I recently quoted this statement by Steven Wedgeworth: ‘Churches often claim to “create community”, when they really mean they create subcultures and clichés.’ A friend responded as follows:
how big does subcultures and cliches have to get before it becomes community?
which is to say, my initial thought is that communities are communities because they are big enough, while subcultures/cliches [sic: meaning ‘cliques’?] are small. Though, are you saying that they are intrinsically different?
My thought, and I think Pastor Wedgeworth’s, is that community is indeed different from subcultures and their clichés, not by mere size but by very nature. Community is, one may say, catholic; subcultures are sectarian. Community is the republic, but subcultures are private interests writ large, each declared by certain clichés. These private interests tend, whether by peer pressure or by other coercion, to be foisted upon a larger group, whereas community arises from the natural capacities of men as God has created them. Community, at its largest and divinely sanctioned extent, is one of all mankind, constituted by smaller communities whose natural issue (and logical foundation, perhaps) is this greater community.
Community, then, is genuinely public, and the tribalism that characterizes subcultures is a parody of real community: unlike true community, it suppresses the individual in favour of the party line, whatever it may be. Sometimes this suppression hides its true nature behind a false rhetoric of tolerance and diversity, but the truth is that these relativist clichés are no less tyrannical than overtly absolutist claims. This kind of party spirit is what I wrote against several months ago as I advocated the eventual reunion of the Anglican and the Presbyterian churches; likewise, Addison wrote gracefully against the mischiefs of party spirit, which are part and parcel of subcultures and their clichés.
True religion, as taught by the Bible, has the distinction of looking to bless not only the current members of the Church but also the whole world. The universal reach of the gospel, which proclaims God’s love for all peoples, is the foundation of universal love and international law (including the flowering of just war theory), in which we recognize that all mankind has a common good in the righteousness of Christ. Apart from Scripture the full form of this idea would never have appeared reasonable; but through the gospel, biblically proclaimed, God has taught the nations the way of truth, which was expounded by such writers as Althusius, Grotius and Pufendorf.
This is why we’re not called to create subcultures, because subcultures are actually sub-Christian. When Christ calls Christians to demonstrate community, he intends for us to model it not as an alternate society for those who will leave the world behind, nor as a clerical caste that dictates what the world must do to escape damnation, but rather as a leaven of testimony that works all through the lump of dough, to the glory of the Father. Mankind exists, after all, to show the love shared by the three persons of the triune God, a love of complete self-giving, the love of the Cross.
This love will stand against the Nazis’ shameful treatment of the Jews, and it will refuse to sanction the persecution of the Falun Gong, precisely because the community we confess is a communion that God offers to the entire world, Jew and Greek, bond and free, male and female. The doctrine of divine election (known also as predestination), therefore, should move us to look not inward but outward, at the world for which Christ has died; and we must regard especially those who are despised in the eyes of the ungodly, knowing that we ourselves were loved and chosen when we were enemies of God. The love of God is greater far than a petty subculture with Christianese clichés: the love of God calls all the world to the righteousness of the Son of God, who is the Alpha and the Omega.