What the Church has to offer

For a long while I have been teaching and preaching that all the Church really has to offer to anyone (and everyone) is Jesus Christ. That is all it has to offer. Nothing else, nothing less. Once the Church separates itself from Jesus, the Church becomes a clanging cymbal or a noisy gong of a bunch of well-meaning persons who seek to master the world through their own designs.

What I’ve observed among the Emergent folk is Jesus is indeed what they want to offer, but they know that individualistic patterns in the Christian life and systems of thought are not getting the job done as it ought to be done — and they believe that Jesus Christ, and his gospel work of transforming Eikons so they become those who live out the Jesus Creed in all of life, can only be seen in the context of community. Community is overused indeed — but find a better term for what Jesus came to do. He came to create a community that would witness to his transforming grace by living out a life that offered an alternative. Individuals aren’t sufficient.

Have you ever observed that the narrative pattern from Adam/Eve to Abraham found a dead end in the individualistic tendencies of Genesis 4–11? It was then, with Abraham in Genesis 12, that God “started all over again” and the first thing he did was form a community of transforming presence. With Abraham the theme of community — a theme from Abraham to the Apostle Paul — lays a foundation for understanding what the gospel is all about.

So many skip from Genesis 3 to Genesis 12 and then land in Romans — and what they miss is that from the very start (from Abraham at least) God was at work in forming nations and communities. How can we miss that God’s design was to form a community? a society in which his will was done? a society that, as a society, would witness to what he can do? a society and not just a collection of individuals? The Apostle Paul along the same line had a profound ecclesiology as a body of total interrelatedness that was directed not by giftedness but by relational love, and out of which love the gifts would find their genuine role. And that Body was union with Christ and communion with the saints.

Perhaps the ontological foundation for community is to be found in the ancient orthodox doctrine of the perichoresis: the mutual interpenetration and indwelling in love between the persons of the godhead. If this is what God “was doing” in eternity past (mutually indwelling), and this is what he will do in eternity to come, then the communion of the saints might just be a lot more central to theological sciences than we have traditionally cared to admit.

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  • Ahhh, COMMUNITY!That word rang empty to me until I met Stan Grenz. Then the word had depth, meaning and profundity. How do I make community a key aspect of my new gospel presentation on our being created and then re-created in the Image of God?

  • Bob, I blogged a bit of an outline to you on your site.

  • The one who says you are a bit modern is probably right (but what we are is not the issue). What is most needed is some community as the place where that gospel comes to fruition and so embodies it for us and makes it tangible.

  • I find your web site hard to read; what about changing to another color than this gloomy dark?

  • As a youth pastor, I’m starting to realize the vital importance of relationship in changing lives for the kingdom. Kids don’t come to our youth group to just hear my Bible lessons or to sing songs. The most important thing that I can do is build relation ships with them that show them how Jesus’ life has changed mine. In the long run, I think that produces the most change.

  • Len

    “(1) A person’s view of Reality is largely shaped, and maintained, within the community into which one has been socialized. (2) In a pluralistic society, the possibility of conversion, that is, changing the way one perceives essential Reality, is opened up through conversations with people who live with a contrasting view of Reality, and (3) one adopts and internalizes the new worldview through resocialization into a community sharing that new worldview.” pp.99-100. George Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evanglism

  • Len

    “To be or not to be a community is not an option for the church. By nature the church is a community and experiences communion. The question before the people of God is: what kind of community will we be? ” John Driver

  • I’ve had enough comments about the color scheme of the blog page, so I changed it.Len: I’m tracking with your ideas.

  • Scot:I’m all for community, but I’m not sure I subscribe to your Gen 3-12 rendering. If God really was all about community, then why confuse the languages at Babel when the people – through uniform language and, hence, community – were about to come together and accomplish things? It is true that they were going to do ungodly things, but God’s actions were certainly anti-community at that point. I think an argument for community can be made from the Old Testament, but I don’t think you have to argue from that passage to do it.Of course, I could be wrong.

  • Scot, I dig the new color. Not that the old one was that bad. But the new one’s pretty cool.

  • Mike,Thanks for your comment. I think you have a point about Babel, but the Babeling act of God is then immediately countered by the “community” act of calling Abr in order to form a nation (community). And the rest of what we call the OT is in fact nothing but a story of God’s work in that nation — and how it did and did not fulfill its communitarian mission (other terms could be used).Of course, I too could be wrong — which is why we talk to one another, hoping the hermeneutical spiral will move faster and closer to the truth.

  • Len

    Whew.. thought I found a new blog but I see its still yours ;)ANyone else been reading Joseph Myers, “The Search to Belong..” Here is a snippet..”Spontaneity is difficult to measure, so many organizations do not measure it. And since they cannot measure it, it loses its importance. Yet people “count” the spontaneity in their lives all the time. They do not measure numerically, saying “I’ve had five spontaneous experiences today.” Instead, they tell the story of the encounter:+ “I met someone very interesting in the deli today.”+ “I had a great time at the concert. The crowd was really into it. We had such a good time.”+ “It was as if we had known each other all our lives.””Stories are the measuring tools of spontaneity, of community, and of belonging. Organizationally, we can measure the spontaneous experiences of community by listening for the stories people share. Then it is our responsibility to tell and retell the stories to create an organizational climate of belonging.”Belonging cannot be measured in numbers. You may count attendance, but to give a conclusive number for those in your congregation who experience community is impossible. The stories we collect, however, help put together the community puzzle. Says Etienne Wenger, “Stories are a powerful component of any culture, and legitimizing the storytelling process encourages people to act out the stories they would like one day to tell.”12

  • Anonymous

    Scot, the irony of the passage that was cited, as Mike makes mention of Babel, is that it is anti-community because the communities there are gathered around something other than God’s purposes. If you read “Before Abraham Was” by Kikawada and Quinn, they make an interesting argument in the pattern of Gen 1-11 that I have observed separately also.I think the bigger problem is when we talk of things in such abstract qualities, like “community,” when interpreting the Scripture, we end up leaving a lot out. Isn’t community also based on individuals within it? Could not the same person arguing for community in the texts you cited also argue for individuality, and how each man must follow God against the community? We should then say that both individual relationship with God is just as important as communal relationships with each other. In fact, more so, since it is our relationship with Him that reconciles us to one another. I realize that evangelicals have overly emphasized individual, but do we need then to swing to the otherside and overeact by interpreting everything as community instead? Those who see everything as community seem to want to fulfill the “love for one another/neighbor” command, but my problem with a lot of ec advocates is that the individual “love of God” is diminished (when I think the Scripture does say this is the more important of the two, since without it, neither can truly exist).All that to say, I don’t think Genesis is teaching what your seeking from it, and I say that as a Genesis scholar. You would probably do better to seek it out in Ephesians, where I might add you have both the individual and corporate reconcilation present.

  • Anonymous (name?),I’m in agreement with you about the dialectical relationship of group and individual, and I think Evangelicals have overplayed individualism, and I agree that it is dangerous to flip all the way over to the other side.But, let me ask this? Isn’t it fair to read Gen 12 as the formation of a people through Abraham, and call them a people called out from the rest? And, if this is so, doesn’t that people set in contrast what has gone before, where from Gen 4–11 we don’t really have a people functioning as God wanted them to.I also agree that what makes a people a fully functioning people begins with loving God in directing worship to him.Is it the word “community” that is too problematic?What leads me to this is simple: Gen 1–2 is paradise; Gen 3 is when paradise becomes the past for Adam and Eve; Gen 4–11 are messy and things never get going right; and Gen 12-50 (or at last the Abr bits) is where God gets things going in the right direction, and it is by getting a faithful person who will be the foundation of a people (read: community). The rest of the OT is the outworking of that people.

  • I don’t know – it seems a fine reading to me. I’m not a Genesis scholar, but if the shape of the creation narrative in chapter 1 is separate / fill, then I think a good argument can be made that Abram’s call is creational in that God “separates” him and promises to “fill” his family with descendants. It seems irreducibly community-related to me – it was never about Abram’s individual love for God but rather the creation of a new community with Abram as its beginning.That’s not to say that Abram’s love for God as an individual wasn’t important; rather that it could only find full expression (in the context of the narrative) in the dream of family (community).

  • Anonymous

    Hi Scot, sorry about the name. i haven’t signed up yet. Yes, I think you understand the literary structure of Genesis well, and the chaos-creation-chaos-creation scheme, so that it good. I think you also have it correct to say that Abraham’s story is the creation of the community of God too, so no problem there. I think it comes when we diminish the individual importance of Abraham’s relationship with God (which in Genesis is saying more about God than Abraham–it’s really just a theology of God anyway) and MAKE Genesis about community rather than about God and His relationship with these individuals at the beginning of His community.In other words, what I’m struggling to say is that Genesis is about the sovereignty and providence of God, whether that is seen working in individuals or community (although the divine community doesn’t really exist in Gen, and I would argue that the text displays God’s providence working in individuals more than community). Would it be better then to say that the book is about God’s providence working through individuals in order to create His community/people? I think that might preserve what you’re trying to get at and preserve the theology of the text as well, no?

  • Good comments anonymous; issue is not making it all community. But it is seeing the people-ness of the work of God.

  • Excellent article. I wrote about it on my blog today. Peace.

  • Thanks Milton.

  • a brother

    I wish I could sit in a place to meet with all of you who think The Lord is defined as (3) three persons. In the book of Colossians Ch. 2:9 , it is written: quote” All The fulness of the Godhead dwelleth in Him, bodily”.
    How could you find three persons in the Godhead to explain your supposedly community that God has put in place?
    Salvation is an “Individual affair between every person and God”.
    a brother