Monday, August 14, 2006

The Gospel of Community

For too many of us churchgoing folk today, Christian faith is just part of our thinking. It may or may not inform what we do. It is a tool perhaps for "successful living," but just one of a few tools we can live to achieve "victory" in life. It is certainly preached this way in too many churches.
But for the first-century Jews and the Christian community birthed out of early Judaism, there is no distinction between who you are and what you do. What you do is who you are; who you are is what you do.

We can see this breakdown in how we look at Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Many Christians today have adopted the typical view of the non-Christian of the Sermon. That is, that the Sermon on the Mount is a great series of ethical platitudes that may help us live at peace with our neighbor or maybe even achieve a higher state of being (whatever that means). But to reduce the Sermon to just a set of instructions, godly instructions or not, is actually to divorce them from the kingdom context in which they are given. The purpose of the Sermon is not so much to inspire change in behavior as it is to spark change in heart. The call of Jesus into the kingdom life is about character, not behavior. The former will naturally flow into the latter, to be sure.

So the Sermon on the Mount is a great descriptive of what life in the kingdom of God looks like, what the life of those inside the kingdom looks like. They are not necessarily behavioral goals to which we ought to aspire, although there is certainly nothing really wrong with trying to live out the Sermon's "commandments." Rather, they are character traits with which we are to exemplify for the cause of the kingdom and for the glory of God. We cannot do what the Sermon says to do until we can be what the Sermon says to be.

Being what the Sermon says to be is the real test of one's assimilation into the life of Christ. Not that being Christlike doesn't take a conscious effort, but the less conscious that effort is, the more Christlike we become. In his book The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard talks about believing in the work that Jesus has done for us and is doing in us and automatically acting as if it were so.

A lot of this "automatic" action comes from previous meditation on Scripture, communication with God, and exercising the spiritual disciplines, all conscious efforts of their own and each beginning with plenty of conscious (and self-conscious) efforts. But the goal is to move our conscious efforts away from self-consciousness and into God-consciousness. As an illustration, let's re-phrase an illustrative q&a:
Question to Christian: Why do you follow Jesus?
Typical Christian Answer: Because I want to get to heaven (or have a good life, or because He died for me or some other sense of gratitude).

The typical answer is not an incorrect one, as far as it goes. There's nothing really wrong with that answer, except that it does not really get to the heart of the matter. There's nothing wrong with this attitude of gratitude, but it does not really capture the fundamental specialness of the God-life.
Here is perhaps a better reply:
Question to Christian: Why do you follow Jesus?
Christian Answer: To glorify God, and because I am a part of God's people.

The foci in the latter example are a) God, and b) the community. Again, there's nothing wrong with concern for our own personal kingdom life, particularly as it concerns a life of gratitude for what Jesus has done for us personally. But kingdom life requires kingdom concern. Community life requires community concern. The Christian life is to be lived outward focused, bringing glory to God and sharing in the burden and calling of God's community.

This is a Great Commandments Gospel. You know the Great Commandments, right? "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself." Because the good news of the Gospel of Jesus is that we are reconciled to God and reconciled to each other, our Christian life ought to not focus on "personal victory" per se, but on God's glory and the life of God's community (the church).

See, the worldview of the first-century believer was not just a perspective, a way of looking at the world. His worldview was who he was. He didn't just believe philosophically in the Creator God, the LORD and Lord of Israel, the God of Abraham and Isaac, and so therefore think God would redeem his nation and people and interrupt history as He had done so often before and set things to right. He believed in that God with all his being -- with his heart, soul, mind, and strength -- and so therefore expected with certainty and lived automatically like God would redeem his people and interrupt history and set things to right.

Does your view of church reflect this? Is it merely a place to get fed and inspired; or is it a place to cooperate in the feeding of the sheep, a place to contribute to the living witness we are called to be, individually and corporately, to God's interruption of history in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ?

(A version of this piece originally appeared at Thinklings in October 2004.)

22 Comments:

At 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to hear more about your thinklings group too. It sounds fascinating.

 
At 12:12 PM, Blogger Jared said...

The Thinklings weblog was launched in 2003 by myself and a few buddies. We post on all sorts of subjects and have developed a pretty fun community over time.

You can visit the site at www.thinklings.org
More background on the site and its contributors can be found in the left-hand menu of the blog. Look for the bios or the Thinklings History.

 
At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Dirk said...

Reminds me of what a former pastor of mine often said - paraphrasing - A relationship with the information gets you nowhere, you've got to have a relationship with Jesus.
Then the information can change your heart, which leads to life change. Quite easier said than done, eh?

 
At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Nathan said...

Excellent reading about community.

I think a part of where we live conditions many of us to think of Church almost as a social obligation. A community interest.

Unless we are very careful, Church can become merely an extension of our social life. It's very tempting just to interact very superficially and get what I can "take away" from Church.

That has been communicated to me time and time again in the Nashville community, often about BCC. "I feel so inspired, motivated, etc." Often it was connected to David and especially as the events unfolded a few weeks ago.

I had people tell me, and saw it on the talkbcc, that they choose a Church based on a Pastor or what they "get from it."

Folks, we shouldn't based out interactions with Brother and Sisters in Christ based on how good it makes us feel or what we get from it. Rather we should take inventory of the gifts that we can bring. Isn't this more in line with the functioning Body of Christ ?

Many Churches today have people that dart in/ dart out, buy a tape or CD. That's it. That has been me before as well.

All the platitudes about "doing community" are lip service if personal growth in Christ and action aren't an end result. After 13 years at BCC I realized I was the same guy that first got involves. Some of that was me, and some of that was the programming and lack of leadership at the top.

I pray things change.

 
At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Jonathan Davis said...

I have to kind of disagree with your post Jared in the following way... To quote your question..why do I follow Jesus? for personal reasons, because of what He has done in my life. There has to be a recognition and appreciation of what has been done in the individual life that will propel them to be concerned about the church at large and to be involved in a community. I firmly believe that God does call some people to churches to work, and others to be blessed and inspired. I have seen this in my own life, and there is nothing wrong with that. We as individuals follow Jesus because of what He has done for us personally, the blood he shed for us personally, not because I am part of God's people. And as far as what you said the world view of early christians were, it seems like from reading the bible that even though they were great heroes and martyrs that there were all kinds of fears, false doctrines, and all kinds of things going on in various churches just as goes on today. Some things never change due to human nature. Just read the epistles and the first part of revelation and you will find that out.

In other words, unless you have a certain level of personal victory that drives you, there is no way to even think about joining community. This is why, at least when I was there, BCC was always begging for volunteers. Babies need to drink milk, they can't milk the cow so to speak. Look at the founders of the church, paul, peter, barnabas, the disciples, all of them had personal encounters with christ that enabled and inspired them to go as far as they did to promote the gospel. The problem today is not lacking a community worldview, it is lack of personal spiritual maturity because of the lack of deep substantive biblical teaching in order to attract and not to offend "seekers"..

 
At 6:30 PM, Blogger Jared said...

Jonathan, thanks for your thoughtful comment.
A few replies...

there is nothing wrong with that

I agree. That's why I said more than once in the post that there's nothing wrong with "personal salvation" or acting out of gratitude for Jesus' sacrifice for us as individuals. I tried throughout to affirm the individual aspect of salvation. In fact, in terms of predestination and election, I'm a firm individualist, having even written a paper against those who see a corporate focus preeminent in Romans.

And as far as what you said the world view of early christians were...

I was contrasting the religious culture of today with the religious culture of the first century Jew (and the first century Christian he became). A "Christian worldview" is today seen as a sort of philosophical/methodological tool or "approach." For those guys way back then, especially in early Jewish messianism, a worldview is who you were, not merely what you thought or did.

I know early Christians faced similar troubles to ours. In fact, I wonder if we aren't in the middle of a culture like the early church was, more so than any generation before us.

My contrast with early Jewish/Christian worldview may be more clear in the original Thinklings post I drew this post from. I talk more about the how's and why's of that early outlook there.

unless you have a certain level of personal victory that drives you, there is no way to even think about joining community

I guess so.
I know that motivations are as numerous as there are people, but I do believe that what a church wins someone with is what they win someone to. So if it's The Show that brings someone in, that person will likely only stay for as long as the show continues to impress.
But if you get them in with the health and vibrancy and restoration of community, you can win them to that notion.

You mention that we've had some trouble getting volunteers. Why do you think that is?

I understand what you're saying, and I'll reiterate that I don't deny the individual concern of salvation, but I maintain that orienting the gospel call around individualism tends to create not a discipleship community, but a consumerist discipleship.

it is lack of personal spiritual maturity because of the lack of deep substantive biblical teaching in order to attract and not to offend "seekers"

I think we may be on the same page with that stuff. At least, I agree with your assessment of what's "off" in how we do church.
I only meant, in this post, to talk about the full Gospel doesn't start or end with "personal salvation" but with the announcement of God's kingdom and the invitation to join it.

The chief end of man is not, then, to "get saved," but to glorify God. Paul even suggests in Romans that the destruction of the unsaved glorifies God. That's hard to wrap a mind around, but I think that a Great Commandments Gospel (God-focused, others-focused) is as great a salvation as a personal Gospel. And more biblical.

Again, thanks for your comment. It helps to know folks are reading and thinking about this stuff. I appreciate it!

 
At 7:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jared,

This is off thread, please delete, and speak to this issue if you deem it helpful.

I think the pain and confusion of todays blogging may be rooted in this: Can God use a sinful, unrepentant person to further His ministry on earth? Can that same person actually start a church, lead people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and be a pastor to them?

Thanks,
A first post from this anonymous

 
At 7:53 PM, Anonymous Jonathan Davis said...

Jared,

I kind of see where you are going with what you were saying. You are right in terms of the consumerism of the gospel. I have visited a lot of churches in my lifetime, and I know of the drawing in aspect that you speak of. I know that when I went to BCC for example, I had been a christian for many years, and found BCC..how should I say...impersonal baby food..but that is because of where my personal relationship with Christ was at that time. A church presents an image of itself to the person showing up. Depending on where that person is in his or her walk determines the...impression and effect of the church call. I know it seemed like to me at BCC, everything but seeking the seekers was given second place to say the least..but once I actually started to look around, i kept on getting calls and emails from people as if they really needed me, and I saw a community within a community. The problem is, at a church like BCC where, a lot of the people that I met anyway were saved under Dr. Foster, so, in essence, the consumerism so to speak would be especially true for this group of people, since that is what they were spiritually raised under. The most successful churches I have seen combine both elements, both being as important as the other..personal discipleship and experience..and the corporate. I don't know if you have looked around "nondenominational" churches around this town, but shockingly few have small groups, and a lot of those groups are social not spiritually oriented. I am going to a church now where I have been made more aware and close to my saving God on a personal level, but also on the community level(which is hard for me for reasons I wont go into publically).

If both alternatives are offerred...(personal emphasis and community emphasis)..that is the key thing..because Jesus can meet the people that come in where they are on their journey, wherever that happens to be. There are people who have been burned by community, too scared for community, all kinds of other things....I guess in other words...balance. This is what BCC did not and really has never had in my opinion. And I am sad about that, because it could be a really great church, and maybe now it will be with DF gone. You have 4000 or so people who you could disciple to be an army of God in this city of nashville..but the opportunity has been largely squandered. Hopefully there will be a more balanced approach in the future

 
At 5:28 AM, Blogger Jared said...

Can God use a sinful, unrepentant person to further His ministry on earth?

Anonymous, that's a good question. My answer is Yes, because I believe God can use whoever and whatever He wants to further His kingdom. Joseph's brothers meant evil, but God meant it for the good of Joseph and the good of Israel.

I guess the real question is, knowing that God can use anything, will we present Him less than what is required? The danger in saying yes to your question is that it then provides potential excuse for a unrepentant "pastor" who appears to generate quite a following or great success. But that's pragmatism. "If it works, use it."

A better question than "Does it work?", I think, is "Is it what God requires?" Or even "Is it right?"

As to the second part of your question, can an unrepentant person "pastor" people?, I think it happens all the time. We are probably all unrepentant of something, even if it's a sin we're not aware of yet.

But if you want to get specific, I'd say that the extent of Dr. Foster's sin, that it had to do with actual leadership dynamics and qualifications-for-ministry issues (the Bible says church leaders must not be given to fits of anger or lack self-control), makes him unqualified for ministry right now. That doesn't mean he won't be good at speaking or attracting followers, though.

 
At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Michele said...

I think the last paragraph here, is the boldest form of judgement. I thought you were dropping the Fosters?!!?! Wow.

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger Jared said...

Michele, I don't think you have the first clue as to what judgment really is. I'd do a post talking about what "casting stones" and "do not judge" really mean in context, but that would be spending more time on responding to someone who appears to want to be disagreeable than I care to spend.

I never said I'd never talk about Foster again. If you actually read the stuff I've written, you'd remember I've said clearly I don't want to focus on him but that talking about him every now and then, especially in response to a direct question!, is unavoidable.

 
At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Michele said...

Jared,
Pardon me. I just forgot for a while that you know everything. All clear now.

 
At 10:24 AM, Blogger Jared said...

Good grief.

Okay, well, you've done worn out your welcome. Further comments from you will be deleted.
Hope that's what you wanted.

 
At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Jared. Don't you think that's a bit harsh? Michele has the right to her opinion.

 
At 10:47 AM, Blogger Jared said...

Nope.
No one's taking her opinion away.

But she doesn't have a right to keep insulting me on my site. I let her carry on for a while with repeated warnings. She didn't accept any of that advice, so for the good of the site, and for my own peace of mind, she's earned her unwelcome.

 
At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I'm just curious. If someone doesn't heed your warnings they get punished? Did Jesus teach this? Where's your spirit of peace and love? Instead of harsh retribution?

 
At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Chelle said...

harsh retribution? hmm...if I invite someone into my home (real or virtual) and they just want to argue for the sake of arguing, eventually, I'm going to ask them to leave.

That's what Jared has done with Michele. End of story.

Now...back to the fascinating discussion...please! :) -Chelle

 
At 11:49 AM, Blogger Jared said...

I doubt your "just curious," but I'll indulge you one last time.

If someone doesn't follow the rules of the site, if someone ignores my asking them to stop insulting me, and if someone doesn't "heed my warnings" to stop treating this site like their personal bulletin board, they may be prevented from commenting. So, yeah, if you can't act politely in my virtual living room, I can ask you to leave. Notice I've only done it once. It's not like I'm banning people left and right.

What did Jesus teach? He taught, among other things, that the unrepentant get punished, yes.
I've posted previously on cheap grace, and I think your question about "where's the peace and love?" fits nicely in those numerous posts, if you're interested in reviewing them.

In short, however, deleting disruptive or impolite comments demonstrates love for others reading and preserves the peace of the site. If you think peace and love means "letting people do whatever they feel like doing," you might want to review the Gospels as well.

As for "harsh retribution": If getting banned from a blog can be categorized as such in someone's life, they might want to get out more.

 
At 12:08 PM, Blogger Jared said...

Jonathan, you wrote:
that is the key thing..because Jesus can meet the people that come in where they are on their journey, wherever that happens to be. There are people who have been burned by community, too scared for community, all kinds of other things....I guess in other words...balance. This is what BCC did not and really has never had in my opinion.

Yeah, I think historically BCC has been out of whack when it gets past the entrance phase of discipleship and into the growth phase. According to the elders at the meeting I attended 2 weeks ago, they had been frustrated that that was apparently by design. The church revolved around the weekend. And you can't grow believers with a weekend service. Interest in functional and dynamic small groups systems, student ministries, and mid-week teaching services was just not there on the part of previous leadership.

And of course, when you win people with a one-hour program, you win them to a one-hour program, to the point that even those who need the other stuff don't realize they do. Until they're at the point of wanting to go find it elsewhere.

 
At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michele lives in Denver now. So, I imagine she hasn't been to a cottage meeting.

 
At 4:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually Michele cares so much about the future of BCC and was so involved in her church, that she was passionate about it. So she called an elder personally, and he agreed to speak with her and they had their own cottage meeting. So she has heard both sides. While she's in Denver now, Nashville's been her home. I've joked with her about being more involved than most in the community, because she has taken the extensive time to explore both sides.

 
At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, an elder who has been spending so many unpaid hours going and speaking at cottage meetings, took more time to speak to a person who used to go to BCC to try to help her understand. That's great! I imagine it was not the full three hour version, but that's still great that this guy took that much time to discuss. I have been to multiple cottage meetings and my opinion is that I don't really think it can be adequately communicated in a shortened phone conversation...for one, it is good to listen to the events that occurred with an open mind, without questioning until all of the story is heard. If on a phone conversation, it's a two way communication...probably lots of questions and interjections...not as good of a listening environment.

 

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