It is such a blessing to be a part of a church that prioritizes not only reaching out to our local community, but equally prioritizes reaching out to the world, all to show the love of Jesus.

This past Sunday we had the privilege to hear highlights of how God worked through and among the team who went to Guinea, West Africa on a recent short-term missions’ trip. (If you you’d like to hear their highlights, you can click here and start at minute 36:05 Sunday Service Feb 4 2024 ). Before they set out on this trip, we as a church commissioned with them. At that time Arlene Coccia mentioned that one of the missionaries they would be working with, Joanna Gregg, shared some words of encouragement as they were getting ready to go. She shared that most of the people in Guinea were part of a very closed, Muslim community. Most Muslims have a strong belief that Christians – especially American Christians – are evil. The hope is that every positive contact the people in this community have with loving, Christ-like, open-hearted Christians, would perhaps demonstrate that what they understand and believe may not be true.

That got me thinking about perception.

Like it or not, people in our communities may have a certain perception of what Christianity in America looks like. According to a 2020 Lifeway Research study, 65% of Americans believe they can live a moral life without being a religious person. In 2017, Scott McConnell from Lifeway Research surveyed 18–22-year-olds who had attended church for at least one year in High School. They found 7 out of 10 stopped attending regularly. As to why, McConnell said, “One of the top answers was church members seem to be judgmental or hypocritical.”

Along with most of the Western world, we live in a fairly well-established post-Christian culture. If you’re anything like me, you have heard this term and accepted it as accurate without really understanding what “post-Christian” means. So, I did a little research.

Before Christianity was an accessible way of life to anyone, regardless of their heritage, the concept of virtue and morals were not really a thing in society. (Consider the Roman Empire, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan; the original cultural influencers.) The idea that we should – for example – protect the weak, provide for the poor, or take care of the physical world around us, was virtually nonexistent. Once the disciples and the apostles started sharing the transformative power of Jesus, things started changing. The selfless, loving, and moral teachings of the Bible started influencing society. Laws were inspired by these teachings. Care for others through charity became a common practice. Relying on God as our Creator, Father and ultimate Judge was widely accepted. Eventually the culture reflected the practices of the Christian religion. There was one problem though. The transformative power of the blood of Jesus and His indwelling Holy Spirit to sustain the purpose of this culture did not holistically continue. But the culture did.

Cultural norms without a full understanding of why they were normal started to create a disconnect. The morals and virtues of the culture were being accepted as self-evident, rather than rooted in Christianity. This self-evidence, with a healthy dose of individualism, skepticism and secularism leads us to a post-Christian culture that believes that an individual can make their own judgements for what is best based off their own awareness. When you couple that with the failings of the established “Christian” church throughout modern history, we are left with a culture that thinks they know exactly what Christianity is and largely avoids it.

So, much like the challenge the missions’ team was given to be present in a culture where the perception of who they were was not true, we have a similar opportunity right here in our own culture. Regardless of the perception, the truth is the church offers something that most people are missing, one another.

Individulaism is a large part of the American identity. So much in our country’s history is built on individual freedom; individual rights; the individual who blazed the trail of innovation. It’s the American Dream. This very longstanding, baked-in trait bristles at the idea of “one another”. This is the lens that most post-Christian Americans look through. And yet, belonging is still a driving force in the human experience.

There are a lot of “one another’s” in the Bible, especially in the teachings and instructions in the New Testament. In fact, there are approximately 100 “one another” references in the New Testament. One third of these references are directed at the members of the church and how they are to treat each other. We can start with the words of Jesus himself. In John 13:34-35 he tells his disciples, “…A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus doesn’t say, “They will know you are my disciples by what you say”, or “They will know you are my disciples by what you look like.” Jesus says that the way the members of His Church treat one another will identify them as His disciples. This was a radical idea. As we saw earlier, the pre-Christian culture was not at all focused on community or the people’s wellbeing. The fact that Jesus identifies loving one another as a standout attribute says a lot about the culture surrounding them. And I would say in a lot of ways that our current culture resonates with that.

Our post-Christian, individualistic culture where people have a sense of morality and virtue yet have no connection to the source of those virtues perpetuates the disconnect from God and from one another. As the church we have an opportunity to exemplify a reality beyond these perceptions. When we live authentically, consistently and unconditionally loving one another in a community that reflects the love God has for each of us, perhaps we can show those around us that what they understand and believe may not be true. But we cannot do this alone. As Jesus commands, we are to show the world how Jesus loves us by how we love each other. To do this we have to embrace that there is no “one another” without one another.