We are saved into community. Yes, we’re also saved into forgiveness of sins and into a right relationship with Jesus. And more. But this is not either-or. Among the many things we are saved into is community.
And one of the truly big mistakes the church has made for quite some time is to emphasize conversion into salvation to the near exclusion of conversion into community.
Take, for example, the 5-step Plan of Salvation: “hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized.” Not a word about the church. Not a word about community.
Yes, there have been plenty of sermons preached on the importance of the church, with lots of verses quoted regarding the church. But nearly all have proceeded from the premise that church membership and attendance are commands that we must obey in order to please God — which is like saying to your child, “You must be a part of this family and live at home because I hereby command it!”
True enough, I suppose, but it really misses the point of being family. Indeed, if the only reason you were a member of your family is because of your father’s command, well, that would be one messed up family! And yet we preach and act as though church — being part of a community of believers — is an obligation, a pain which must be suffered to gain a heavenly reward. And that’s just as wrong as wrong can be.
You see, God loves us. He didn’t create the church to test our faith (not that it doesn’t!), but because it’s what’s best for us. The church was designed to be a blessing to its members. Of course, “the church” isn’t the institution or the leaders; it’s the members. So to say that “the church was designed to be a blessing to its members” is exactly the same thing as saying “Christians were saved to be a blessing to other Christians” and that we do this through an organization we call “church.”
We are commanded to serve and to love, as we’ve covered in previous posts, but you really can’t serve and love in a truly real way unless you are part of a community. You can only love and serve those you have contact with — and the closer and more intimate that contact, the more opportunity there is to serve and to love.
Jesus, while on earth, lived in community. It’s not that he needed others so much as he needed to serve and love others. He needed to train and mentor others. He needed to be more than an individual can be. He needed to be a part of a community — even though he was God in the flesh.
Just so, God in heaven lives in community. God exists in three persons, existing in community. God does not exist or love or serve solo. He is a community.
We were saved to become like God.
(Lev 19:2 ESV) 2 “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”
(Eph 5:1 ESV) Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
And people who are like God are people in community. Indeed, God created man in community.
(Gen 1:26-27 ESV) 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Notice, that God is spoken of as a plural being for the first time (“us”) in the same sentence where God creates man in his “image” and “likeness.” And so God creates “them” and he creates plural man as male and female. God existing in community creates man in his image and therefore in community.
When God begins to work his redemptive plan in Abraham, he begins with a married couple — Abraham and Sarah and then builds a nation, which he calls a “congregation” throughout Deuteronomy.
(Deu 31:30 ESV) Then Moses spoke the words of this song until they were finished, in the ears of all the assembly (LXX: ekklesia) of Israel:
Every time we read “congregation” or “church” in the New Testament, we should recall the children of Israel in the desert, being led by God in a column of fire, toward the Promised Land — all proceeding as a single church. God’s redemptive plan places his people in community.
During the Exile, God’s prophets spoke of the coming “restoration.”
(Jer 30:3 ESV) 3 For behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the LORD, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.”
(Jer 30:9-10 ESV) 9 But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them. 10 “Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the LORD, nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid.
(Jer 30:18-22 ESV) 18 “Thus says the LORD: Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt on its mound, and the palace shall stand where it used to be. 19 Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving, and the voices of those who celebrate. I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will make them honored, and they shall not be small. 20 Their children shall be as they were of old, and their congregation shall be established before me, and I will punish all who oppress them. 21 Their prince shall be one of themselves; their ruler shall come out from their midst; I will make him draw near, and he shall approach me, for who would dare of himself to approach me? declares the LORD. 22 And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
God promised to restore his people as a “congregation” (ESV) or “community” (NIV). God’s promise is also to raise up his prince — the Messiah — as ruler over his community or congregation.
God’s plan is corporate. Of course, there is an individual element, but we tend to overlook the community element. God saves “my people,” and he is the God of that people. We are saved by becoming a part of the people of God. That is, the people of God isn’t so much the set of all saved people, as saved people are those who are part of God’s people.
This means that God’s people — his nation, his kingdom — are at the heart of salvation. We are saved when we are added to his kingdom, his congregation.
(Hos 2:23b ESV) And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”
(Heb 8:10 ESV) 0 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Therefore, being a part of God’s congregation, the church, is much more than merely being among the saved. We are saved into a community. You see, it’s only in community where we can truly be in God’s image and likeness. To be restored to what we were always meant to be means being in community.
Therefore, it’s by no means adequate to be a member of a congregation but to live a life as a solitary individual or family. The community of God is your new family, and without that family, you cannot be like God. Indeed, you can’t love and serve as you are called to do.
And that means you can’t enjoy the happiness and joy that God made you to have. You can’t have the encouragement and support of the Christ-like, God-like church. Indeed, you can’t be restored to the image of God, to be the person God created you to be.