Summary: Our fellowship with Christ and our fellowship with one another is what make the church.
Title: Community-Koinonia Church (COIN-O-NIA)
CT: Our fellowship with Christ and our fellowship with one another is what make the church.
Pachomius was an Egyptian soldier won to Christ by the kindness of Christians in Thebes. After his release from the military around A.D. 315, he was baptized. Serious about his new faith and determined to grow, Pachomius became a disciple of Palamon, an ascetic who taught him the self-denial and solitary life of a religious hermit.
In early Christianity, the model of devotion was the recluse dedicated to resisting the corruption of society. These hermits wandered the desert alone—fasting, praying, and having visions. Many went to extremes: eating nothing but grass, living in trees, or refusing to wash.
Such was the popular image of holiness: solitude, silence, and severity. And such was Pachomius's early spiritual training. But he began to question the methods and lifestyle of his mentors.
How can you learn to love if no one else is around?
How can you learn humility living alone?
How can you learn kindness or gentleness or goodness in isolation?
How can you learn patience unless someone puts yours to the test?
In short, he concluded, developing spiritual fruit requires being around people—ordinary, ornery people. "To save souls," he said, "you must bring them together."
Spiritual muscle isn't even learned among friends we have chosen. God's kind of love is best learned where we can't be selective about our associates. Perhaps this is why the two institutions established by God—the family and the church—are not joined by invitation only.
We have no choice about who our parents or brothers or sisters will be; yet we are expected to love them. Neither can we choose who will or will not be in the family of God; any who confess Jesus as Lord must be welcomed. We learn agape love most effectively in our involuntary associations, away from the temptation of choosing to love only the attractive.
So Pachomius began an ascetic koinonia, where holiness was developed not in isolation but in community. Instead of each person seeking God in his own way, with the dangers of idleness and eccentricity, Pachomius established a common life based on worship, work, and discipline.
In community with flawed, demanding, sometimes disagreeable people, followers of Pachomius learned to take hurt rather than give it.
They discovered that disagreements and opposition provide the opportunity to redeem life situations and experience God's grace.
Pachomius, while largely forgotten in church history, points out to us that as attractive as solitary sanctification may seem, it is life amid people, busyness, and interruptions that develop many of the qualities God requires. (1)
(1) Marshall Shelley, "Developing spiritual fruit requires being around people—ordinary, ornery people," Leadership journal (Spring 1993)
LS: I have heard people say they don’t need church. They would rather go it alone out in the woods before going to church. But how can we follow Jesus and his biggest command for us to love one another, without being together as His people, the church? How can we fulfill God’s mission as a recluse from the world?