I wonder if our lack of a well-informed, biblically-shaped, Jesus-centered theology of the church is due in no small part to the Evangelical/Protestant over-emphasis on the individual over against the community?
I wonder if we have come to define Christianity almost exclusively as a privatized spirituality, that either ignores the central role of the church in the life of every Jesus-follower, or pushes it to one-side, utilized only when convenient?
However, spiritual gifts only make sense in the midst of a community. Likewise, spiritual fruit, i.e., love, kindness, faithfulness, patience, etc, only make sense in the midst of a community.
Community gives both meaning and meaningful context to the church’s gifts and fruit. From a New Testament perspective, there is no room for individualism in the church. In fact, individualism and church lie at opposite ends of the biblical spectrum.
The gathered community of the church is a fellowship of people called and enabled by God, through Christ, by the Spirit to actively identify and participate together in God’s kingdom dream to and for the world.
Jesus came to inaugurate and build his kingdom, and the church lies at the center of this work. He did not come to establish a new privatized spirituality that separates people from one another, but a new community (Jew and Gentle) called together for the sake of the world, showcasing to the world that is what it one day can become – a fellowship of differents (Scot McKnight).
It would do us all well to remember that the church is God’s idea.
And, I wonder if we have allowed our contemporary definition, understanding, and experience of the church to be shaped more by the post-modern impulse of individualism and self-centeredness, than by Christ’s and Paul’s emphasis on the gathered community from every race, tribe, and tongue?
If so, we need to re-listen to the biblical story that finds its fulfillment in Jesus and re-orient our focus from ourselves to the other; a focus taught and emulated in Jesus’s entire life and witness, and furthered by Paul’s ministry to and for the church of his day.
If the church is God’s idea, who are we to dismantle it?
Nothing grieves the Holy Spirit more than when the unity he works so hard to create and sustain is jeopardized. We need to work in tandem with the Spirit’s gathering initiative, rather than work against it. We can do this by re-emphasizing the community focus of the New Testament witness in our own lives and in the community he came to establish.