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.