A question I challenge myself with is this: Is my Christian community distinctively Christian? Is it any different to, say, the local soccer club.
When I have put this question to other Christians I have often received a reflexive, sometimes defensive, response of “Of Course!” So I ask, “How?” Now there’s a pause. “Well, it’s because we love one another” is a frequent reply. “But do we really love one another more than others?” I ask. “Is your experience of Christian community so distinctive that it genuinely stands out from other social experiences? Are your non-Christian social networks so much less loving towards one another in comparison.” And I ask this with scepticism because, honestly, mine is not. Sometimes the experience has been wonderful, sometimes less so, but even when it’s been the former rather than the latter, rarely has it been that exceptional. “Well, they gossip less!” is an answer I sometimes get at that point. And so I ask: Is that the answer to what makes Christian community distinctively Christian?
Having had a reasonable amount of experience with other religions I have to say, I am not convinced that Buddhist, Muslim, Pagan, Secular or Hindu communities are so much behind in loving their families and friends. In fact, in some instances I have found them more so. But at this point I am reminded of the words of Jesus:
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:46-47)
Without minimising the importance of the “one another” sayings in the letters of the New Testament, what Jesus is clearly indicating here is that there is much more to Christian community than just loving one another.