"Let us apply some of these convictions [about living in Christian community and its implications for pastoral care] to the specific issue of marriage. The same difficulties faced by people outside of the church, where divorce rates are approaching 40 percent [note -- in the U.S. they are closer to 50%] are also those faced by people within. A significant element of this pressure is individualism. In a culture in which the rights and desires of the individual are sacred, bringing two individuals together in a relationship as close as marriage is bound to create problems. There is also a disposable attitude toward relationships in general in our society, and this affects attitudes toward marriage.
The breakup of the extended family with increased mobility has contributed significantly to the strain placed on marriage. The oft-quoted African proverb claims that 'it takes a village to raise a child.' But Western culture is now prepared to leave it almost entirely to a couple (and in some cases to a single person). Many of the support structures of previous generations have been removed, leaving marriage exposed and vulnerable.
There is no better place for marriages to be nurtured than in a communal setting for two principal reasons:
1. The Christian community provides the context in which we learn what it means to be persons-in-community. This is a foundational truth if we are to live successfully with other people. If the Western world's prevailing culture reinforces individualism, a different culture is necessary to present an alternative. The church is a great context in which to learn what it means to live in relationship with others. It is the location in which my self-preoccupation will be confronted. This happens as I hear the Bible being taught. It happens as I am encouraged and rebuked by my brothers and sisters who take responsibility for my godliness. It happens as I respond to the Lord's call to love God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself. It happens as God's truth conspires with my circumstances to show me that this is not my world and I am not God. It happens as the community responds to my sin with love and grace.
2. The Christian community provides the best context in which marriages can flourish. In the contemporary context, marriage is sometimes little more than 'plural individualism.' In the church we find practical support structures. In the church we find people who are committed to our marriage. They know from God's word what godly marriage involves and will help us live that out. They know what godly marriage involves because, whether married or single, they themselves are part of a relationship of submission and love with Christ (Ephesians 5:22-31). The church provides a wider context that prevents marriages from becoming inward-looking and self-serving." (Total Church, pp. 136-137)
Do you see how much the church as Jesus envisioned it -- people sharing not only faith, but LIFE -- can impact real problems and issues? Take the divorce rate. If those who bear the name "Christian" lived in communities that were both encouraging and accountable to one another, how might it impact the divorce rate among Christians? As it is, the divorce rate within the church is indistinguishable from the rate outside. What if Christian couples -- because they lived within a group of people who encouraged them, prayed for them, talked about difficult issues, etc. -- what if Christians were able to avoid half the divorces that came down the pike? How would those healed marriages affect communities and cities? How would the sheer statistics impact couples wondering where to turn? What if, because they had worked through their problems, Christian couples had resources to encourage their neighbors?
The possibilities are endless. What about other issues besides marriage -- what about parenting, time management, financial responsibility, and more?
Speaking for myself, I am becoming more and more convinced that the early 21st century will see an awakening in the church centered around what it means to live in Christ-centered communities. I'm not talking about people growing their hair out and wearing tie-dye shirts and all going in on one big house where they raise sheep -- no, I'm talking about people who intentionally participate in each other's lives, meeting and eating together, talking and studying together, praying and worshipping together, on a weekly or biweekly basis. This kind of sharing life focused on Jesus sounds alot like the last few verses of Acts 2.