God has always been in the business of gathering a people of his own. The bible is full of it, from cover to cover… first the community called “Israel”, and then the family called “church.” A key distinctive of church is the way we’ll love one another in very practical ways. A second key distinctive is meant to be the way we’re always open to anyone who wants to join. It’s easy to get cosy and familiar with one another and ‘enjoy the love’ – but we don’t want to form comfortable cliques or in-groups, and we’ll always be ready to say “welcome.”
Community and Trinity
Underlying the biblical concept of community is the fact that God himself – thought it’s hard to understand – exists as ‘community’ which we describe as ‘Trinity.’
Here’s an extract from an article by Michael Jensen in The Briefing…
THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY SHOWS US HOW TO LOVE
As DB Knox wrote in The Everlasting God, the triune nature of God shows us that relationships are central to being a person. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that we are united to one another in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit not only works in us to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and so approach the Father, but also binds us to one another in love. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul wonderfully illustrates the unity in diversity of the congregation by means of trinitarian language. Just as with the Trinity there is both a difference of role and yet a oneness, so with the fellowship of believers. It is the “same Spirit” that these diverse members have in common, uniting them as the body of Christ to one another. The members of the church cannot sever themselves from one another without damaging themselves. They are interdependent. Love—the never-failing, humble, forgiving love of 1 Corinthians 13—is the key.
The church then, is not merely a sharing of a common passion, common thinking, or even a sense of high regard for one another. It is no mere club. Those who are in Christ are tied far more profoundly and securely to one another than that. All sorts of difficult diversities are accommodated in the body of Christ. Love is the means by which our spiritual unity can be demonstrated. In our acts of love for one another, we express outwardly our connection to one another and, in Christ, to God.
We must be cautious, however, when speaking of the way in which the loving community of Christians reflects God as Trinity. One late 20th-century theological fad is to apply the Trinitarian idea of perichoresis to the church. That piece of theological jargon means ‘mutual indwelling’. It is the way in which theologians have explained how the three persons of the Trinity are related to one another: they live ‘in’ each other, they are bonded to one another in a unique way. They love each other totally. The language of John 14—the Father and the Son being ‘in’ one another—is what this term helps to explain. If the three divine persons enjoy ‘perichoretic’ relationships with one another, so too, it is said, does the church, which worships Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is love; shouldn’t we be like him?
This is dangerously simplistic thinking. Human beings are like God, but we are not, and will never become, God! The bond between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is substantially different to the way human beings relate to one another in church. For one thing, human beings can only reflect God as creatures with bodies. We are not God, but only resemble him. This will be true even in eternity. For another, the inescapable shadow of sin means that within the present age, human beings cannot be made into the perfect images of God, despite the promise of our transformation in the world to come. The relationships of pure love within the Trinity are indeed the model to which the sin-marred, human church ought to aspire. However, within history, at any rate, the realization of this ideal will be limited.
Furthermore, within the present world of sin, the love that has as its goal the perfect world to come ought to follow the form of the cross of Christ. In the present evil age, the Trinity loves the world by giving up the Father’s one and only Son to death (John 3:16). The love that is needed for a sin-stained world is a self-giving love. It is a love that bleeds. The Trinity does provide a model for our relationships in community this side of Christ’s return, but this model is best seen in the passion of God for the salvation of the world such that he would sacrifice his Son. The doctrine of the Trinity drives us to love in practice.
When Good Groups Go Bad…
Click here to read an article from The Briefing about how and why small groups can go wrong and get ‘addicted to community.’
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