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When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus’ Vision for Authentic Christian Community

May 19, 2011

Collin Hansen at The Gospel Coalition Blog:

Some Christians recognize the severity of our social plight and point the way toward escape. Writing When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus’ Vision for Authentic Christian Community, Joseph Hellerman implicates the church in the American capitulation to unfettered individualism. A pastor and Talbot School of Theology professor, Hellerman reminds us, “Spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community.” So does good parenting and wise decision-making, to cite just two other examples Hellerman treats in his valuable book. He takes us back to the early church, which was propelled by the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate the love of God in the hostile Roman world.

Hellerman helpfully examines the historical evidence to help us understand the social world of the Bible, a communal context foreign to modern-day Americans. He argues that we desperately need one another to resist the culture’s tug toward the solitary, selfish pursuit of merely financial gain.

Bible knowledge is not enough. A more thoroughgoing resocialization is necessary. Until we truly begin to understand and embrace the strong-group model of the church as a family, we will have neither the theological foundation nor the social capital necessary to act in a manner diametrically opposed to the dominant culture of radical individualism. We will successfully swim upstream against the raging river of personal sin and selfishness only in the context of community as God intends it.

Hellerman echoes Brooks by pointing out that our neighbors—lonely, jaded, and confused—are learning their need for healthy relationships. But all they’ve known is brokenness in their families and among their friends. The world offers no sure solution, only the fleeting joys found with friends on hiking trails and in workout clubs.

In the church, however, we’ve been given the privilege of representing the King of the universe as ambassadors. God makes his appeal of reconciliation through us (2 Cor. 5:20). But it’s hard for us to testify on behalf of the King if we don’t value what he values. Since Christ has given himself for us, let us give ourselves to one another and our neighbors, and in this giving receive joy eternal.

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From → Theology

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