One of the many jobs I had as a university student was AV tech for the seminary I attended. That meant that I was at almost every special event the school put on. I wasn’t always there because I was interested and had nothing else to do–sometimes, I was there simply to record the speaker. It did mean that while other students used the time to finish a paper, I got to hear the speaker, all of whom were interesting in some way or another.
I remember one speaker being asked if he could summarize his faith in one sentence–I think the question came from a student who didn’t like what the speaker was saying and was therefore trying to make him look bad. I have always found the speaker’s answer powerful and exciting. He said something like, “I belong to a community that confesses the Apostle’s Creed”.
In his explanation of the answer, he said that at times, his own faith has been shaky and weak and at those times, he believed that he was carried by the faith of the community he belonged to–in effect, he was using the faith of the community to shore up his personal faith. At other times, his faith was strong and rather than drawing from his confessing community, he helped others shore up their faith.
At the time, I found the comment interesting but I probably didn’t give it a lot of thought–I had a lot of tech stuff to do and then all the equipment to put away after the session got done. But in the years since, that comment has kept coming back and getting more and more important in my thinking about the church and faith.
I believe that I need a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I need to encounter–or be encountered by–God and open myself to him. I have to have a personal faith. But God didn’t intend for me to live that faith all by myself. He intended that my faith should be lived in the context of a community of faithful people.
We each bring our personal and imperfect faith to the community. And as we share and worship and work and study and have potlucks, we help each other with the imperfections of our faith. I may struggle with how to deal with depression as a believing person–and in the context of the faith community, I discover the resources and help I need to do that. I may be a part of the community that struggles to deal with cross-cultural ministry–and in the context of the faith community, I can offer my understanding to help the community grow faithfully in that area. The weakness of my faith is strengthened by the strength of the community and the strength of my faith strengthens the weakness of the community.
Now obviously, this isn’t always the case. We all have horror stories of Christian communities doing serious harm to the faith and the faithful. We also know of horror stories of a person of faith doing serious harm to a faith community. Those stories are way too common, way too painful, way too damaging to the faithful and the faith.
But as painful and as terrible as the stories are, trying to live faith without a community is worse–or at least it is for me. My faith is solid–most of the time. It is sufficient for all that I face–most of the time. It serves me well–most of the time. But in those times outside the “most of the time”, I need the community to carry me, pray for me, encourage me, help me. And so I am committed to the church, the community of imperfect believers seeking to help each other become more what we are supposed to be.
I am not looking for a perfect community. I work within the community I am a part of. But I am not seeing myself as the guru who will make that community perfect. Rather, I am one less than perfect member of the faith community seeking to offer my strength to the community and receiving their strength in my weakness so that all of us together can become more what we are meant to be as individuals and as a community.
May the peace of God be with you.