Faith is a personal journal but it is not a solitary one. The understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ and a part of the Body of Christ is formed in the tension between the individually committed and the deeply networked person. As a consequence, sometimes understandings of faith swing to the extremes, sometimes going to the one side of defining faith as simply a solitary journey that one can do without the other. On the other hand, the other extreme can
The present trajectory of devout Christians in today’s world, at least those who I am aware of via personal connections, social media, etc. is to emphasize the communal aspects of faith. It is largely obvious that solitary Christian is a fundamentally mistaken notion that almost becomes
But why is it important? The answer is important because not only does the theological answer serve to legitimate the pursuit of relationships and community in a religious, spiritual context, but it will direct the way we understand the purpose of community, which will direct our attention attention in our relational and communal engagement, formed our expectations of what to expect in relationships and community, and from our attention and expectations, direct in what ways we will act. The answer we provide, I would suggest, can amount to the difference between engaging in the authentic community of Christ and engaging in a community that is formed and controlled out of self-interests, the difference between the community of the redeemed and the cult of the controlling.
There are two important theological “data points” to briefly make. I won’t go into a thorough exegetical and theological rationale for them here, as it will distract from the ultimate point.
Firstly, God created us as people-in-relationship in order to accomplish the purpose of being in God’s image. Let me unpack this a bit. When humanity is said to be formed in the image of God in Genesis 1, there is often times the implicit assumption that this is some ontological statement about who we are as persons. We are in the image of God, so we have some special, divinely attuned capacities because of this. But I don’t think this is the right understanding. Rather, being in the image of God is God’s purpose for us in the created order; it is a designation of the function and role we are to place in this world. We are not ourselves images of God, but rather we are made in the image of God, which is a metaphor used to describe our relationship to creation. We represent the rule of God in the world, acting in accordance to that authority
Consequently, we are given specific capacities that will enable us to fulfill this role. Three capacity that I think that
In other words, the God-given purpose of humanity to be in the image of God entails our relational capacity
Secondly, redemption in Christ through the Spirit comes through practice and experience, not in the absence of it. When Paul describes in Romans 5:2-5 how hope springs forth in our hearts, he doesn’t suggest the Spirit inserts hope into our lives as we are in silence and solitude, separated from the struggles of life. Spiritual maturity is not a sophisticated form of avoidance. Rather, it happens through the tribulations that try people. Later in Romans 8, Paul calls people to take on the thoughts of the Spirit, which are life and peace, while they put to death the deeds of the body. This entails thinking that occurs in the midst of practice and struggle, not aside from it. This reflects the Stoic influence on the Apostle Paul, who
However, what is redemptive isn’t the experiences we have themselves, but the way the God who brings something new and unlike the present patterns through Christ and the Holy Spirit. God from the outside (and commonly, though not exclusively, from human agents) plants within us the seeds of this redemption that brings something new.
So in other words, the redemption that comes from Christ and the Spirit occurs through our practice and experience, not in isolation from it. An implication we can draw from this then is as follows: What we avoid, will remain unredeemed.
So bringing these two points together is this. In order for us to fulfill our purposes of being in the image of God, we as humans must exercise our capacity for love, creativity, and language in a rightly direct manner as known in and coming from Christ and the Spirit to fulfill this purpose. When we don’t exercise, we are influenced by the reality of sin in the world away from our Divinely-given purpose, and maybe even ourselves engaging in actions that actively resists this purpose. Therefore, for us to be redeemed by what God is doing in us personally, we must work it out in the various capacities that we are given to fulfill this overarching purpose.
Therefore, to fulfill our purpose of being in the image of God entails the corporate, communal, relational capacities that we have to be rightly directed. This redemption comes through engaging our relational capacities, both through what is happening in ourselves but also what is happening in others that can impact us. The latter role Hebrews recognizes in that other people can help breaked the hardening that sin can cause. But if we do not seek to engage our social capacities, neither will we a) experience the redemption and transformation of these capacities nor b) will we rightly direct these capacities to fulfill our purpose. God’s work in creation and redemption is resisted when we neglect or
But this is different from a similar form of theological reasoning: that we experience God in
However, when we understand God’s redemption
Therefore, redemption happens as part of the community of faith because it is in relationship to others that we can realize God’s redemption to exercise our God-given capacities in the way to fulfill our God-given purpose to be in the image of God. The community should never be deified as the presence of God, but rather recognized as the outworking of God’s power that points us to the presence of God in the Lord Jesus Christ and in the outpouring Holy Spirit.