Bryan Alderman is a student at Beeson Divinity School and a worship leader at a Baptist church. He loves music, sports, and friends, and misses his home state of Florida. He stands as the only Miami Hurricanes fan in Alabama.
Here’s a great word that Americans have largely lost touch with: Solidarity.
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines solidarity this way, “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.”
I have a strong opinion about that definition—it’s terrible. Sadly, it’s thoroughly true to its American-ness, which, then, I suppose I should expect from NOAD.
That’s fine. We all already know what the word should mean. Imagine two gangs smack-talking one another before a showdown. The ring leaders are in a shouting match.
Finish their phrase: “You mess with one of us, you mess with…?” Right. All of us.
Solidarity isn’t group therapy; it’s holistic group unity. It means the community identifies as one. It means that individuals are neither isolated nor abandoned, but neither do they get to abandon others. The above illustration is a pretty good example, but I wonder how it is that gangs, socio-political movements, and cults are often more skilled at practicing solidarity than the covenant people of God.
Culture impacts our application here: everyone knows that the Western society is more individualistic, and the church reflects this a bit. Still, it has not always been this way. A quick hike through the Old Testament, especially the historical accounts, is telling.
For instance, in the conquest of Jericho (Joshua 6-7), God commanded the Israelites to destroy everything alive, and devote everything of value to him and his treasury. Notice the language with which he warns Israel immediately before the conquest in 6:18: “If you take any of those things, you will set apart the camp of Israel for destruction and bring disaster on it.”
One individual’s action could set apart the entire community for destruction and disaster.
And—per the usual for Israel—that’s exactly what happens. One little man named Achan decided he could not go without a cloak (signature brand) and some silver and gold that he found while rummaging through a house in Jericho. He saw, coveted, and took. Three strikes for Achan.
Notice God’s condemnation after the conquest in 7:1: “The Israelites, however, were unfaithful…” Were they? Really? I thought only Achan took something! This kind of language continues throughout the chapter. In the end, thirty-six Israelites are struck down in battle—Achan not being one of them—because of his sin.
“Israel has sinned,” God says. “They have violated my covenant… they have taken some of what was set apart…they have stolen, deceived, and put those things with their own belongings… this is why they cannot stand…they will turn their backs on their enemies…they have been set apart for destruction” (7:10-13, Slice ‘n Diced CSB version).
I’d love to console us with the idea that American individuality came around at Pentecost and the New Testament church was different, but the burden of proof is on the individualist. In Acts, the first believers “held everything in common.” Rich people brought their wealth so that poor people would not lack.
Reading about that first century church is like reading about some sort of Christian socialism but, unlike real-life socialism (hot take alert), it actually works because their commonality went far deeper than finance. Grace moved hearts, and hearts came together.
It’s a terribly millennial thing to do to distance ourselves from institutions or labels and “love Jesus but not the church,” but this has to stop. We’re not abstract particles, floating randomly on a dust-ball with no connection or correlation to time, history, and one another. We are all immediately connected by virtue of who made us and how he did so.
We’re connected by our very nature, time of existence, nationality, place of dwelling, and faith; the one that transcends them all. Whether we like it or not, we’re marked by the stamp of our Creator, the imago dei (image of God), and we do well to own it.
I’m advocating for this attitude specifically within the local church. I fear that, especially for my own denomination (SBC), public individuality (potentially congregational autonomy, too) has unnecessarily robbed us of the blessing of solidarity. We feel disconnected by nature of our emphases; namely, political power, individual advancement and very little understanding of corporate salvation, among others.
But it does not have to be this way and, truthfully, the onus is on each community to combat it. We have to be personally offended if one of our own is attacked. Generally, this means we have to see each other through the lens of family. We have to bear each other’s burdens as if they were our own. We have to employ solidarity in the wake of tragedy, but also in its prevention.
Individually, it means that “man in your church” who you tell your co-workers about is not so simply a man in your church; he is your brother. By faith, he is your very blood, and his rebellion demands your attention. The student who has distanced himself from the group? He’s not just “doing his own thing,” he’s tinkering with the idea of running away from home with an early inheritance package, and your chances are running out to catch him before he goes prodigal. The single parents raising kids on their own because of death or divorce? That’s your family. Those children are part of your progeny. You have to own that responsibility.
I’m thinking less of being in each other’s business and more of living selflessly for other people. Individuality naturally breeds selfishness. Solidarity demolishes it.
Corporately, this means giving up your own agenda for your community and embracing whatever God has given to your leaders, so long as it’s biblical. It means leveraging your life; time, talent, and treasure as my pastor puts it, for the sake of the Gospel moving throughout the whole. It means as a church, we “hold all things together.”
See the difference? If physical family is proactive, faith family is far too often reactive. We let things happen, then get moving. If we owned our own like the Bible talks about, then some of these wanderings and rebellions may not happen. If we really want discipleship, then Sunday to Sunday community is not acceptable.
To bring this party full circle, I want you to know that I’m not encouraging any self-deprecating retrospective cross-examination. I’ve lost friends to suicide and have watched others run away. I’ve been racked with the grief of, “Why didn’t I just pick up the phone and call?” That’s not for us to deal with and I pray you’ll give those thoughts to the Lord and your community.
No, solidarity means looking around in the wake of those things for the outliers; the runners, prodigals-in-the-making, and self-isolationists, and going to get them. In other words: Yes, Cain. You are your brother’s keeper.
Make no mistake, the Good Shepherd will leave the 99 to get the one, but if one of the 99 blocks the 100th on his way out, maybe the Shepherd never has to.