Stephen Crosby posted a blog awhile ago which included the following:
Dr. Alexander set up a scientific experiment in the 1970s which involved a lone rat in a rat cage with two water bottles. One was laced with cocaine and the other just water. In this well-known experiment, it was allegedly proven that nine out of ten rats in the rat cage will go back, again and again, to the cocaine bottle until they killed themselves. The conclusion taken from this experiment was that the rats were hopelessly chemically addicted to the point of suicide.
However, in a later alternative experiment he called Rat Park, many rats were together in a habitat of relationships, food, tunnels and exercise. The previously addicted rats stopped taking the deadly drug without coaxing, withdrawal, or removal of the drug from their environment. The chemical hook was not strong enough to stand against the bonds of relationship that were introduced in Rat Park.
Recently I saw a nature program on TV that dealt with animals that formed relationships with other animals of a different species. One example involved an old goat that became a guide and constant companion to a horse that lost its eyesight. With no human prompting and receiving no reward he guided the blind horse to grazing and resting places for years until the horse died.
In another instance, a lonely gibbon monkey tagged along with a troop of monkeys of a different species. Although he adopted the tribe, they never fully adopted him, yet he would do whatever it took to attract their presence. Even without any significant interaction with them, he stuck with them rather than be alone.
Unfortunately, some of us fail to grasp the importance of community to the degree that these animals have. Today most Christians think church is a group of folks sitting in pews staring past the back of a stranger’s head at a man they don’t know who is delivering a sermon to people he may never interact with. Afterward they leave the building, also called a church, and may travel considerable distances to their homes where some have never met their neighbors. They will not see the strangers at “church” for another week.
What the New Testament designates as church has absolutely no relationship to the scenario described above. The local expression of church involved a community of believers who were joined to one another in love and lived out that love during the week as they instructed, taught, served, encouraged, built up, sang songs to and confessed their sins to one another. They were instructed to know those who labored among them and beside them, for how could anyone be an example to those around him/her if their lives were not open books?
They understood that when they came together, Christ was in their midst in way that they could not experience individually. But whether physically together or apart, being joined by one Spirit, they were moved by sacrificial love such as Jesus demonstrated at the cross. It meant putting aside one’s own agenda, needs and expectations to serve others in what ever way was needed.
Paul exhorted the Colossian believers to be “united in love, SO THAT they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” But he makes an even more amazing statement when he told them; “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you (corporately) have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” It’s by this authority that strongholds are broken and through this unity that Jesus is revealed to a lost world. It is this love that moves us to reach out to the poor and dying, welcoming them into community where they will find unconditional love, help and healing.
This is what real church will always look like, for the Kingdom of God is not compromised by the weakness of man and his tendency to reduce heavenly reality to something earthly he can control. As seldom as we see community as described above, it is not an empty ideal, for nothing less can be called normal for the Church of Jesus Christ.