“From the beginning it was clear that Christianity is something people do together. Having said that, the earliest writers were also concerned that all members of the Body of Christ should be awake and active in personal faith; should know their own responsibilities and make real for themselves the privilege of worship. That way, when the whole assembly gathers together, each will have his or her own joy and sorrow, insight and question, to bring.”
N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, p. 157
Acts 2:42 shows us that from the beginning that Church understood the importance of being together. These first followers of Jesus devoted themselves to learning and living out their faith together. Christianity is, at its core, a communal faith. The Bible teaches the importance of gathering together, of being in fellowship with one another, and of working together for the Kingdom.
Yet, we cannot separate the importance of Christian community from the personal faith of individuals. The writers of the New Testament understood that while the Church is the “Body of Christ” and the “Family of God”, each individual member of the Body must also have their own personal faith. This means each person needs to know their own responsibilities and take an active role in the ministry of the church community.
In our modern Christian culture, it is easy to see our faith as something that is purely personal. Many Christians view faith as a private matter, something that they practice on their own. While there is certainly value in personal faith and the spiritual disciplines that we do on our own, this idea overlooks the importance of living out our faith in community. When we gather together as a church family, we are able to encourage each other, to learn from one another, and to grow together in our faith.
The early Church understood this well. They knew that the faith could not be lived out on privately. They committed themselves to gather regularly to worship, to study the scriptures, and to pray. In these gatherings, these followers of Jesus were able to share their joys and sorrows, to ask questions and seek answers, and to offer support one another in their spiritual formation.
Being committed to a church family was not just about gathering together. The New Testament writers and other early Christian writers also emphasized the importance of personal faith. There was an expectation that each disciple was to take an active role in their own spiritual growth. They were encouraged to meditate scriptures, to pray, to fast, to serve, to give generously, and to seek God's will for their lives.
This personal faith was essential because it allowed each disciple of Jesus to develop their own personal relationship with Jesus, and the unique experience and perspective of each person would strengthen the community as a whole.
While we have lost the importance of this ideal it is still something we should encourage in our modern church context. When we gather together as a community of believers, we each bring something unique to the table. We each have our own experiences, our own questions, and our own insights to share. By coming together, we are able to learn from one another, to grow together, partner with one another for the work of ministry, and encourage each other in various ways.
Christianity is both a communal and a personal faith. From the beginning, it was clear that the faith could not be lived out in isolation. The early Christian communities gathered together regularly to worship, to study the scriptures, and to pray. At the same time, they also emphasized the importance of personal faith. Each individual member of the community was expected to take responsibility for their personal spiritual formation.
If we are going to model our modern expressions of faith after the New Testament example we need to recapture the truth the following Jesus is both a communal and an individual activity. We need to commit to doing those activities that will grow our personal faith and we do to commit to participating in the life of a local church family.