I believe Christian community should be seen as the most convincing and important apologetic for the Christian faith.
We tend to divide church activity into externally focused activities and internally focused activities. External activities are things like community outreach, evangelism, and missions. Internally focused activities are things like Bible studies and fellowship. As many churches decline or stagnate at best, leaders tend to think the solution is to become more externally focused. If the people in the church would just engage more with their coworkers and neighbors, then we wouldn’t have this problem. If church members would just care more about people outside of the church, this wouldn’t happen. If they just had a better understanding of how to have weird, forced Gospel conversations with strangers, this wouldn’t be a problem.
In the book of John, Jesus says that we will be known as disciples of Jesus because of our love for one another. Jesus makes this statement after washing the disciples’ feet and showing them what it means to be “great” in the kingdom of God. Our internal focus of humble, christlike love toward one another is also our external focus of proclaiming the Gospel to others. I don’t believe the external and internal activities can be separated. The implication of this statement that Jesus makes is that our love for one another is one of the most overlooked apologetics for the Christian faith.
I believe the way Christians interact and love one another is the most important apologetic and proof of the truth of the gospel. It’s not only through logic. It’s not through appealing to historical evidence. It’s not through comparing Christianity to other religions. It’s through the love flowing from Jesus in and through his body, the church.
1. When people met Jesus, they told others to come and see him for themselves.
Both the Gospel of John and the book of 1 John open by emphasizing the reality of the flesh and blood body of Jesus. He makes the point that he spoke to him, saw him, and touched him. Something that was only an immaterial concept in writings and prophecies became flesh and dwelt among us. John makes the point that he saw the Word and through him, God, who no one had ever seen before, was now made known. John the Baptist (not the writer of the Gospel) said that he had seen and witnessed that Jesus is the Son of God. Then, as the disciples meet Jesus, they go find others and invite them to “come and see.”
They didn’t try to convince others about the identity of Jesus through persuasive arguments and philosophy. Instead, they said, “come and see.” They invited people to come meet Jesus and experience him for themselves.
2. When Jesus left and the Holy Spirit established the church, we Christians became Jesus’ body in the world.
Later, Jesus tells his disciples that they will do the same works that he has done. He even says they will do greater works than he has. He then goes on to explain that he is going to leave them, but he will send the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit came, he established a body made up of many bodies who would collectively do the work that Jesus was doing during his ministry.
When Jesus was here, he could only be in one place at one time. Now, Jesus can be anywhere there is a Christian or a body of believers in the world. The impact is greater, and so we are able to do greater things in that sense.
3. We should still be able to invite people to come and see Jesus by inviting them to experience Christian community.
So what does it mean for us today? What does it mean for us to say, “come and see”?
When the Holy Spirit came, he established the church as the new body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians, Paul refers to the church as the body of Christ with Jesus as the head. He says that we all have gifts and abilities to use. Then he emphasizes that humble, sacrificial love should be the foundation for the unity of the body.
When I was in seminary working on my Mdiv, I had to read a book titled Total Church. The authors emphasize the value of Christian community and the importance of inviting people who are not Christians into the community to experience it. The authors write, “In our experience people are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the Christian message. If a believing community is a persuasive apologetic for the gospel, then people need to be included to see that apologetic at work.”
We were saved to become a part of community and family. Jesus came and established this new community through his ministry and sacrifice, and he has commissioned us to work with him to fulfill his mission. On the one hand, focusing on Christian community is internally focused. We should bear one another’s burdens, suffer together, rejoice together, preach the gospel to one another, and do life together. However, focusing on Christian community is also externally focused. Today, we should still be able to say “come and see” Jesus to the people around us by inviting them into our Christian communities. This will only work if Christians choose to make Christian community a priority in their lives.