A New Vision for Building Christian Community – The Torch
Western civilization is no longer a Christian civilization. No doubt you recognize the truth of this statement. A third of our generation has no religious affiliation, and this group is concentrated in the cultural and economic poles of the country. Many people who claim to be religious are also “Nones” in practice, as are most of our cultural and intellectual elites. As Christians we must ask ourselves what can be done in response to this fact. The two options seem to be what we will call the Benedict option and the evangelist option. Both of these options have deep flaws, but I would like to offer a combination of the two, a virtuous middle way that can help, in part, to re-evangelize our people.
The Benedict option centers around building an isolated community where you can safely foster a positive culture and raise good children, a strategy exemplified by groups like the Amish. The evangelist option, as I will call the alternative, focuses on sending virtuous people out into the world to improve the communities they enter, traditionally the strategy of orders like the Jesuits. Both the Benedict option and the evangelist option have their downsides, and those downsides are quickly pointed out by the other side of the debate. The downside of the Benedict option is that your ideas, while strong in your community, won’t spread very far. Christ calls us to be in the world, after all. However, The Evangelist Option risks letting our children fall into vice by assimilation. Thus, we need to formulate a community building strategy that can accommodate both of these issues while utilizing the benefits of each option.
In an increasingly non-religious world, you need a community that is secure enough to raise your children with values, giving them a real sense of belonging. Imagine a life in which you leave your church on Sunday, surrounded by big, beautiful families like yours, and the first thing you encounter is your priest who greets you by name. It is your priest, your parish, in a way that we once had as Christians, but are certainly missing now. You can no longer call your friend at the police station and block your street to cars so you can have a block party in honor of your favorite saint’s day. We need to have a community with this lifestyle, centered around a group with similar values, to thrive, but how do we evangelize and bring Christ to the world without weakening this cohesion?
To answer this question, let’s turn to the apostle Philip. Philip, in his mission of evangelization, was sent by God to foreign lands south of his own. On his way, he met a strange man, great adviser to the Queen of Ethiopia who was in charge of the nation’s treasury. He broke the news of Christ to this man and baptized him, beginning the conversion of Ethiopia. There is a crucial wisdom in this story: evangelism often, if not always, involves economic and political engagement. I am not saying that our communities have to be communes or that their members have to be Machiavellian political actors, but the evangelization of our civilization will come through the method of Philip, intentionally moving to a certain place, engaging with power politically and economically, and wielding this power for the propagation of the holy community. In this way, we can plant ourselves in new places to help show others the way to Christ, while at the same time creating a somewhat insular community where we are protected from the pervasive cultural rot that surrounds us.
How do we even begin the process of creating these communities in a world that sometimes seems so hostile to our values? Ultimately, it will take hard work, but people like you across the country are laying the groundwork for this kind of action. Tyler, TX and Steubenville, OH are great examples that come to mind, and it’s entirely possible to start a similar initiative in any place, even one as spiritually ill as Massachusetts. Once the group is formed and the process of intentional community building has begun, the necessary evangelistic work will already be available as a path for those willing to do so. All that keeps us from realizing the dream of better communities is hard work, determination and prayer.
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