Jesus did not come into this world to save isolated individuals scattered here and there. He came to gather to himself a new community — a new kind of community, a beautiful community, set apart by God’s grace, here in a world driven by idolatry and seething with rage.
Of course, Christianity is more than communal. It’s also personal. For example, in Psalm 23, David uses the first-person singular pronouns I, me, and my seventeen times in six verses. And Psalm 23 never uses we, us, and our. But who would accuse David of having written a narcissistic psalm? The gospel rightly leads us into a personal relationship with Jesus, for his glory, our salvation, and the good of others. If our Christianity is not deeply personal, then it is nominal, which is unreal and no good to anyone.
“Jesus is enough to pull people closer together than we would ever be without him.”
But what I’m emphasizing in this article is this: original, apostolic, authentic Christianity is, in the wisdom of God, richly communal. Our relational solidarity together is not an optional frill for extroverts. How dare we trivialize what Christ values? “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). It’s our overt love for one another that makes him more visible in the world today (John 13:34–35). Jesus is enough to pull us closer together than we would ever be without him.
The Communion of Saints
The New Testament repeats and deepens this emphasis. We are “joined together” as “a holy temple” in the Lord, “being built together into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:21–22). Together we embody his kingdom counterculture, a radiant “city set on a hill” (Matthew 5:3–14). We are like the parts of a human body, vitally interconnected (1 Corinthians 12:12–13). I could go on and on.
No wonder, then, that the Apostles’ Creed teaches us to declare, as essential to Christian orthodoxy, “I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints.” If we are not pressing more deeply into this sacred reality together, then our Christianity is not just deficient; it is defective.
Sometimes I wonder about us. What keeps our generation of serious-minded, Reformed Christians from a more life-giving experience of community? Does our wonder stop at the familiar doctrines we keep returning to? Maybe it’s just me, but the relational vitality of real Christianity seems underdeveloped among us. Where are the Calvinists who are known for prizing and nurturing and guarding and enjoying and spreading the relational glories of our shared life in Christ?
Are lasting, deep, and honest friendships included in what we really, really care about? Good preaching, yes. But beautiful community? I don’t know a single Christian anywhere opposed to it. But then I wonder why we often seem to be busier with other concerns.
God Is More Glorified in Us
The central theme of Christian Hedonism is wonderfully stated with words many of us know and respect: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” So many of us embrace that vision, and we rejoice deeply in it.
“Christian Hedonism shines most brightly when it not only fills one heart but a whole room.”
But at a practical level, how does that bold conviction work best? We gain an insight when we focus on two words in there: us and we. Obviously, we wouldn’t be wrong to say, “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.” But there is wisdom in articulating Christian Hedonism in terms of us and we. Consistent with the whole of authentic Christianity, Christian Hedonism shines most brightly when it fills not just one heart but a whole room.
Yes, delight in the Lord can be seen in me or in you as individuals. But it is seen more captivatingly in us together. When Christ is visible not only in you, and not only in me, but also in the relational dynamics between you and me, then we are more prophetic. Then we might compel the attention of our generation.
Where Weakness Belongs
Personally, I can’t imagine trying to walk this earthly path to glory except shoulder to shoulder with other fainthearted, weak-kneed stumblers like me. Here’s why. Sooner or later, we all discover that our hearts can go insane with impulses opposite to the gospel we revere.
And it isn’t preaching and books and articles alone that get us back on track. We need those helps, for sure. But a big part of our own theology is pointing us, over and over, toward the life and walk we can share together. How wonderful! It is so great not to be alone in our weakness and failures. God has mercifully located us in among his people, where aspiring Christian Hedonists who are sometimes lousy at Christian Hedonism still belong. Christian Hedonism doesn’t exist to keep the weak out; it exists to draw more sinners in — and keep them in, and keep them growing, by keeping them encouraged.
Here then is how all of us can grow. We come together, thanks to our God-given, grace-sustained belonging. We take it on faith, and we come on in. Then, again thanks to God’s grace, we dare to face our weakness. We dare to walk together in courageous honesty. Abstract ideals cannot help us, no matter how admirable they might be. But consistent honesty about our actual shortcomings does help.
Who Hears Your Confessions?
How do we start moving into that kind of community? James 5:16 leaps off the biblical page as a realistic path forward: “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” That simple command raises a personal, practical question: To whom do I confess my sins?
Of course, if you and I are always fully glorifying God by being fully satisfied in him, then we don’t need James 5:16. But we do need it. We love Jesus, we delight in him, we long for him. He has won our hearts, way down deep. But sadly, we get complicated. Sometimes we get bored and “blah” with him, or restless to run from him, or proudly resentful toward him, and so forth. So much foolishness, so many contradictions, within! We are serious sinners. We are deeply flawed. We are pervasively weak. Aren’t we?
That is a big part of the reason Jesus put us in his church, where we’re all serious sinners, deeply flawed, pervasively weak. Let’s get real about it together, with concrete specifics, among the people we belong to in our own churches.
That We May Be Healed
I respect the realism of Martin Luther:
May a merciful God preserve me from a Christian Church in which everyone is a saint! I want to be and remain in the church and little flock of the fainthearted, the feeble and the ailing, who feel and recognize the wretchedness of their sins, who sigh and cry to God incessantly for comfort and help, who believe in the forgiveness of sins. (Luther’s Works, 22:55)
With Luther, we long for saintliness. But he understood that true saintliness gets traction in the fellowship of sinners who come out of hiding and start confessing. They live in James 5:16. It isn’t rocket science. It’s basically simple. We confess, we pray, and we start healing. What chance does the holiness of Christian Hedonism have, then, if we hide our private failings while waving a public banner of theological correctness? Our own private willpower fails us. We need to get together, in our churches and small groups, and, with no coercion or shaming, come clean about how we aren’t living faithfully.
Then we can bow together. We can pray for one another. And the promise of Scripture is that we will experience healing, renewal, and joy, all to the glory of God.