I have had conversations with many people in the years that I have been involved in body life* outside of the organized/institutional church. One common theme that I hear when I talk with people who are searching for authentic body life is the idea of finding a small utopian group.
Here’s part of the Merriam-Webster definition of utopia:
1: of, relating to, or having the characteristics of a utopia; especially: having impossibly ideal conditions especially of social organization
2: proposing or advocating impractically ideal social and political schemes
Many people leave organized church frustrated but become convinced that there is a New Testament model of the church that if followed closely will spit out a utopian church community.
Unfortunately, this just ain’t so. At least not on this side of eternity.
And when people realize that even meeting in a small, close-knit community to follow Jesus together is fraught with problems, their high expectations are shattered and many walk away from church community entirely. Some even walk away from Christ and abandon their faith.
One thing that I can tell you is that the idea of a utopian community in the earth today does not exist in the NT. In fact what you find is quite the opposite. Take a look at Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, the Galatians, Colossians, and the Romans. These ekklesias were drowning in problems of sin, cliques, inequality among believers, legal problems with each other, doctrinal disagreements, legalism, libertinism, gnosticism, arguing over preferred apostles, and so on.
And if you are brave enough, read through Jesus’ words to the seven churches in Asia in Revelation. He puts His finger on several issues among them.
Have you watched movies or read books about real or fictional attempts at establishing utopian societies? Most stories, whether fictional or real, are about how the utopian society fell apart. I’m thinking of books like 1984, Brave New World, The Giver, or Divergent. Or movies like Elysium or Minority Report.
What is common is that utopia is established and maintained by extreme control and exclusion of undesirable people, often to the extent of ethnic cleansing.
Why is this the case?
Because while the human race is created in the image of God, it is also stained with sin that draws us into conflict with our brothers and sisters. Eliminating conflict through human methods and power requires extreme control of people’s thoughts and actions. This is one reason there is so much violence in the world today.
Not only that, the world is ruled by Satan. The Kingdom of God is a colony in a hostile land.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ sufferedfor you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21)
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
None of this makes body life easy, but these are the conditions in which the ekklesia operates.
The deck is stacked against us.
There ain’t no utopia. (Sorry to burst any bubbles.)
But Jesus also tells us that He has overcome the world and that we find our life in Him.
I’ve seen people who have never experienced body life fall into this utopian trap. And I’ve seen people who have lived in body life for years fall into this trap as well.
In my observation, this utopian trap is a major stumbling block to finding and sustaining authentic body life.
But what is the remedy?
As the Led Zeppelin song says, “hard times are gonna come.”
Or as they say in the weight lifting world, “embrace the suck.”
Or as Jesus said, “embrace the cross.” (Luke 9:23)
Realize up front that body life is going to be difficult. Trials and problems will come. Guaranteed.
But through these hard times, precious gold is formed and deposited in the new spiritual dwelling that Jesus is building in and through His people. When we persevere through these times and learn to love each other and see each other through Christ and not the flesh, the roots of Christ’s life and nature grow deep into His bride.
Yes, body life is hard. But for a group that will hold onto to Jesus Christ despite all the difficulties, they will see and experience incredible beauty in themselves, each other, and in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)
Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4)
(It’s important to note that what we in America consider difficult would have been like living in luxury compared to the believers of the first century endured when these passages were written.)
I truly have a heart to see these kinds of communities established and to see God’s eternal purpose fulfilled, but it’s important to get away from the utopian curse.
Follow the Life!
* By “body life”, I’m referring to a group of believers who live together to know Jesus together, live by His life, and express Him to each other through daily life together and regularly gathering all together to share Christ, with all participating and no clergy/laity distinction.