The Gospel in 5D: Community Building
This is part three of my series looking at five dimensions of the gospel. Check out the last couple if you haven't read them yet!
The Gospel as Community Building
Liberated from the alienation of Sin, we are freed to enter into relationship. Sin’s relational destructiveness isolates us from one another, driving a wedge between ourselves and healthy relationship with God, our own self, others and the created world. The scope of Jesus’ redemptive work is cosmic, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:19-20). The gospel makes relationship possible and draws once segregated people together in community.
The fact that Paul declares the power of the gospel for salvation on behalf of both the Jew and the Greek is radically significant (Rom 1:16). For these two ethnic groups to share the table fellowship of communion was an enormous paradigm shift. The universality of the gospel creates one unified body of Christ while we retain our diversity (1 Cor 12:27). We are not separated from each other on the basis of being “Jew nor Greek..slave nor free...male nor female; for all...are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 2:28). However, our various forms of distinctiveness--gender, culture, age, and more--remain intact as we worship around the throne of God (Rev 7:9-10).
If there is one dimension of the gospel the 21st century Church desperately needs to hear afresh, it is this one. The gospel has systematically been reduced to individualized salvation interpreted as access to eternal life, heaven when we die and a personal relationship with Jesus.
There's a lot of issues with this, but I'll just point out two.
First, our journeys of spiritual formation and discipleship are not meant to be solitary enterprises. There is a reason why the majority of the "you's" we read in Paul's epistles are in the plural form, addressed to the whole church. We simply can't grow in spiritual maturity or Christlikeness alone. These things are fleshed out in the context of relationship where following Jesus is hard. Piety is easy when you're alone! It is as a community that the Church's worship and ecclesial practices glorify God. Not only that, we each need the wisdom of our community to reveal dynamics of the Christian life we could not comprehend on our own. And, painfully at times, we need others to reveal those parts of ourself that we've ignored or haven't allowed God to deal with.
Second, the world is a heart breakingly divided place. Follow this link to a map of America. The map is made up of colored dots that represent people's ethnicity. Zoom in on your city. How integrated is it? Less than you would hope, I guarantee it. What ethnicities live on the poor side of town? In the cities I've lived in, they almost exclusively minorities. Who lives around where your church is?
This function of the gospel may be the most important component of our witness. Society is as divided as ever, which means the church has the opportunity to prove that our faith empowers us to be different than the rest of the world. As the diverse and unified body of Christ, we become what Lesslie Newbigin described as the “hermeneutic of the gospel.” When we come together in unified missional witness, our community life is the best apologetic for the truth of the living God. Over 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. called Sunday mornings at 11:00am the most segregated hour of the week. Let us make more progress on this statistic in the next 50 years than we did in the last. The future of the Church's relevance depends on it.
As I will explore in the next post, it is as a community that the Church is able to practice alternative ways of being in the world, ways that make this planet a more just and beautiful place, the ways of shalom. We simply can't skip this dimension of unity. And why would we want to? Life is so much richer together!