Total Church: Why Community
Paul emphasizes here, and in many other places, that Christ wants to create “a people”, not merely isolated individuals who believe in him (see Titus 2.14). We are not saved individually and then choose to join the church as if it were some club or support group. Christ died for his people and we are saved when by faith we become part of the people for whom Christ died (37).
The Christian community is central to Christian identity
The Bible shows that we are communal creatures, made to be lovers of God and of others. Genesis 2 underlines this as the writer tells us that the only thing in all creation that is not good is the man on his own (v. 18).
Into our pervasively individualistic world-view, we speak the gospel message of reconciliation, unity and identity as the people of God. This is perhaps the most significant “culture gap” which the church has to bridge.
Today it is often difficult for people to contemplate conversion to Christ if that means distancing themselves from their existing networks, especially if those are the close bonds of a minority community such as those found in the gay community or among ethnic minorities. They need a new home. In The Crowded House they have also found some people wanting to be part of their church community not initially because they were interested in Christ, but because they wanted a kinder, gentler alternative to their existing network of relationships.
The NT word for community is koinonia, often translated by the now anemic word ‘fellowship’. Koinonia is linked to the words “common”, “sharing”, “participation.” We are the community of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13.14) in community with the Son (1 Cor. 1.9): sharing our lives (1 Thes. 2.8), sharing our property (Acts 4.32), sharing the gospel (Phil. 1.5; Phile 6) and sharing in Christ’s suffering and glory (2 cor. 1.6-7; 1 Pet. 4.13).
At the center or hub of life is not me as an individual, but us as members of the Christian community.
The Christian community is central to Christian mission
God is a missionary God and God’s primary missionary method is his covenant people.
The church is not something additional or optional. It is at the very heart of God’s purposes. Jesus came to create a people who would model what it means to live under his rule. It would be a glorious outpost of the kingdom of God: an embassy of heaven. This is where the world can see what it means to be truly human.
Our identity as human beings is found in community. Our identity as Christians is found in Christ’s new community. And our mission takes place through communities of faith. Christianity is ‘total church.’
If you warm to this vision of Christian community then start where you are. Sell the vision by modeling the vision. Become a blessing by offering hospitality, showing practical care, dropping in on people…Create something that other people want to be part of (48).