Right now, in the North American church, there is a huge emphasis on Christian community, small groups, and doing life with other believers. I think this comes as a reaction to a culture that becomes more and more individualistic by the minute. So, instead of withdrawing from others who are different than we are, the church is saying that “in Christ” there is no longer black, nor white, rich, nor poor, male nor female. We are all one and thus we ought to live in a community that demonstrates this bond. I think this is a beautiful and biblical message.
And yet I wonder if this emphasis has gone too far when I hear sermons that say that we cannot be a faithful Christian unless we live in Christian community. While we were in Cameroon, without much of a Christian community, we listened to a sermon online that said this very thing. This claim made me wonder if we are actually being unfaithful to the Lord for having left Christian community behind in order to go overseas.
Christian community is a gift and it is not ideal to leave it and yet, I think that there are other gifts from the Lord that can make up for this loss when necessary. I can testify to the faithfulness of the Lord through the following means when there wasn’t the luxury of Christian community:
1. The Sufficiency of Scripture
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
We have committed our lives to Bible translation because we believe this verse. And we believe it not just for the Bakoum people – that the Bible will be sufficient for them, but we believe it for ourselves. The Bible is profitable to rebuke us and correct us when we are in sin. It is able to teach us to be righteous. It helps us to be competent in our work on the mission field. And it gives us what we need for every single good work.
The Bible is powerful and not just when it come through the lips of someone in my small group – it can speak for itself when I don’t have one.
By implication, this means that even though we don’t have access to all the new, great parenting books, we have the book of Proverbs. I have read and re-read that book hundreds of times looking to it for wisdom in parenting our kids. I have poured over the letters of Paul the missionary, absolutely amazed at his passion for those he was seeking to win to Christ. He sets the bar high for the new missionary and I treasure his heart, his determination, his zeal. In times of great loneliness, Psalm 139 reminded me time and time again that the Lord was intimately involved in my every thought and my every word, in whatever language I was trying to speak.
There is a place for benefiting from the study of others through reading and seeking counsel, and yet when the Bible is all you have you realize that it is actually the treasure that the godly counselor was trying to get you to all along.
2. The Gift of the Spirit
When we left Christian community, we did not leave God. God, in the person of the Holy Spirit resides in the believer and that is why the light of God cannot be snuffed out in darkness when even just one believer is present. It is true that believers together are what are being build up, brick by brick, into the temple of God. But for this to happen in unreached communities, sometimes individual bricks need to go out on their own for a while until there are converts to Christ in the new community. The new and living temple of God will always be incomplete until members from every tribe, tongue, and nation are part of it.
3. The Gift of Trials
I say all this not to say that Christian community is unnecessary. It is a gift and a treasure that I am so thankful for, especially as we spend time in the States. And it is this very community that we are striving to create among the Bakoum. Healthy local churches that worship Jesus is what missions is for.
And yet, I think that we are insulting the Holy Spirit when we say that his voice is only as loud as the voices of those in our accountability groups. He does use other believers as tools in the lives of Christians and yet his main weapon of choice is the Word of God. The Word of God has penetrated my heart time and time again even though my home church was oceans away.
Jesus is building his church and nothing can stand in his way. And what he is building is beautiful and it is natural for Christians to stay within the family they were called into. And that is why I think at the very end of the Great Commission, Jesus reassures his disciples, “I am with you always.” Even though you may be alone, far from other Christians for a time, I will make it up out of the fullness of my own presence.
Four years ago, I took this promise by faith, but after having seen his faithfulness on the field, it is by sight that I say that he has never left nor forsaken me.