The Biblical narrative gives us a rich resource to explore the inner and outer development of community across more than a millennium, with powerful suggestions of where we can go. The Narrative records centuries of evolutionary development from the Law to the Prophets to Jesus of Nazareth.
The Hebrew Temple and Tabernacle are historical examples of the outward manifestation of community-located spiritual consciousness. Tracing this history, we see important evolutionary principles that can inform us about the challenges facing organized religious communities today.
Early communal consciousness relied upon self- sourced doing. The Temple embodies self-as-source as hosting the Divine. King David said, “I will build you a house.”
The Tabernacle, on the other hand, was God-sourced according to the narrative. God directly instructs Moses to build the tabernacle.
The differences in the two can be seen in their function: The Temple was fixed geographically. The community went to the temple.
The Tabernacle, on the other hand, went where the people went.
The Temple called for people to come to it.
The Tabernacle went out among and with the people.
John’s vision of a new earth weighs the legacy of Temple and Tabernacle alike:
“Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God.” Rev. 21:3
And John adds: “I didn’t see a temple in the city.” (Revelation 21:22a) The New Jerusalem – representative of a new kind of community – does not have fences.
It’s hard to imagine the importance of the Temple to Jewish identity in the first century CE. It’s in this cultural milieu that Jesus taught extensively about the end of the Temple era. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus teaches on the effect of the Temple on community. As Jesus walked with the disciples one day, he pointed to the Temple and said “not one stone would be left on another.” He went on to say this would happen during their lifetime.
Jesus elaborated further on the coming hostility when that community way was threatened – father would be pitted against son, mother against daughter. A change in the accepted understanding of community would bring wars and rumors of war.
Reinterpreting community challenges long held-identities.
The first-century servant Stephen was killed for saying the temple would be destroyed and the traditions of Moses changed. Stephen pointed to both Isaiah and the Psalms, saying “the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands.” (See Acts 7) Community identity was facing a radical transformation, and religious crowds turned violent in response.
Moving beyond the Synoptics, in John’s gospel Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at the community well (see John 4). Samaritans were considered heterodox (or outright-heretical) Jews in Jesus’ day; this community rift went back centuries, to the dividing of Israel into the Northern and Southern kingdoms. The northern tribes that intermarried became known as Samaritans. The southern tribes kept the ritual purity of their Temple community, while the Samaritans formed an alternative Temple and patterns of worship. Jesus and this woman got into an in-depth spiritual conversation; while honoring her presence there Jesus said the day was coming when community would not be defined by national or ethnic boundary. Worship would not be confined to the mountain of Samaria or Jerusalem. This Samaritan woman was surprised Jesus would have anything to do with her – he was not of her community.
The Good Samaritan parable returns to this same question: “Who is my neighbor?” This is inherently a question of “Who is my community?”
Jesus was reinterpreting community, expanding its boundaries. This became a core issue of hostility and persecution during the 1st century – who’s in and (more importantly) who’s out?
Community has historically been marked by boundary wars. Today’s evolutionary movement is calling courageous new leaders to move among all people, teaching and bringing awareness of the presence of an all-in-all God.
Community’s forward flowing is also erasing old boundaries of secular versus sacred. Activism engages people beyond the boundary identities of rich/poor, male/female, black/white, etc. People’s needs are served because the presence of God is seen everywhere. The value proposition of all humans is the same. Everything and everyone is connected. We are all community, but not all are aware of it. Experiencing community is the intentional act of love toward each other wherever two or more are gathered.
Initiatives like the The Hatchery are seeking to answer what community can look like when God’s liberating message moves into neighborhoods today. There will be challenges, but the Biblical narrative puts us in good company. We’re entering nothing less than the trajectory of greater empathy, power, solidarity and transformation – transcending (while including) all challenges that stand in our path.
Doug King (Graduate Study, Theology and Biblical Languages) is an author, speaker, and President of Presence International, an Integral Theology think tank revisioning the role of spirituality for the common good. Doug also serves on the Advisory Board for Forum 21, a United Nations NGO dedicated to crafting the spirituality of the UN Sustainable Development goals. Doug is excited to be presenting at Enfolding Spirituality on Integral Theology and Biblical Narrative. In his fast-paced, visually-based overview, Doug King overlays sacred history with today’s most comprehensive macro-developmental model: Spiral Dynamics. Transcend the progressive-conservative divide as scorched-earth biblical stories come alive again illustrating our timeless drive to let go of alienation and live in connection – with God, self, each other, and our planet.