The Primary Unit of the Christian Faith

If we genuinely believe that the church is actually the primary unit of the ‘Christian life’, (rather than the individual) then this has massive implications for how we live our lives and how we follow Jesus.

The ‘I’ always becomes secondary to the ‘we’.

In our individualised western world this is abhorrent. And to be sure, this opens the door to terrible abuses of power, but then it also opens the door to rich and inspiring experiences of community that we have probably never imagined possible.

I am convinced of the truth of this concept, but I am not at all convinced of how I ought to live it, or live it with others.

The implications are significant – huge even. I discuss possible new jobs with my church considering the impact my job would have on us. I discuss my pay rise with my community because that has an impact on us. I share my sin and my struggles with my community because that impacts us.

I think it all sounds very foreign – and it is, but I wonder if it isn’t closer to the plan that the way we currently live?…

What would it require of us to live like this in Australia today?…

Would we even dare to consider it?

As we read the Bible the primary unit of the Christian faith is clearly ‘us’, but I think we have lost that so badly we cannot even conceive of how it may look again.divx big fish

15 thoughts on “The Primary Unit of the Christian Faith

  1. Good question Hamo.

    I definately agree but am also at a loss as to how to actually ‘live’ that. I certainly feel (and I am as guilty as the next person) that most people my age (and maybe older, I won’t speak for them) are, more and more, ‘distancing’ themselves from the ‘church’ as they experience it. Maybe this has something to do with the increasing shunning of organisational or institutionalised church.

    Which raises another question for me. Given most Christians ARE in institutional church, should we be encouraging those people against being more individual whilst they are in that climate? I’m not at all against people leaving that style for more grass roots styles (like yourself) but so many of my Christian friends like to keep the ‘good’ bits of big church but make all their choices and live their lives fairly seperate from.

    Food for thought for me at least.

  2. Hi Hamo,

    Thanks for the reflection. This is one of the most difficult questions around, I think. As I study movements of the past, they seem to have a corporate reality which includes a social, political, economic shape which is very difficult to envisage in our time.

    As Peter Maurin has said:

    Out of the Temple

    Christ drove the money


    out of the Temple.

    But today nobody dares

    to drive the money lenders

    out of the Temple.

    And nobody dares

    to drive the money lenders

    out of the Temple

    because the money lenders

    have taken a mortgage

    on the Temple.

    When church builders build


    with money borrowed from

    money lenders

    they increase the prestige

    of the money lenders.

    But increasing the prestige

    of the money lenders

    does not increase the prestige

    of the Church.

    Which makes Archbishop

    McNicholas say:

    “We have been guilty

    of encouraging tyranny

    in the financial world

    until it has become

    a veritable octopus

    strangling the life

    of our people.”

    There seems to be an integration of contemporary social, political and economic structures into the church to such an extent that imagining anything else is fantastically difficult. How would you answer your question, Hamo?

    Peace to you,


  3. How much more is this individualistic mindset difficult to shake off the larger your “church community” is. Once your church stops looking like a group of people, and instead starts looking like an organisation, the impact that your own life decisions has on “the church” starts being harder to see – and the “us” can be so much more difficult to identify with.

  4. Hamo, I think we must be on the same wavelength this week. I recently wrote a post, highlighting that you never see the word “saint” in scripture, only “saints”. I think one of the ways the church is called to be counter-cultural is in challenging individualism in word and deed, and that accomodating individualism runs closer to syncretism than contextualization. As a rather independant minded guy this can be a bitter pill to swallow.

    But there is a flip side to this. Having experienced church-herd mentality oppressiveness I think James above raises an important issue. There is a place for prophetic critique and that does by its very nature mean stepping out from the crowd. How do we hold this in tension. I take a leaf out of Paul’s book with his analogy of the body; there is a place for distinctiveness within community but our focus must be on edification of all.

    So to chart a course between the extremes of individualism and totalitarianism I would affirm that we are all social-individuals and body-members. We all have our distinctive functions and legitimate ideosyncracies, but these must be viewed within the broader community context, and they risk becoming toxic if not.

    We must challenge the individualism of our culture, not by suppressing our uniqueness, but by redirecting it.

  5. Hey Hamo,

    Thanks for the post. I’ve been wrestling with this too. I think something that has been overlooked is not so much that we have gone from living as community to individuals but from one kind of community to another kind of community. Most people are not alone in the world they still have some kind of connection with others. I’m thinking that people at the moment are more like webpages I might be linked to you but not everyone I’m linked to is also linked to you. If that makes sense… Wether we embrace, subvert or reject this structure is the big question.

  6. Hi Chris – I am not convinced that the networked community will ever be a genuine substitute for the local community.

    I know its a current reality, but I am less sure that it ought to be so!

  7. Geoff – I think seeing church this way absolutely necessitates a smaller form.

    It doesn’t mean there can be never be any bigger events, but it would seem to me that if we want to live this way then the ‘big’ would run second to the small.

    In current structures both exist, but I tend to think the emphases is placed more strongly on the big.

  8. Matt – I agree – bad community is not necesarily better than no community.

    But I reckon we need to push a bit harder towards healthy community.

    In a world ruled by economics I think this will be much trickier than it sounds!

  9. Hi mate

    good post. It is something we are really looking at at the minute. Funnily enough yesterday I visited the City of Swan to talk about their indigenous training programs for my research in my job. The person talking to me explained how the indigenous mindset was so different to us: “They don’t simply think of themselves as individuals, they think as part of a community” she said. I resisted the urge to go “Duh – are you trying to tell me something new? The Bible has been banging on about that as the paradigm for the people of God for millennia.” But as I said I resisted the urge – these local government employees all have a beefy security guard somewhere in the building.

  10. Interesting that you used ‘church’ with a lower-case ‘c’, then people have been responding by talking about ‘big-C-church’ (even without gramatically capitalising).

    Just a way of saying that I think you’re right, Hamo, but I don’t think that we need to ditch the established BIG church to live it (we could, but maybe we don’t need to…)

    It is probably unrealistic (and perhaps dangerous!) to base decisions on your own life on the mindset of 500.

    It’s probably tricky to do it with 40! (there goes the baptist church number!)

    However – if people of this generation can recapture a collective mindset by operating with 8 – 10 people in collaboration, we start to have a win.

    This way, the CHURCH (big-C one) continues to operate with it’s event style method, utilising the resources of many to (hopefully) effect useful change within the community that it exists in.

    The church (small-c group of 8 – 10) get to put collective practices into place by living a life of dependance and reliance, making relational impacts all around them, as they get to experience something that many Australians (let alone Christians!) can only dream about.

    I reckon that if you want to live collaboratively, the best thing to do is to find 1 other person who’ll do it with you.

    Expecting an entire church to change in the space of a generation is unreal.

    It might happen (we serve a mighty God!) but it’s an unreal expectation.

  11. Sorry – I realise that I spoke in terms of ‘ditching’ one or the other, but of course the post did not allude to this…

    It was more a reflection of my own transient thinking which flicks between ditching, embracing and tolerating.

  12. Hey Hamo, I thought you might say that and I think you could be right but I might spend a little longer banging my networking stone to see if I can get a drop of community blood out of it.

  13. Chris – I think it has become a default because of the degree to which our lives are wed to a western economic structure.

    We need actually ‘x’ dollars to live which means working ‘y’ hours to get the $$.

    For those like yourself who work for low paying Christian organisations you simple can’t work for a few years and pay off the mortgage and then re-evaluate from there!

    But it does come at a cost.

    I was chatting with a friend about this today and neither of us have any simple solutions.

    Complex solutions maybe…

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