“By 2006, nearly 69 percent of households owned their own home, up from 64 percent in 1994 and 44 percent in 1940. The gains were especially dramatic among Hispanics and blacks, as increasing affluence as well as government encouragement of subprime mortgage programs enabled many members of minority groups to become first-time home buyers. This expansion of ownership gave more people a stake in the future of our country and boded well for the cohesion of the nation, I thought. Home ownership resonates deeply today as it did a century ago. Even in a digital age, brick and mortar (or plywood and Sheetrock) are what stabilize us and make us feel at home” (Alan Greenspan, Age of Turbulence, p. 230).
Notwithstanding the subprime debacle that has thrown Wall Street into a tailspin since this quote, Greenspan’s last observation struck me. The preconditions for community in the historic sense are vanishing in our day with advancements in travel, technology, and communications. As we are annexed into the Global Village, we become the neighbors of all and none at once. But we will never shake our longing for rootedness. And as social beings, we want to be rooted together. So as long as we have houses and as long as we have neighbors, we have the raw materials for the old community to be revived. What is needed is the Spirit of God to breathe into these dead bones and constitute true communities again.
But God’s Spirit is at work today, and He is rebuilding true community. It can be found in the Visible Church, consisting of those who profess the Christian gospel and their children. Yes, we bear the imprint of our culture. More often than not, we no longer live in geographic community. We have drifted far from that ideal that we discover in the ancient church of Jerusalem, “And all that believed were together . . . and they continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart . . .” (Acts 2:44, 46). But though we must travel by car, call by phone, or communicate by e-mail, God’s people have discovered that God has preserved and is remaking community in a day when it seems past repair. There is still a “togetherness,” a “one accordness” in our congregations.
And yet I for one haven’t given up on hoping for the reemergence true, Christian communities on a large scale. I hope to see the kind of communities that prevailed in Scotland, the Netherlands, and New England. Communities leavened with the Gospel – people walking to church once again. Neighbors enjoying brotherly fellowship, older matrons giving a helping hand to harried young mothers, baptized children playing together in front of their own houses. Those same children growing up, falling in love, marrying, and ushering in third and fourth generation to the church of their childhood. Ministers working in tandem for the Christianization of cities, regions, and states, not resting until the lump of the nation has been filled.
I hold out that hope because, as Greenspan has said, people still want to put their roots down. And they still want to live in community. And even more importantly, God is still at work, preserving and building true community up. If He is building true community, and that community is constantly seeking to enfold the alienated (Eph. 2:12), then the neighborhoods in which our people live can easily be future parishes in the old fashioned sense. Within our church communities, there are still ‘brick and mortar’ houses. And these can – they must! – become beachheads from which our church communities expand and realize themselves.
Greenspan is right. Community is not dead. But more to the point, God has said it – and He is at work!
“Thus saith the LORD; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jersualem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the LORD of hohsts the holy mountain. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; there shall yet old men and old women dwell in teh streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof” (Zech. 8:3-5).