My language has changed over the past few years. I am not sure if it was intentional or is just the result of who has been feeding my thinking. I suspect a little of both. Wherever the change has come from, as soon as I start talking about the Church your going to notice it.
The idea of the community of God has captivated and shaped my language, my thinking, and my heart.
This is is the environment where I discover the scope and power of our salvation, where we experience love given and received, and the context in which we learn to live the-fear-of-Yahweh. In short, community is the plan of God for the place and way his people are to live in this world.
Community has always existed. Adam living in the garden wasn’t good until Eve was formed to live together with Him. They were to fill the earth and multiply. That is community growing, filling the void, and living under the pleasure and rule of God. The world was designed to have humanity having community with God and with each other. When our first parents cut us off from life, they cut us out of the community we were created for.
These days, there is a good deal of talk about community floating around society. It is presented to us in advertising for the corner coffee shop. It is hard wired into the mission of a corporation that is trying to become more organic. It is spoken of ad nauseam by church growth experts, indie-type college kids, and emerging hippies. Community has become a buzz word of sorts, thrown into conversations to make us believe that we can find the connection, acceptance, and life we crave… provided we shop at the right local stores, get involved with a correct programs and causes, or meet whatever requirements are necessary.
Sad to say, this last caveat I have experienced more in evangelical circles than anywhere else. And that’s not cool.
It’s so wrong that the very thing that the Father, Son, and Spirit have chosen to give us life and identity has been co-opted into another program. It has been twisted into a marketing tool and stuffed into a box that skews it true meaning.
Now, not every one has blasphemed the notion of community. But those who have not are the ones that understand what community truly means. I’m not talking about the dictionary definition here (although that can provide clarity as well). I’m talking about the meaning of community that God has.
In the kingdom of God’s economy of mercy and love, community is defined as “with unity” or “in oneness”.
Community, being in oneness with each other, comes from our common identity. This isn’t about fashion or music preference. It’s not an economic status thing, cause that’s based on mammon. Our identity comes from the reality that we are people who have been rescued to the kingdom of light. Or, to put it another way:
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us…
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
We who God has reconciled to Himself have been given a new identity. It is an identity that we share, an identity that unifies us and brings us into oneness. We are the adopted of God.
There are people who say that, “God is our Father” and mean that God is the father of all humanity, that we are all the children of God. That is not true. The only people that have the right to call Yahweh Father are those who have accepted His offer of adoption and reconciliation. Being reconciled to God is more than just a pat on the back and a, “that’s ok.” Reconciliation changes what we are, just like adoption changes the orphan into a son/daughter. It is a new identity, different from what you were, and full of change and hope. Our hope is the inheritance we have obtained in Christ. One reason we have the Spirit of God dwelling in these muddy frames is as a seal, a deposit, a pledge that cannot be revoked. He is the down payment on all that we have been given because of the identity we have been given.
This changes things for me. See, the identity I have isn’t made up of what I can do for myself and how elect I am. No, it is wrapped up in the community I am now a part of. I am not called the adopted son of God. Rather, I am one of the adopted children of God. The difference is subtle but profound. Our tendency to make our spiritual journey all about “Jesus and me” is not what God intended. Rather, it is a mentality that is counter to the kingdom of God.
In the kingdom of God, there is no place for individuals. What I mean is this: I am not someone with an individual salvation and an individual relationship with God. Instead, I am one of the people of God. We share in the same salvation that has been accomplished for us all by the one God-man, Jesus the Christ. That reconciliation work has given you and I the standing to cultivate a personal relationship with the Father, but it is not at the expense of the community. In fact, the personal relationships we have with God are meant to feed the community, not cloister us off from one another.
Individualism cares only about the self, my relationship with God, how deep it is, how strong it is, how much I can do. It is a mentality that does not understand servant-hood, sacrifice, or real love. Jesus was constantly telling the disciples to get over their notions of individual greatness in the kingdom and find their personal place in the kingdom. He flipped around their understanding of greatness and then said, “Be like me.”
This was the groundwork for the revolution, for the advancement of the kingdom. This was a people called by God, realizing that they were not a privileged nation, not a people with special status as the only group God cared for. Their identity was wrapped up in Jesus, not themselves. It was Jesus’ mission, bestowed on them that gave them a great commission. It was Jesus who said, “follow me.” Yes, there was a personal responsibility to answer the call, but it was still a call to Jesus.
If their identity was wrapped up in following Jesus, being like Jesus, and looking forward to the return of Jesus, should our identity be found in anything else?
The kingdom of God is not made up of individuals. The kingdom of God is defined by its King: Jesus Christ. We are invited to come be the people of God who live in the kingdom. This is our identity, and the true definition of community: our oneness found in Jesus.