It’s about community
by Raymond L. Peacock, Lt. Colonel –
Christianity is about Jesus and me: God saves individuals. The idea that there could be a corporate concept of faith is a revelation to many, including Robert E. Webber, author of The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World. Webber’s confession is most insightful:
At first I balked at such an idea. Doesn’t God save individuals—this one and that one, here and there? When I finally saw how Israel was God’s corporate community, called to be God’s witness in the world to God’s salvation for the world, I realized I had been reading my Bible through the lens of Enlightenment individualism. The concept of a visible community in this world, a community that belongs to God and witnesses to God’s presence in history, to God’s reign over all things, and to the Isaianic and Revelational vision of God’s peace, spread over all God’s creation, opened the door to a glorious vision of history.
A Missional Community
The purpose here is to define what kind of corporate community the church should be. Early church history said it should be a pure community. Billy Graham impressed that the church should be a saving community. Emergent thinking is that the church should be a sent or missional community.
The established modern church has retreated to an inward and personal faith. It’s all about being seeker-sensitive and getting people to come “in” to the saving station. The emergent church is a church that goes “out” into the world. While it is true the modern church sent missionaries, Webber says that “the (emergent) church does not ‘send’ missionaries nor does it have ‘a missionary program.’ Instead, it is mission, no matter where it is geographically.” Commissioner Phil Needham, in Community in Mission: A Salvationist Ecclesiology, says “A church out of touch with the world is a church out of touch with God, for the call of God to go into the world is unmistakable. It was said of Jesus, ‘He was in the world’ (John 1:10). It must also be said of his disciples.”
A Visible and Relational Community
Dr. Larry Shelton, my instructor in ecclesiology, has noted that “Authentic community cannot impact the world in the abstract, it must be embodied, and that occurs at the local, concrete level—through a certain people, in a certain place at a certain time…It is a particular ‘family’ of people who live in a certain way in a geographic area whose presence will gain the attention of the people with whom they live and move and have their being.” While Dr. Shelton is speaking of unity between local congregations and denominations, his criteria also describe how each local congregation (corps) needs to be visible. He further describes this visibility in terms of a needed relational community.
“The postmodern culture expresses a core need for a relational community, a ‘community of reference,’ in which they can find their identity and source of values. The group proves the foundation for meaning and purpose in terms of its core concerns. Effective evangelism of postmodern will not occur without the church being able to connect with a meaningful identity-forming community. This is the role of the missional conception of the church as a ‘particular community,’ and it will function redemptively only as it comes to be perceived by postmoderns as a loving, accepting, and forgiving fellowship.”
Read that again and think how it applies to your corps. Think how it applies to those who say they need not participate in corps life. It also says your corps should have some core concerns. Those core concerns were summarized best for us by our past General, John Gowans. Our mission is to Save Souls, Grow Saints, and Serve Suffering Humanity. True enough, but not only are we responsible to do this individually, but also corporately as a local congregation. Our congregations, our corps need to be communities of reference for individual believers and seekers to relate, grow and to serve; a congregation who acts with love, acceptance and forgiveness to all; and a right living community who lives in a way that the “family” presence gains attention. Hopefully, more than ever, you want the Army to be Church.