This concept has haunted me for years. Start with the revelation of Joseph Campbell, which many of you have read about before: three stages of human evolution:
a) the family: father/mother is God; a child can envision no greater absolute. The family is the total social environment.
(My wife has practically adopted a Mexican family: a mother who took care that all her 4 children were born in America. This family is so close-knit that I wonder if the children will achieve 'Americanization', although natives.)
b) the tribe: a very generic term- everything from church, to class, to team, to music group, to school, to college, to town, to state, to nation. Let's say anything other than humanity. The characteristic of the tribe is that all positive affect is centered in the tribe and all negative affect directed outside the tribe. The tribe is better; others are inferior.
The most lurid example of the tribe (for those of us who went through World War II) was the nation of Japan, as we knew it in those days. The Japanese were excruciatingly polite, considerate, loving to their own, and could (we thought) be utterly callous, brutal, inhuman to others.
We see plenty of that in our own country (whatever it is), especially our super-patriots: to kill an American is awful, terrible; to kill a few thousand others; we just don't think much about it.
c) Campbell's third category I describe as becoming a member of the human race. Not just a yankee or red sox, not just a Baptist or Catholic, not just an American. Jesus called it the brotherhood of man.
That's the third stage of human development, social development, spiritual development, Christian growth! When an African child starves, we cry-- and send money! (Unfortunately we often miss the malnourished children next door.)
When does a tribe become a community? There's a third category in this sequence:
tribe --> community --> colony of heaven
we all need community; in the spiritual realm there are no solitary Christians. We need friends to support us, affirm us, correct us, love us. But communities have varying qualities. When does a community (church, meeting) become a colony of heaven?
We have to grow beyond the law. A church or a meeting may be a tribe: we have rules to which you must conform; violations are frowned upon-- up to the point of expulsion (although this is usually very indirect).
This train of thought really started long before I met Joseph Campbell. Years before him I met Paul. Paul's beautiful poem on law and grace often seemed to me the very center of the gospel (Romans 7 and 8).
I like the King Jim version:
8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
and 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Brothers and sisters we are siblings of His! He belonged to no tribe; the brotherhood of man is non-tribal. He put Samaritans first in his kingdom. Can we do that? If the answer is yes, then maybe we belong to a colony.