Community: The Real and the Red Herrings

If Americans understood they were really many people’s, the current discord of the “nation” would not be surprising. But then what can the people of Elohim add to that? Are we closer to living together in unity? Sadly, we have more burned by community than actually looking for it. I was talking with such a pair of crispy sisters who had become discouraged. Conscious that in their hearts they had given up on community as a goal. Not just that it wouldn’t happen, but that the attempt or the prospect should be avoided.

The conversation started with, how do you make community work? So I asked if they had read my blog about mikvah: “How do you do Community: The Hoped For Gathering”. They hadn’t . . . after which I ended up having to explain in a mixed company why I thought the mikvah as practiced by the orthodox–nude with another person–was not only not a fringe idea (albeit neglected in the Messianic community) but might actually be part of the solution.

Ay-yai-yai! Oy vey!

But I digress. The essential part of the blog that I wanted to drag out was something that had kind of gotten buried in the writing of the original article, so I’ll state it better here. Yah-fearing men and women often fall in love with the idea of a community, but fail to fall in love with the actual people of the community. When someone doesn’t live up to one family’s or a clique of families’ private interpretation of kedushah (holiness or sanctification), they get ex-communicated/ex-fellowshipped. Would this happen so quickly or easily if it was their own son or daughter?

We have to love each other. We have to want to be with each other. Before community can work, we have to think of each other as actual family—not just theoretical, ethereal, spiritual family, but real family. Do you think it is an accident that the model of society or community in scripture is in fact, one family? That even those who are adopted in, cease to be separate, but become in all ways family? Where are the descendants of the ‘mixed-multitude’? Where are Ruth’s children called ‘adopted’ or ¼ Moabite? That salvation is about joining a family?

We have to adopt each other, before we can community. In these so-called communities, when it’s time for a family to leave, the conversation is framed: “I don’t want that influencing my family…”? We seem to think talk of ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ applies only to the point of conflict. Because real brothers and sisters never disagree . . .  We seem to confuse family and informal association.

That is why I think mikvah is important. Not just for the fun of skinny dipping. Ahahaha! Chill out ya’ll! I think it’s important because family sees family naked. Butts get wiped! Kiddos get bathed, and a time or many the kiddos probably see parents hopping in and out of the shower. I mean, come’on, YHVH’s design introduces people to the world by having them suck from a woman’s breasts. If that offends you, don’t blame me. In my version of creation, I just give babies nutrient rich pacifiers (that don’t resemble nipples) that grew on trees. Wait, that’s still too close. I know, babies will have solar panels for hair and just soak up the sun’s rays without any human contact.

I digress again, but hopefully you laughed. The point is family sees family as they really are, yet remains attached through all but the most egregious wrongdoing. [Yes, there is a line in the sand given to us in Acts 15: idolatry, fornication—which is a catchall for sexual sin, not a fancy way of saying premarital sex—and blood. Blood by the way is probably not, blood in meat, but violence. All big ticket items, not so-and-so said something mean and was insensitive or interpreted Revelation different than you.] That sense of familial loyalty and familiarity was what I was trying to draw out—the quickness to cling, not to sever. And the concept seemed to resonate with this family, and in fact several others who heard it. Maybe community wasn’t done for, because they could see too, the other families in the detonated-communities never seemed to really stick to each other. But I still sensed the word community was being regarded like a live-wire. What is community? I asked. What does the word make you think?

The example I was given was a guy who bought 800 acres, allowing others to live there, but the others would never own the property and have to abide by (as far as I can tell) an unaccounted for standard of kedushah, and the requirement to work . . . but what you created with the work would belong to the community (under the one guy’s leadership).

I said, Well, I like community, but what you described scares me. Thinking of community in scripture—taking the type of Isra’el—I can see that working together is necessary. So is submission to elders. Shared chukot (customs) or halacha (the way we walk) of a community is also necessary. But something seems to be missing . . . freedom and ownership.

A lot of flowery, Jeffersonian words could be used to build a theoretical case, but I’m lazy and would rather say, let’s look at scripture and then try to figure out how to do it, and why it might be that it works. Details aside, when YHVH brought the people into the land, he gave each family a piece of land. What does that tell you? They had just come out of Egypt/Mitsrayim where pretty much everything was owned by the Pharoah. If YHVH wanted resources to be directly under a central governing head, then why undo what the Isra’eli would already have been used to? For the matter, why did YHVH not give them a strong central ruler from the git-go?

The Torah makes distinction between YHVH’s preferred idea of a judge who essentially referees to make sure everyone is playing by Torah, and the tendency of fallen man to reject YHVH and set up an earthly king who will rule over the people. So this 800 acre idea, sounds good as a temporary arrangement of a land owner and tenants, but YHVH intended us each to have a place that was our own.

Some people will challenge the idea of ownership. Some will even argue that there is no word for ownership in Ebri (Hebrew). They have a point. Even the land of Isra’el, divided up between the families, is not considered to be absolutely owned. YHVH says, “ . . . the land is mine, for you are strangers and sojourners with me.” In that sense, correct, no one owns anything in an absolute sense. But the idea is also false. What does “own” mean? In English it has within it, the root, owe. As in what is owned is that which is owed. And lacking the divine deed does not mean we lack the owing. In fact, the passage in Vayikra 25, where YHVH says the land is His, is where He tells people they owe to return land to the inheritor at the Yovel year. I own something, because it is owed to me. My wife owns me, because by out covenant, I owe myself to her. If the idea of ownership was false, then you cannot have adultery because nothing is owed. You cannot have theft because nothing is owed to you. You cannot even honor your father and mother without acknowledging that it is owed. We can just make everyone happy and call it jurisdiction, but whatever.

But all this talk or yours and mine, doesn’t that sound so unchristian? I think a lot of people, Messianic people/Hebraic roots people/Completed Jewish people, take their idea of community out of the book of Acts; at least at first glance, but what they imagine is more like communism (great, it even sounds like community!). Don’t get me wrong. I won’t criticize what was done in Acts, and I won’t disregard it. Sharing and working together and abiding house to house, sounds all well and good. But . . .

Did Yeshua teach that? He told the talmidim, who were selected as Shelachim (sent ones/ emissaries), to go, trusting for provision; true. Or sometimes to share an extra coat with someone who had none. Etc. He even told a rich man to go and sell everything he had and join the ministry. But, did he tell Yosef of Aramithea (a rich man) to sell everything? Did salvation through t’shuva come to Zacheus after he sold everything, or after he restored what he had wrongly taken? Consider the case of Acts 2:

People went house to house, worshipping, yes? But someone still owned the houses legally, didn’t they?

“All things” were held in common, but when Ananias and Saphira had their property, it was theirs, was it not? Yes. When they sold it, didn’t Kefa/Peter say, the proceeds belonged to them? Yes. Even to hold back? Yes. The only problem was the deception.

What we see in this example seems to be a specific instance of this “things in common”. A start-up capital investment for lack of a better term. When Shaul/Paul goes to collect funds to send to the brothers in famine, he doesn’t take things does he? No. He tells them to decide “every man according as he has purposed . . .” to send, and he receives it. If things continued always in common, then you do not ask permission before reaching into the fridge.

And understand that we don’t see this all-things-in-common lifestyle practiced either before Acts (as a group), nor do we see it after. Lydia remains a business woman; she does not sell her house or her business and she is not asked to sell her house or business. Paul does not give away his tents; he sells them. What’s the key to understanding this abnormal situation in Acts? Chapter 2, verse 2, “…they were all with one accord . . . ” Verse 44-46, “…all that believed were together, and had all things in common . . . parted them to all men, as every man had need . . . they continued with one accord . . . ” Commonsense (there’s something that should be held in common =) tells us these words are limited. Did they move about as a group of 3000? Of course not, there would be sub-groups. You think a mikvah is hard to imagine with one attendant; imagine 3000! Clearly ‘together’ is another way of saying in agreement (like accord), rather than physically in constant personal space with each other. They parted to all men, clearly that doesn’t mean all men, but also women. And not just men and women, but clearly not unbelievers. The context tells us that these were people on the same bandwagon. As every man had need, that tells us it wasn’t a smorgasbord of pilfering each other’s houses; there was someone identifying needs, and distributing accordingly. And this is all wrapped up in the phrase: with one accord.

People will try to say, this is the ideal. We need to get to this. But there is a more obvious interpretation here. They all agreed this was the thing to do. If someone in the party was saying, “This is a bad idea. This guy over here is a freeloading hipster, who just showed up when the stuff was being handed out!” That would mean there was not accord. In fact, you might notice that was why Ananias and his wife ended up dead, because they pretended to agree when they did not.

What am I trying to say? That this way of life worked at that time because everyone agreed it was what was to be done. If people stopped agreeing would it still have worked? Would it be somehow wrong if they stopped agreeing? Or would it simply mean that when the agreement ended that it was time to move on to something different?

If you are in a community, in a moment in time, that together agrees to practice this, that’s great. More power to you! But that doesn’t mean that we should try to pretend or force such an agreement. If we have different ideas about how to proceed, and everyone has the same spirit of Elohim, the Ruach HaKodesh, that simply means that He is changing us from a large battalion of Heavenly fighting power, into an agile platoon size strike force.

If YHVH had meant for this to be the always-only way that the talmidim of Yeshua were to conduct themselves, then it is strange that none of the Epistles of the Brit Chadasha ever suggest it. Nor is it hinted at in the Torah. You’d think, since this idea is so foreign to the thinking of those times (and every time), that there would be whole epistles on this, but instead . . . you have one chapter, in one book, that itself never mentions it again, and we’re supposed to conclude this is the community ideal?

I think not.

To be continued . . .   

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