Missional Reflection #4, a series where I quote a theologian and reflect on how it might shape a missional imagination. This quote from David Bosch.
“There is a tendency in Protestantism to stress the vertical relationship between God and the individual in such a way that it is distinct from the horizontal relationship between people; however, the “vertical line” is also a covenant line with the community. Theologically—and practically—this means that Christology is incomplete without ecclesiology and without Pneumatology. We cannot speak about Christ, the Lord and Savior, without speaking about his Body—his liberated and saved community. By the same token, the Spirit, in the New Testament dispensation, is not given to individuals, but to the community. If our mission is to be Christological and pneumatological, it also has to be ecclesial, in the sense of being the one mission of the one church.” (Bosch, Transforming Mission)
In many cases, community is incidental and sometimes even a side-show to the real thing that we presume to be the central focus on Christianity, that is the personal relationship between an individual and God. Being right related to God through Christ is the primary, if not the only, challenge brought before the people of God.
Of course, we don’t say this out loud, but the way we talk and the way we practice church reveals this to be true. Sermons tend to focus on personal salvation, personal commitment and personal choices in life. God’s work in the world emphasizes personal blessings, personal spiritual gifts and personal calling. And this spills over into the way we do church. With this imagination, we really don’t need a church. All we need is a regular helping of biblical teaching. Church is little more than a weekly seminar.
We imagine that our personal relationship with Christ is the foundation and that church (ecclesiology) and life in the Spirit (pneumatology) are build upon that foundation. We assume that if we get the foundation right that the others will fall into place. When we do this, community is something we do because it brings personal benefit to me and my personal walk with Christ. But when the community no longer benefits me in this way—and of course I get to be the evaluator of whether or not it is beneficial—I get to choose another community that will bring me more benefit.
With this mindset it will be virtually impossible for a community to be missional. The imagination of the New Testament puts our personal walk with Christ alongside our life together as a community and our life in the Spirit. We cannot parcel them out, putting priority of one over the other. We need to embrace the theological inter-relationship between Christology, ecclesiology and pneumatology that Bosch articulate above. Without it we can too easily opt out of commitment to ecclesiology when we no longer find it beneficial. And without it we can even more easily opt out of joining the Spirit’s on mission in the world as that just might cost us everything, even to the point of personal sacrifice and death.