Summary: We must agree that the "habit" of not meeting together is counter-productive to making disciples.
Breaking the "Habit" of Isolationism
Pastor Jim Luthy
In the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing, both here and in our TLC Groups, the value of living in community. You might recall that we talked about the "Paradox of Community," where we hunger for intimacy yet we fear intimacy. Then we talked about the problem of individualism, that natural tendency to consider ourselves supreme or sovereign. The antidote to that, as we discussed last week, is the joining together in small communities where we operate with one purpose that is not our own—to make disciples.
Tonight I want to discuss another problem that interferes with our living together in community and, ultimately, in fulfilling our purpose to becoming better disciples and making more and better disciples. This problem is isolation. Isolationism is a direct result of individualism. Individualism sends us into life as our own masters, promising control yet leaving us wounded and alone. It is our nature, when wounded and alone, to isolate ourselves. By doing so, we think we regain control by blocking out all the other people and influences that tend to increase our pain or remind us just how alone we are.
Is this not what we do?
Hebrews 10:25 says, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing." The 1st century writer of the letter to the Hebrew believers recognized that it became the habit, or ethos, of at least some, to quit meeting together. This natural tendency has been played out through history and continues to this day.
Ancient cities were marked by great walls of isolation. I picture in my mind medieval castles surrounded by motes. Alligators swimming around in the mote. Trolls under the bridge! Entire nations have built walls of isolation – the Great Wall of China and The Berlin Wall. Fortunately, in America, we don’t have too much of that. We might gain some sense of it as we try to pass over from the U.S. to Canada and perhaps more if passing into Mexico. But, quite frankly, I don’t have any idea, for example, where Portland ends and Gresham begins. Is there a big wall there?
Yet there is a more subtle move toward isolation that exists in our culture. In the 1950’s we began to see the development of suburbs. The development of the automobile made it possible to commute to work while living in a more isolated world than the city. At first it was just the homes that went into the suburbs. Over time, suburbs like Gresham have become pretty much self-contained, with entertainment, dining options, shopping, and even many of the jobs. We’ve built our own castle here.
Over time, even the suburb has not provided enough isolation. Houses used to be built right up along the road with a nice big porch, so people walking by could visit with one another. In the 60’s and 70’s, the houses moved farther back off the road, the porches got smaller, and white picket fences were replaced with 6 foot high cedar. Along with urban growth came the dream to move even farther out, into the country, perhaps find some wooded acreage. How many of us haven’t wished, at one time or another, that we could live where Don and Linda Woods live? Nice big property. Peace and quiet. We envy them!
Please understand that there is nothing wrong with living in the country or having a little space. I say all of these things only to point out our tendency throughout history and even today to isolate ourselves, even if we no longer build motes around our castles! And out of that tendency, or pull, comes the "habit" of not meeting together.
The idea of not meeting together is often quite appealing. I know of a pastor who was recently falsely accused by someone in his church of having an improper relationship with a woman in his church. Do you think he hasn’t considered giving up meeting together with the people he loves and is called to shepherd? You bet he has. Our community is filled with people who are formerly churched—something was said, an impression was given, grace was denied—and they’ve just quit going to church! I’ve run in to so many people in this city who have given up meeting with others as a matter of habit. Some of you have been that person who gave up on church. Some of you may be considering it now!
If that’s you, I want to encourage you to stay the course and keep coming. David went into isolation and his troubles only increased. As a fugitive, writing in a cave, he prayed, "Trn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish. Loneliness and affliction go hand in hand, and in the space of isolation the troubles of your heart will only multiply.