The Gospel Story: the Story of Community

There is a summary of the gospel message which runs like this: ‘God made you to know him, but your sin cuts you off from God. God sent his Son to die in your place and reconcile you to God. Now you can know God and look forward to being with him after death.’ It is the story of an individual out of relationship with God brought back into relationship with God. This version of the story is true. But it is not the whole truth. At the heart of the Bible story is the story of a community. The foundation of missional church is an understanding of the Bible story. The Bible is the story of God saving not individuals, but a people, a community, a new humanity. The Christian community is not an add-on. It is integral to the gospel.

Creation We are made in the image of the communal God as relational beings to live in community. (Genesis 1:26-27)

Fall Our rebellion creates conflict both between us and God and between one another.

Abraham The promise to Abraham is ‘the gospel announced in advance’ (Galatians 3:8), setting the agenda for the while Bible story and at its heart is God’s promise of a people (Genesis 12:1-3).

Exodus Because of his promise to Abraham, God sets his people free to know him. Through Moses he says: ‘I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God’ (Exodus 6:7). God lives among his people (the pillars of cloud and fire and the tabernacle), but the people keep their distance and offers sacrifices because of their sin and God’s holiness.

Israel ‘The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy’ (1 Kings 4:20; see Genesis 22:17; 32:12). But the people turn from God and the nation divides.

Prophecy God promises a new people: ‘I will be their God, and they will be my people’ (Jeremiah 31:31). He promises a faithful remnant (Zechariah 13:7-9).

Jesus Jesus is God with us (Matthew 1:23; John 1:18; Colossians 2:9-10). But he is also the faithful people of God, the true vine who bears fruit for God (Isaiah 5:1-7; John 15:1).

The church In Christ we are God’s faithful people and the true children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7, 27). The cross reconciles us to God (Mark 15:38) and to one another (Ephesians 2:11-3:13). Christ did not die for ad hoc individuals, but for his people, his bride (Ephesians 5:25-27).

New creation ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God …’ (Revelation 21:1-4)

The individualistic version of the gospel makes the church a useful help to individual Christians, but not an identity. But community is central to the Bible story. People are invited to not simply to an individual relationship with God (though that is one implication), but to become part of the new people of God, the bride of Christ. You become a Christian when by faith you become part of the people for whom Christ died.

9 thoughts on “The Gospel Story: the Story of Community

  1. Dear Tim,

    I agree with your point – community is integral to the gospel.

    However, I think that it was part of the charm of the “old way” to communicate the Gospel, that it had, at least for certain people, a direct appeal to them. Our challenge is to find a new summary of the Story that has that same direct appeal in it for our communities.

    This year I chose the theme of hospitality as a preaching theme. Hospitality has the power to serve as a longitudinal theme. Creation is God’s act of providing us with an earth that seems to be perfectly suited for us, an hospitable place. Sin has everything to do with breaking hospitality, owning and dividing the house and ruining it. Abraham is God starting a new family that is to move towards a hospitable New Creation (eg Rev 21). Israel is to show hospitality to strangers. In Deuteronomy 10 hospitality is even said to be an attribute of God. And I think your articles on eating together serve as evidence to the case as well.

    Hospitality has community in it, as well as redemption, for it has everything to do with welcoming strangers into God’s family.

    Moreover, I hope, that hospitality (xenophilia), being welcomed, both appeals and reveals. It reveals because xenophobia is a major issue in the Netherlands. It also reveals because we are or have been aliens to God.

  2. Hi Tim,
    I wonder if you have any thoughts on why mainstream Church appears ambivalent about community? Church can feel like an event that is put on, rather than a community to belong too. That’s not to say that there isn’t community at Church, it appears to me that it’s just not seen as that important. Could it be that our understanding of what community is shaped by our culture, so our expectations are different? And maybe blind to what biblical community is?
    I was taught a great summary of what it means to be a Christian: someone loved by God, freed from Sin and a Royal Priest, which is fantastic, it’s a summary which I’ve found really encouraging over the years. I learnt this on a house party from a guest lecturer from Oakhill College and it’s taken from Revelation 1. It struck me that if Church is so important why isn’t it there? With this thought I returned to revelation 1 and it is there! Not only is it there it’s foundational. I now think of a Christian as someone Loved by God, Freed from Sin, A royal Priest and a member of His Church (made to be a Kingdom). What a privilege!
    John,
    To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
    Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits[a] before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
    To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

    I’m pretty sure he’s not deliberately suppressed the reference to Church, (and he may well have preached it, it’s a while ago), but the take away line is all about me and not about us, which is a shame.

  3. Or what about: A people loved by God, a people from sin, a royal priesthood, an invitation to be part of this new people by faith in Christ. This, I would argue, is much closely to the Bible story. Where does the Bible talk about a royal priest in the singular? That concept makes no sense. The idea was that the nation of Israel (the term is first used at Sinai in Exodus 19) and now the church are called to be a kingdom of priests, a whole nation that makes God know to the world and invites the world to the means of the atonement.

  4. Great stuff. I for one think there’s something inherently more attractive in the ‘community version’ of the story than the over-individualised one.

    Michael, I don’t know whether the speaker you heard from Oak Hill was David Field or not, but I suspect he was (I’ve heard him on Revelation 1 at a house party too once). Either way, it’s worth me pointing out here that both he and a vast swathe of the faculty at Oak Hill during my time there would share the sentiment of this post. One of the major things I learned during my time there (and that I think David Field is especially clear on) is exactly this stuff. Just sharing cos I know there are all sorts of ‘Oak Hills’ out there in the ether that in one way or another do not reflect the reality.

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  7. Hi Tim,

    A definite improvement on my summary. Many thanks for this and subsequent blog.

    PG, Sorry if I inferred this was an ‘Oak Hill’ line, it wasn’t my intention. The teaching on Rev 1 was excellent; there are not many sermon strap lines I can remember years after the talk. My point (which I didn’t really make clear) was that even when Church is clearly there in the text, it gets glossed over, even by a godly lecturer. Why? I don’t know, which is why I suggested it maybe due to cultural blindness. I’m pretty sure that the strap line was how I remembered it, because it had such an impact.

    If it’s true that the ‘community version’ is more attractive (which of course it is) then if we’re not preaching Church as we should, we’re doing the gospel a disservice. If we preach church as an event or meeting to attend rather than a community that actively loves one another as they hold out the word of life, then we’re doing the gospel a disservice.

    If the reason for the cross is to bring Glory to God through the proclamation of the Good news that his Son has rescued a people to be his very own, by not preaching Church as we should we’re not loving the city to which we were sent or the God that sent us.

    Sorry if that’s a bit full on. I feel better having got it off my chest. Phew…. God bless.

  8. Michael, glad you could get that off your chest. I entirely agree, individualistic preaching and ministry models do the gospel a service and fail to give Christ his full glory. This is also one of the exact points where I think the bible both challenges our culture and fulfills (by far surpassing) some of our culture’s aspirations and longings.

    Blessings.

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