The Ties That Bind

If you’ve ever vacationed along Florida’s panhandle coast, you may have seen what Time magazine called possibly “the most astounding design achievements of its era, and one might hope, one of the most influential.” Prince Charles has raved about it and the Walt Disney Company has emulated it. The focus of all this adulation is the charming, Victorian-style town of Seaside, billed as the ideal community. It was designed to revive a bygone era when neighborhoods were composed of people involved in each other’s lives. Seaside is a delightful place to visit. But if you are looking for over-the-fence neighborliness, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Despite what planners thought were all the right ingredients, Seaside has failed to produce the sense of community as originally envisioned. That’s because, just as it takes more than a house to make a home, it takes more than buildings to make a community. Seaside was launched in the early 1980s as an alternative to twentieth-century anonymous suburbia. The role of the automobile was downplayed in Seaside. Instead of driving to a mall, it was hoped people would shop and fraternize at the town center. Every house has a front porch—required by law—to encourage porch-sitting and contact with passers-by. All the elements were present to re-create the bygone community of yesteryear—except for perhaps the most important of all. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the town planners of Seaside made no provision for—among other things—a church. The result, as the Journal notes, is that “community life is nil.” Seaside is an attempt to meet what theologian John Hardin has called a fundamental “deep down longing of the human race, namely, its desire for community”—but with the most essential ingredient missing. In his book The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer writes that the idea of community has meaning only when grounded in biblical truth. “Without the certainty of that truth, and the content of that truth,” he wrote, “the call for community would... be [but] one more utopia.” The Bible teaches that the church of Jesus Christ—which is the eternal fellowship of believers—is the ultimate expression of community. The Apostles’ Creed speaks of “the communion of saints” as the future expectation of Christians. Historically, in Western society the church quite literally became the focal point of the community, signifying the valued place of Christian truth in the society—the common bond by which people belong to God and one another. But when the church steeples are absent, little remains to bind people together. Use Seaside as an illustration with your neighbors to explain how the Christian church is the unique answer to mankind’s innate need for community. This series on apologetics will help you explain how, if the church is missing, when it comes to community, towns like Seaside are nothing but a collection of pretty buildings.


Chuck Colson


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