POSTED ON JANUARY 25, 2012:
No Man Is An Island
How salvation is a community-creating event
I'm grateful for my religious upbringing. I grew up in a conservative Christian church in rural southeast Missouri. My childhood there concretely set the foundation for much of what I believe today.
One of the gifts I received from my church after my baptism at the age of five was a workbook that was designed to help me get my new relationship with God kick-started. It emphasized reading Scripture, praying, and going to Sunday School. All great things.
I'm sure the writers of this manual had good intentions but as I look back, this was a reflection of how many saw Christianity at that time: a personal walk with God. Unfortunately, not a lot has changed since then. For many, Christianity is all about the individual.
Don't mishear me. There is an individual aspect to our faith. When we place our faith and trust in Jesus, there is a personal, spiritual transaction that takes place. But the result of this decision is so much more than God saving a bunch of individual units who are just trying to survive here on earth until they get to heaven.
No, salvation is a community-creating event. The apostle Paul made it lucidly clear that two things happen simultaneously when we move from unbelief to belief. Getting saved and becoming a member of the people of God are events that happen concurrently in the kingdom of God.
When you survey the entirety of the Bible, a person was not saved for the sole purpose of enjoying a personal relationship with God. That phrase is actually nowhere in the Bible. A person is saved to a family and salvation is the gateway into membership in God's group.
So here's the rub. The default tendency of the human heart is to reduce our faith to a privatized version of it. Unfortunately, when we do this, we flip what Scripture teaches about God's family, the church, around.
Here's how it typically works: We believe that since our faith is meant to be lived individually, the church -- God's family -- only comes into play in our lives if it aids us in our growth individually. And when it doesn't serve us in our development, we hop to another church that we believe will serve our best interests.
Many of us struggle with this but we are wrestling with a fallacy. The church community is not here to serve us in our pursuit of God. Scripture teaches something altogether different.
The Scriptures communicate that when one places his or her faith in Jesus, life becomes grafted into something greater, something much bigger than them. In turn, "the community," as professor and author, Ben Witheringon says, "not the closet, is where salvation is worked out."
When many of us think of being a part of a family, it makes us cringe. Some of us grew up in an extremely dysfunctional family. Maybe you had a mother who was overbearing. Maybe you had a dad that was distant and cold. Maybe your siblings were unkind.
For many of you, your family is still unmanageable. The truth is, a solid, nuclear, loving family is not the norm anymore in our culture.
Let's put all of our cards on the table. Family is messy. Why? Because we reek with sin and selfish behavior in our lives, even after we come to faith in Jesus. That is what makes it difficult to live as family, to stay together, to embrace the pain, and to grow in community together.
One of the dangers in all this talk about community is the temptation to idealize the concept of family yet fail to embrace the reality that doing family right is really tough.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his book, Life Together:
The serious Christian...is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and try to realize it...
By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live for even a brief period in a dream world...
Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community...
He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter..."
Bonhoeffer is right. We bring to the church our idea of what that community should look like. And when the going gets tough, we leave the kitchen and it's typically someone else's fault.
Don't idealize community. It's tough. And at the end of the day, you can't do it -- not on your own. If it were up to you, you wouldn't do it all. It's too hard.
It is only in and through the gospel that you can do this. The gospel is the good news that while you were far from God -- when you were an enemy of God -- he sent Jesus to reconcile you to Himself and adopt you and bring you into his family.
Galatians 4:4-5 says, "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons."
This passage shows us that God went all in for us to join his family. The natural response is for us then is to go all in with a church family. It will be chaotic. At times, it will be tumultuous. It will require great sacrifice. But it will be so meaningful.
Resist the temptation to carve your own spiritual path. Rather, implant yourself in a church community. There are no comparisons to the dividends that come from the messiness and challenge of being a part of the family of God.
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