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The church is a peculiar community of people. It is a group of people who share a “common unity” in their relationship with Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus is the only reason for their community. If they did not choose to be related to Jesus, many of these people would not have been related to each other at all.

Churches are communities of choice; yet they are not. I mean, we all choose to attend our local churches – no one is forced to do it – but it is not the same as choosing your friends. You know, people always say, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” They mean you have flexibility in choosing friends, but family is issued to you, like army boots or school textbooks. Every new baby is born with a set of instructions that read, “Collect # of family members on your way home. They are yours for life. Good luck!”

When you become a Christian you choose one friend, namely Jesus, and then you find yourself being family to a bunch of other people. Many of these people would not have been chosen as friends by you, but here you are, bound to them by cords that cannot be broken. The thing about choosing friends is that you can always unchoose them. But family is family; they can never be unchosen.

The community is peculiar because it is counter-cultural. It is not subservient to a specific philosophy or worldview. It is not inherently democratic or capitalistic. It exists to glorify God, to love Him and to serve His purposes here on earth. Every member is totally committed to God, and then also totally committed to each other, just like a family.

Some people have argued that the church should be willing to suppress its peculiarities in order to participate responsibly in the culture. But, conforming to the culture around it will negate the very contribution that the church is designed to make.

Professors Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon described Christians as “resident aliens” on earth. They said, “The most interesting, creative, political solutions we Christians have to offer our troubled society are not new laws, advice to Congress, or increased funding for social programs – although we may find ourselves supporting such national efforts. The most creative social strategy we have to offer is the church. Here we show the world a manner of life the world can never achieve through social coercion or governmental action. We serve the world by showing it something that it is not, namely, a place where God is forming a family out of strangers.”

In our dysfunctional, distracted and fragmented society we need a new vision of an alternative future. We need an embodied vision of people living together, caring for each other like family and supporting each other despite any differences they may have. Living out this vision, thereby revealing a glimpse of the world to come is the unique contribution that only the church can make. You see, even though people choose to attend a local church, they are called to live as family with the strangers they find there. This is very peculiar...