Community: Discernment 101

How do we know what is right or wrong for us?  How do we know, as followers of Jesus, what we should be doing, believing, following, standing against, standing for, embracing, etc.???  These are very important questions today especially in light of a world that is continuously questioning authority.

I talk often with the undergraduates in my classroom and who I meet with in my office about how they come to their decisions.  How do they know what is right?  The answers are as diverse as the students.  It’s also interesting that these same questions come up in my PhD classes that I’m taking.  (You’d think we’d have things figured out by now!  Perhaps when we get the letters behind our name it will all become clear!  Seriously doubt that.)  Again the answers are as diverse as the students.

When pressed many Christians will say, “The Bible is our guide and we should do what it says.”  I agree that the Bible is a great resource into knowing the heart of God more, but it’s not so simple as doing what the Bible says.  Whose Bible?  Whose translation?  Whose interpretation?  Which church community is correct (there are a lot of denominations, etc.)?

While I do believe Scripture plays an important role, I believe that we often miss God’s built in discernment instrument: community.  I’d like to look at four aspects of community that think we must engage in to rightly discern God’s will and direction.  Before I get those one quick word: For those of us who are followers of Christ, I believe that the community we talking about here is a community unified in its attempt to follow Jesus and seek after the heart of God!  Any community not so committed is not unified in this way.  This is where prayer guides us!

1.  Local community – this is generally what we think about when we use the word, “community”.  We think of those closest to us, who we are in relationship with and are geographically close to us.  We usually live a lot of life together with these folks.  We must allow this local community to help us discern what is right and wrong.  Is it always clear?  Of course not, but in so engaging one another, we find that the process of honestly and openly working out these issues changes us all to be more Christ like.  I think it also pushes us to Scripture and pushes us to articulate and clarify our convictions, values and beliefs in ways that are challenged, reinforced and honed.

2.  Historic community – this is where we look to those who have gone before us and ask about the decisions they made and the reasons they made them.  We must recognize that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.  No this does not mean that we should do everything exactly as they did.  Our context and culture are different.  It does mean that we must faithfully ask about the reasons for their decisions and seek to find continuity in our understanding of God, the best kind of life and those decisions.  This takes time and work which isn’t always much fun, but usually “talking” to this community in incredibly helpful.

3.  Global community – this is where we look at the ramifications for our decisions not just for ourselves in this time and place, but also to the more broad community around the world.  What are the results of my decisions for my brothers and sisters around the world?  This aspect of community is often easily overlooked because it is not immediately in front of us.  It is also incredibly important as we seek to “love our neighbor”.  I believe the more we engage these questions of our global community the more we become aware and the more God draws us into relationship with people outside of our normal group of friends/relationships.

4.  Future community – this is the one that is the most neglected and the hardest to engage.  It also may be the most important.  We must ask ourselves what the results of our decisions will be not just for us and for the immediate, but for those who will follow us in this world?  What about our children?  Children’s children?  There is a need for us ask about the longer term consequences (good and bad) of our decisions.  In our culture of immediacy I believe we have lost the innate ability to think longer term.  Until relatively recently, if you built a home, you were not building it for yourself, but for your children.  What kind of “house” are we building with our decisions?

As we look to a world that is rapidly changing, with ethical issues around us that have never been quite like this in the history of the world, we have some important decisions to make about how it is we are to live.  May God give us the wisdom, grace, and patience to engage all of our community in our decisions.

Thoughts?  How have you seen these areas of community engaged in decision making?  Forgotten?  What have the results been?

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