The Toronto Star recently carried an article entitled “The Gospel of Connectedness.” It was not a religious commentary. The journalist described how seemingly random lives are essentially connected. We are unavoidably linked because we live in community.
In his book Life Together, renowned German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, makes a distinction between spiritual and human community. He explains that “human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake.” Spiritual community is not something that happens naturally. Our spiritual “connectedness” must be intentionally developed to bring people together beneficially. The gospel is filled with appeals for relationship building. For the Christian, community is not simply a matter of where we live but a mind-set, an ethos. Christian community emerges from believers who purposely become a welcoming and inclusive fellowship.
The foundation of Christian community is the triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Trinitarian theology informs our understanding of spiritual community. One God, embodying the co-existence of three Persons co-equal in power and glory, yet one in the richness and beauty of life itself, serves as the divine model of community. God calls us to live under his kingly rule on earth. Community is created as we share the love of Christ with one another.
Postmodern culture has become disillusioned with the institutionalized church. Many disheartened people long to be linked with authentic, hospitable believers. They yearn for a community where they are accepted at face value, for a place where people are real and open, and able to fully express their desire for God. They look for a place where church is a way of life, a true family of believers. Can the 21st-century Salvation Army provide genuine, loving community for people today? Can we be that safe place where people experience acceptance and the liberty to share from their hearts? Can we be God’s light in the darkness of our communities?
People want to connect relationally. As God’s Church, as God’s Army, we are called to reach out to all in the name of Christ. We are called to embrace one another, to become community for one another. The Apostle Paul instructs us to “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us …” (Ephesians 5:1-2). “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another,” said the Apostle John. “… If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:11-12).
The Army’s motto of Heart to God, Hand to Man reminds us that we are all in this together. We are the community of believers. As with Jesus, may we always recognize the potential in all people, looking beyond shortcomings and seeing goodness and beauty in everyone.
As we move into this Lenten season, let us focus on spiritual community, remembering that we are all God’s children. We are all seeking the same Saviour.
Commissioner William W. Francis is the Territorial Commander of The Salvation Army Canada and Bermuda Territory. His wife, Commissioner Marilyn Francis, is the Territorial President for Women’s Ministries. Commissioners Francis have two adult children, Captain William Marshall and Susan Marjorie, plus six grandchildren.