There is excellent content from all the talks and sessions of the Talking Points we had, Monday the 25th. One impression stood out to me from my time there.
I am impressed with the need of presenting the gospel in a way that converts the repentant and believing sinner, not only to Christ, but also to the church. I speak here, under the influence of Scot McKnight's talks, but not using Scot's words precisely -as far as I know.
There is rampant among believers, at least in our nation, and among many I've known, the notion that church is good, but not necessary for our life in Christ. I really think something of this deficiency in our gospel has infected most all of us to some extent. So I'm not excluded from this, especially as I look back on my fifty plus years of life. But back to the common problem. It is something like this notion: "We can do quite well without the church, or too much of it. We have our Bibles, good books, television and radio to pick up good ministries, friends we can get together with over coffee, everything and more- minus some of the "religious" trappings. We can carry on and get along quite well, thank you, apart from any formal commitment to a local church.
Scot points out, and I agree: This is a problem of "individualism". We see each us as free, willing persons, unto ourselves. This is the heart of how we see ourselves and each other from our inherited worldly perspective. But it lacks the way Scripture sees us: as Eikons of God, meant to live as individuals in community, through union with God in Christ. When we are converted, we're not only converted to Christ, but we're converted to his Body- the Church. And this conversion is to be lived out. Not only as a follower of Christ, but as a member of his Body in a local setting.
Our gospel focuses on the individual's dilemna before God. We are sinners who cannot cross the chasm between us and God, because of our sins. Christ, through the cross and resurrection, bridges that gap for us, so that we can cross over to God. Thus our sins are taken care of, we're converted, and we go from there. Different than when the Lord confronted Saul with the words after the blinding light on the road to Damascus: "Saul, Saul. Why are you persecuting me?" Immediately put before Saul, was not only a vision of Jesus, but words that identified the followers of the Way with Jesus. It is clear in Paul's writings that to be converted to Christ, means to be members of his Body, with necessary functions in edification and ministry together. There is no other life for us. It's either that, or it's something other than what the Word of Scripture tells us.
Why is it that so much of the New Testament seems so foreign to so many of us? (Now I'm preaching, or meddling?) I'm thinking of the "one anothers" in it. Because the gospel is presented as having to do with me and God. My relationship to God. And the rest is kind of like an add-on. Even if we consider it important- maybe as in good or helpful, it is not at the heart of it.
Yes, we individually must be forgiven of our sins through Christ. But inherent in that forgiveness is a life that is lived in communion with the community of Jesus. If we don't live in communion with our brethren: with our sisters and brothers, than we don't live in communion with Christ. And like Jesus, we're to reach out to bring others into our community of grace and forgiveness in Christ.
So the way of life in Jesus has to do, not only with how we relate as individuals to God. But also how we relate as individuals to each other. This is weakened when we think of the gospel in individualistic terms. Individualism has no place in the gospel (and therefore no place in life). It's about each of us, and all of us together- in our Lord, and in our Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Together living out this salvation and communion, in this world, and forever.
What do you think about this? Does it seem off track? Impractical? Unscriptural? If not, how can this gospel impact our lives now? Would there be any changes in our priorities and practices?
For a good book to help us think through this issue, read Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together. Not long, but challenging. And helpful to see the importance of living in community in following Christ.