perhaps we will talk about relational problems with friends, family, co-workers or God, or perhaps we will talk about the latest celebrity gossip. It’s OK as long as the connection begins.

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