Thursday, April 15, 2010

Salvation makes community

I am reading a great chapter in Hellerman’s When The Church Was a Family on salvation as a community-creating event. It is a staggering chapter that really challenges how we typically view the work of salvation in the Bible, especially what I see (as does Hellerman) as the disconnect in the church between soteriology and ecclesiology.

What was interesting was the way he compared how evangelicalism views salvation and how the Bible describes it. I can’t replicate the very helpful charts here but this is kind of how he broke it down:

Traditional evangelical model:

The relationship between God and a sinner is broken. At the cross that relationship is fixed and now the sinner and God are reconciled.

What Hellerman says the Bible describes is:

The world is estranged from God by sin. Through the cross God has reconciled for Himself a people out of this world.

That doesn’t do it justice by a long shot but you get the idea. In other words, while salvation is one sinner at a time the picture we get in the Bible is not of a bunch of individuals being saved but of a people being saved. The language of "accepting Jesus as my personal Savior" is absent entirely. Our common salvation unites us and our common identity is in being the people of God, saved from sin and saved out of the world. A new people, those who were not a people are now a people.

The language that the NT uses is powerful in this respect. As I was writing this I thought of that great passage in 1 Peter:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2: 9-10)

Notice that it is not “You were once not a person, now you are a person”. It is a people, His people. His is our God and we are His people. The very core of the New Covenant is that we are His people and He is our God (Jeremiah 31:33). We are not merely a bunch of autonomous born-again believers floating around. Salvation is not less than a sinner being redeemed but it is in many ways more than that. We are a new people, a “holy nation”.

What do you think about that? Do you think we are living out the created community of the redeemed in the church?

I am definitely going to need to reread that chapter a time or two.

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Anonymous said...

I like this a lot. One of the biggest shifts I have had over the past couple of years is the shift away from the "just-me-and-Jesus" mentality. It never occurred to me for the longest time to question it, but now it seems so foreign to me.

Tim A said...

The language of "accepting Christ" is present in John 1:12. The word For "receive" here is the same meaning as accept, just like in Romans where we are to "accept one another just as Christ accepted us".

I think you are correct about the "personal savior" part. However, what I think we mean by "accept Jesus as your personal Savior" is that we are personally accepting Him. Each person must individually place their trust in Him. They cannot be born again by having been baptized by someone as a child or be in God's family because you were born in a Christian family and have been in church all your life, and know all the lingo, etc. The phrase would be better stated as " I have personally accepted Jesus as my Savior." How does that sound to you?

Arthur Sido said...


I would quibble with the volitional language there. My bug problem is that it makes it seem like you or I decided on our own to follow Christ, whereas I woudl argue that the Bible places the initiation of that entirely in His hands. In other words we are redeemed as His people because He chose us and because of that He finds us acceptable.

Arthur Sido said...


It is amazing how many things that I never questioned before seem so completely wrong. this is just how church is done is a lot more comfortable and a lot easier than asking questions and challenging presuppositions.

Anonymous said...

I think it's good for us to remember how we used to think about things--that it never occurred to us to question them. It's really easy for me to get my blood boiling and wonder how on earth so-and-so can't see their error. But then I remember how easily I went along with the party line for so long, and that helps me to be a little more patient and understanding with people. (It also helps to recognize that I certainly have not "arrived" as I so often seem to think I have!)