Communities and Canon
James A. Sanders
Contemporary Western Christians and Jews have in large part lost touch with the thought patterns of their early ancestors of biblical faith. Most think of religion as a personal matter and concern, something between them as individuals and God. Churches and synagogues are seen as groups of individuals who live in proximity to each other and find it convenient to get together for worship, religious education, and community service; and people imagine that it has always been so. Communities of faith are made up of individuals, and while the whole may indeed be more than the sum of those who belong to a particular church or synagogue, that whole is no more complex than other such community organizations.
Awareness of the historical dimension of Judaism or Christianity is often vague and hardly more compelling than with other apparently comparable social entities that had their origins before the present generation was born. Such lack of historical awareness is found especially in those Christian denominations and sects which stress the importance of a personal saving experience and individual decision-making, conjoined with insistence that their particular group takes all its cues for faith and order from the Bible only. This lack of historical awareness is fortunately less the case for most Jews whose nurture in Judaism of necessity stresses its historical dimensions and, in the past half century, its relation to Israel both past and present.