September 28, 2020

What Did Jesus’ Version of Community Look Like?

Commenter: Please explain what you mean by:”community as Jesus exemplified it”. Thanks

It is the community that Jesus created and demonstrated during his earthly ministry.

I would describe it as:

Cross cultural: Jesus crossed every available cultural barrier to announce and practice the Kingdom.

Counter cultural: Jesus was offering an alternative to the dominant cultural and religious options in his world.

Inclusive: Jesus was creating community that included all of the excluded at every level. He dd this– as he did all of his community movement– with total intentionality.

Kingdom Gospel-centered: Jesus the King made the reality of the present and coming Kingdom of God the center of his movement. This center was clearly seen, and stood in contrast to the “Kingdom boundary” thinking of other Jews.

God-centered: God is present and active, as Father, creator, and redeemer of a broken and lost world.

Confrontative: Jesus confronted the powers at every level, using the weapons of love, truth and the Holy Spirit.

Radical: Jesus’ version of community was radical in its nature and demands. Compare it to the expectations people had of family and religion.

Sacrificial: Jesus’ community was identified with sacrifice, i.e. a willingness to suffer that God’s will might be done.

Healing: Jesus’ movement was restorative, including praying for and working for healing of persons and relationships. (This included spiritual warfare and deliverance.)

Didactic: Jesus constantly taught his disciples his constantly reflect on the meaning of the Kingdom of God.

Prayerful: Jesus taught his disciples to pray.

Invitational and Open: All were invited to come. All were invited to believe in Jesus as the messiah.

Non-institutional (in its essence)
: Jesus gave few if any indications that his movement would take on serious institutional forms. It may have institutional expressions and fruits, but that isn’t the essence of the movement.


Missional: Jesus’ movement was focused on the Gospel ministry and engaged in other kinds of ministry that established the presence and power of God’s compassionate Kingdom.

Jesus shaped and Jesus centered.

Becoming part of this movement was what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.


  1. *sigh* I’m about at the stage that I’ll scream out loud if I hear one more mention of the Essenes. No offence to anyone on here, but they’ve been the catch-all group for way-out theories once too often: you want to argue that the early Church was composed of vegetarian teetotallers who lived in communes? Use the Essenes as proof! Jesus was a Buddhist? He learned this when He was with the Essenes!

    If we absolutely must discuss the shape of the hierarchy, which we seem to be getting sidetracked on, regarding the point about seminary education: one of the scandals during the Reformation, which the Reformers were eager to point out, was the ‘priest simplex’; men who were licenced to say Mass but could not hear confessions or preach. The Reformers, justifiably, pointed to the scandal of men gabbling prayers they did not understand (and mangling them so that the pronunciation, words and meaning were lost) and this was one of the things addressed in the Counter-Reformation, and why seminary education and proper training was insisted upon.

    The Apostles were a special case, they knew Jesus personally and were under the direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost. And they weren’t all unlearned; besides which, just because some of them were fishermen doesn’t mean they were illiterate or stupid. They seem to have been fairly well up in their Jewish faith, for starters.

    Once any body gets a couple of hundred years under its belt, it is going to get more complicated organisationally. When people start bringing you tangles such as “But how many gods are there in the Trinity?” and “What exactly is the nature of Jesus?”, not to mention the pitfalls of moral theology, then you need more than just “Read this verse.”

    Same way we don’t rely on Granny’s home remedies to heal all our ills, but go to medical professionals who’ve undergone years of training and are highly edumacated 😉

    Michael, some of the points you raise – e.g. celibate clergy – are matters of discipline, not doctrine or dogma. But I’m not interested in doing an imitation of a Catholic Apologist; can we get back to discussing what the Body of Christ might look like?

  2. I’m with Surfnetter on this (good grief, amity is breaking out all over!)

    The world is part of the Community of God. We don’t – as Christians – live in little bubbles; unless we never set foot outside our front door, we’re going to be meeting other people, even if it’s only the guy who comes to read the electricity meter or the girl on the supermarket checkout.

    How we interact with them, how we live, what example we give – this is all part of community. Unless someone is seriously going to get up on his or her hind legs and say that we should behave in one way to non-Christians or the unregenerate, and save our Christian fellowship for our own cosy little circle of like-minded believers?

  3. Martha and all — “And they weren’t all unlearned; besides which, just because some of them were fishermen doesn’t mean they were illiterate or stupid.”

    Back then most fishermen may have been unable to read or write, but I guarantee none of them were stupid. There are no stupid successful fishermen. Attention to detail and being able to decipher what is going on in the unseen world under the surface is essential.

    Today’s American fishing community (what’s left of it) boasts more upper level degrees then most would imagine. I have a year of law school on my resume, along with three undergraduate degrees.

    As far as sheer stupidity goes, I think priests and ministers have being displaying quite a bit of that of late — don’t you …?

  4. sue kephart says

    The Roman Empire was quite a sophisticated culture as well as was the Jewish culture at that time. I think they could read and write (they wrote letters). I don’t think any of them were stupid. They were educated in their religious tradition and history.

  5. Sue — Most probably were illiterate. The Jews were surprised that Jesus could read. And being educated in tradition and history was essential for survival. It was like us knowing the right price to pay for gasoline or whether you put milk or orange juice in your coffee. Their religion was the air they breathed, whether they liked it or not.

    The very fact that there is a open discussion about what a Christian community should look like displays the stark difference of the civilization we were all born into compared to where the world has been up until only a couple of centuries ago. We would be having this meeting in some dark cellar somewhere wondering if any of us was a spy planning to turn us all in to the Inquisition. (And yes — Protestants had them too.)

    The “freedom” that we have come to consider our birthright as Modern Westerners, is really death, when you think of it. I find that is my biggest obstacle in becoming a member of God’s Community — no one can tell me what to do — not even God — I’m an American, d–m it! 🙂

  6. sue kephart says

    Could you have confused the essenes with the zealots? Peter was a zealot.

  7. Bob Brague says

    sue kephart,

    Jesus didn’t have seminary training; therefore, to quote your own words, he must have been “a preacher who can barley [sic] read and write” and since, also to use your own words, you will not accept a pastor who does not have seminary training because of, apparently, your “tradtion” [sic], tell me this:

    What will you do with Jesus?

    A preacher who can barley [sic] read and write might be just what you need.

    Perhaps you have made the word of God of none effect by your tradtion [sic].

  8. Great list. My pastor (SBC) thinks so to. Of course, he is not a true believer SBC (more calvin than Arminius, thinks drinking is ok and has even been known to dance with his wife)

  9. sue kephart says


    Jesus is God. My pastor only human.

    I am not putting down people who can’t read or write. As someone else said: I want a doctor who went to medical school.

  10. >Peter was a zealot.


    Where are you getting this?

    Could you give me the name of any legitimate New Testament scholarly work that believes that? Bart Ehrman and Dan Brown excepted.

  11. Is the “Peter the Zealot” thing possibly a confusion of Peter who was Simon with Simon the Zealot?

    Or if we like some more confusion spread on our bread, Simon the possibly-means-‘from-Canaan’? 😉

  12. Surfnetter – you could have been a lawyer? Lucky escape! 😉

  13. sue kephart says


    Not being a perfect person I always leave open the possiblity of being wrong. I can’t tell you where I learned that.

  14. Most translations are going with Simon the “Canaanite” and most NT scholars believe the Zealots were more indigenous resistance (brigands to Roman authority) than a formal movement/party.

    Sue: That’s fair. I’ve never heard Peter called a zealot. But there is a disciple called Simon “Zealotes” or some variant.

  15. Just from studying the NT, I would have to say that the first century church was much more relational and focused on healthy, Christ-centered relationships than it was on developing any specific institutional or organizational structure. Sure, they had leaders, but there is little or no Biblical evidence that they had a hierarchy of religious “offices.” Take for example Paul’s method of establishing leaders in the churches he helped found. Read the book of Acts and you’ll see that Paul did not set up leaders immediately. He made sure that the local community of believers got started on the right foot, and then he left them to their own devices without any official leadership. It wasn’t until he revisited these churches (sometimes years later) that he ordained (publicly confirmed or recognized) elders — which I might add was a common Greek term most commonly used to refer to men of proven standing and character within a community or family. Basically, Paul allowed time for leaders to emerge naturally and then publicly recognized those who had already stepped up to the plate. That sounds like an excellent idea to me.
    As far as any kind of liturgy or set order of services, I don’t see any evidence that they had either. The closest thing to instructions for order in church gatherings can be found in I Corinthians. Check out chapter 14 (particularly verses 26-33) and you’ll find Paul encouraging a state of affairs in which everyone has something from the Holy Spirit to bring to the table for the collective edification of the church. He only stipulates that they do so in a polite and orderly manner. No liturgy. No bulletin. Just the Holy Spirit communicating and acting through individual members of Christ’s body. It’s beatifully simplistic and (if you’ve ever had the privilige of witnessing this kind of thing in action) awe-inspiring to behold. In my opinion, the sad fact that this kind of collective, interactive, spontaneously Spirit-led body ministry was eventually abandoned (and even outlawed) stands as one of the biggest tragedies of church history.
    I’m just gonna state this plainly, so please forgive me if you’re deeply offended and feel free to inform me if you think I’m way off base. I believe that the church’s gradual evolution from the simplistic and relational to the complex and organizational was not part of Christ’s original design or plan for His bride-to-be. Looking honestly at church history, I would say that transition took place as a result of moving the central focus from love-based community to doctrinal correctness (which was an understandable reaction to the rise of false teachings) in the late first and early second centuries, the church fathers inventing and then widening the seperation of clergy and laity in the second and third centuries, the marriage of the church and the Roman government in the fourth century, and the basic fallen tendency of we humans to be control freaks, regardless of what century we live in. I think these changes involved not just the addition of organizational structure and hierarchal government, but also a shift in the church’s basic character and focus.
    Did Christ continue to work in and through His church even after we thoroughly institutionalized ourselves? I believe He did and still does. Can we as Christians dump all the religious baggage we’ve collected over the centuries and rediscover simple, Spirit-led, relational community in Christ? With His help, I believe we can.
    That’s all I’m gonna say.

  16. MAJ Tony says

    Ron, I doubt that you will find everything in the Bible that the Apostles taught, because they probably didn’t feel the need to write down everything in it that everyone would have known, such as liturgy, which would have shared many common traits with Judaic practices (chanting of psalms, reading of scripture, sermonizing, hymns, and of course Eucharist). Of course, that did develop somewhat over time so you have the various liturgical traditions (Gregory, James, Basil, etc.) but they all are interconnected and do the same thing in similar but diverse ways. Another thing to consider is the Bible tells us that the Church is the authority. 1 Tim. 3:15 , Matt. 18:17 .

    Holders of “sola scriptura” will tend to practically canonize anything written outside of scripture 1600 AD and beyond that says “sola scriptura” but ignore extra-biblical references from the early church (pre-Constantine) that would refute that very notion, either in word or deed.

    If you look back to the history of the church in the volumes of patristic liturature (works of the “fathers” who are those who knew the Apostles, who learned from them) you will find there is much support for both the physical institution and the liturgical forms. One such example is the Didache.

  17. Hey Tony, thanks for responding without throwing any big rocks. I’m aware that I’m a wee bit radical in my views, and I have a nasty and annoying habit of questioning everything under the sun. I probably wouldn’t have fared very well (or lived very long) in Europe during the Middle Ages.
    Firstly, I’d like to address your statement that the Church is the authority, citing I Timothy 3:15 and Matthew 18:17. In the first verse Paul calls the church “the pillar and support of the truth.” I take Paul to mean is that a key indentifying aspect of the church is that it upholds the truth, which is Christ Himself, the source and embodiment of all truth. To interpret that to mean that whatever the church decides to support and uphold (or mandate) magically becomes truth … I’m sorry, I just can’t buy that. Jesus is the truth, the way, the life, and the head and supreme authority over His church, and when we collectively uphold His truth, then we’re being His body. If we’re not doing that — but rather upholding our own understanding, opinions, traditions, and preferred ways of doing things and calling it truth — then we might want to examine ourselves.
    In regards to the other verse you cited, I don’t pretend to know the full scope of what Jesus meant by “binding and loosing,” but if you go on to read verses 19 and 20, apparently just two or three people can do it. I’m guessing that Jesus is talking about the supernatural power of getting together with other believers and praying in faith according to God’s will. It seems a bit of a stretch to interpret that as Jesus giving blank-check approval to absolutely any practice, policy, ritual, or doctrine the church chooses to establish.
    As far as church as an institution, professional clergy, liturgies, and the like, I have my opinions, but I don’t claim to know God’s mind in these matters. When you get into issues of postBiblical church history, it always comes down to the question: Was this orchestrated or approved by God or not? The tendency is to always say “yes” when it comes to those things embraced by your own church institution or denomination and “no” to everything else. I know it’s not going to happen anytime soon, but I think Christian institutions would do well to take some time to examine themselves and their history, and dare to ask the questions: Where did this come from and why do we do it? The answers they find might surprise them.