Insular theological communities

Posted on September 6, 2012 by


It is common for like-minded people to group together. This is true in education, politics, and religion; among every other category we can come up with. While there are valid reasons theological groups should pool together it can be deadly for groups to become so insular that they ignore or reject those that are different from themselves. Deadly in the sense that they lose the mission of God in their self-created identity.

The mission the that we, as followers of Christ, have been issued is to love God, love others, and spread the saving knowledge of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. Where we make other things our identifying features we stray from what it is to be the body of Christ.  A few quick examples of this actually happening.

– We are told that true worship is to care for widows and orphans. But where Social Justice, and political activism to that end, there can be a loss of the message that Christ is the hope for an end to the pain of loss and abandonment. Christ will never leave nor forsake us and will usher in the kingdom where no tears will be shed and no need go unmet.

– We are called to a life of Holiness. But making moral purity, and the legislation of Christian values, our end-all leaves out Christ as our only means to righteousness before God. Asking all people to abide by what we can only do through the Holy Spirit not only sets them up for failure but makes us (if not only appear) callous and uncaring, but makes the faith out to be nothing more than rules no one can, or wants to, follow.

– We are called to be distinct from the world. But separating ourselves from it completely denies our call to spread the good news of God’s Salvation for all who would receive.


This danger of insular communities comes in a spectrum. Some groups creating Compounds and isolating themselves from the rest of culture, while some merely only read or listen to things they know they will agree with and reject discussion as a betrayal of the inerrancy of scripture and the holiness we are called to.

Looking at the early church, as an example not an exact form to follow, we can see a good balance of this need for christian community and engagement with the world. In their services all were welcome for the majority of their time together. They would pray, sing, read scripture with all who would come. Then they would gather together as just those who kept the faith and would take communion together. In most churches we practice a shadow of this today, we let those who don’t believe know that they shouldn’t “partake of the elements”. But that isn’t really the point, Communion is more than just a time when we read the token passages, eat a crumb, sip some juice, and remember “oh yeah Jesus did die for me.” It was instituted as part of a meal, a time of intimate community between close friends and workers together for the mission of God.

We need to follow Christ’s example of being a friend of all, He was accused of being a friend of sinners, He was in regular contact with the pharisee’s and scribes, and He maintained a close group of friends that were on the same mission.

Avoid those communities that insulate themselves from others and reject all thought outside of itself. Paul quoted the popular poets of his day, Peter visited Cornelius despite their cultural differences. Be “in the world but not of it”. I could go on but hopefully you get the idea.

Posted in: Praxis, Theology