Skip to content

The community gospel part 2

On the Sola Panel:

In my previous post, I mentioned a powerful and dangerous combination:

A need in the world
+ an implication of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This formula is like dynamite. Used properly, it has the power to move mountains. But unless it is handled with care, there is the potential for grave and even life-threatening danger.

The concept of ‘community’ is one example of the great power and also the great danger of this combination.

The need for human community is great in our world (or at least it’s perceived to be in the West). The fragmentation of families, the sense of dislocation and alienation in cities, the loneliness of city living, and the fact that so many elderly people die in their homes without being discovered for weeks—these are just some of the issues that touch the lives of so many of us. There is a great need felt by many people to connect, reach out, be included, belong and be part of a community (a village, a home, a network, a mini-micro-blogosphere, a ‘scene’).

Human community is also a necessary implication of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God himself is one God who is Father, Son and Spirit—three persons in perfect ‘community’. The Son himself, by coming into the world, giving up his life in love for us, dying for our sins, rising to the Father’s side, and pouring out his Spirit, brings us human beings into relationship with this God who himself exists in loving relationship (e.g. John 17:20-24). Because we participate through the gospel in the life of God, we ourselves must live in community with one another, following the way of Jesus Christ (e.g. John 15:9-17, 1 John 4:16-21, Phil 2:1-11). So community, fellowship, church (in the true biblical sense) is not just an optional extra to the Christian life; it is a necessary implication of the gospel itself. When we fail to pay due attention to the importance of encouraging and fostering community amongst our Christian brothers and sisters, we have failed to follow through on a fundamental implication of the gospel itself. I have to admit I have failed a number of times in this regard, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

‘Community’ is both a need in the world and an implication of the gospel. This is a powerful combination.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that churches who seek to focus on the fact that they are indeed a ‘community’ (as opposed to, say, an institution, or a building) will often enjoy great success. People who are seeking community may well find it at these churches—especially if the churches make consistent efforts to be outward-looking. How many conversion stories have you heard where a welcoming Christian community was a key element in a person coming to faith in Christ? You yourself may have such a testimony! Isn’t it a fantastic thing? Indeed, the ‘community’ idea is so powerful that many churches are choosing to name their churches after it: witness how many churches are abandoning their old names (with their references to long-dead Christian saints) in favour of the formula ‘X community church’.

But such positive power is also very dangerous. The danger is that we can be so swept away with the transformative power of human community that ‘community’ (especially as it is understood and longed-for by the world) actually becomes our gospel. If so, then little by little, if we are not careful, we may stop speaking about personal sin, personal judgement, substitutionary atonement, justification by faith in Christ, bodily resurrection, and so on, and prefer instead to concentrate more and more on concepts like togetherness, care, fellowship, welcoming, reaching out, transforming the community around us, and even love. The reason it’s so tempting to focus on these latter concepts is that they will always meet with warm approval, especially in a world that craves community. None of these latter concepts are wrong in themselves, of course. (How could anyone ever criticize ‘love’?!) But unless they are spoken and lived out in the context of the clear, biblical gospel message, they lose the meaning given to them by God himself, and instead become invested with the world’s ideas and ideals. In short, if we focus on the centrality of our ‘gospel community’, we are in danger of losing the gospel and ending up with a ‘community gospel’. And when this happens, people will be converted to the community, but not to Christ. This is where lives can be destroyed.

Of course, the fact that this danger exists isn’t a reason for us all to abandon our communities and run into the desert like hermits! Like dynamite, Christian community can and should be a powerful force for God’s glory. But we must guard against the danger of a ‘community gospel’—by constantly coming back and reminding each other of the gospel; by rooting ourselves deeply in God’s word as he himself has spoken it to us; by continually evaluating our actions, our speech and our fellowship in the light of that true gospel; and so on. Let’s keep making sure that the gospel defines our community, rather than our community defining our gospel.

Comments on the Sola Panel
Published inMinistryThe Briefing

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • The Named Jew and the Name of God: A new reading of Romans 2:17–29

All posts

Recent blog posts

  • Shipwreck with rainbow in backgroundGrace in ministry: Avoiding the shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:12–20)
    "There was a widespread view expressed by participants that within [the church] culture there was an over-emphasis on sin and an under-emphasis on grace". The report describes how this grace problem permeated the culture. It affected membership commitment expectations, views of authority, pastoral care, and more. And yet, the thing is: Nobody would deny that this church believed in grace. They preached a conservative evangelical reformed doctrine of grace. But on the ground, in so many instances, grace was not a key feature of this church’s ministry and relationships—with disastrous results. Today I want us to grasp that in Christian ministry, grace can’t only be the content we preach. Grace also must permeate and transform everything about us personally. And I want to give some suggestions for things we can do even now in lockdown, to wage the warfare of grace. (a sermon)
  • Yes no“Paul within Judaism” and Romans 2:17–29
    My article on Romans 2:17–29 supports one key feature of the "Paul within Judaism" perspective, but undermines another common feature.
  • Photo by Engin Akyurt on UnsplashThe goals of Bible teaching (1 Timothy 1:1–11)
    In gospel ministry and Bible teaching, if you’re not committed to the right goal, or if you have the wrong goal, it’s not just a matter of being ineffective: you’ll be downright dangerous. So what is that goal? What are you seeking to achieve in your gospel ministry and Bible teaching - now and in the future? And how would you know if you’d done it right? This passage in 1 Timothy 1:1–11 speaks to this issue of the goals of ministry and teaching. It challenges us to think about our own aims in teaching, and to see how important it is to get it right. A sermon preached at Moore College Men's Chapel on 14 July, 2021.
  • Slow-burn crazy-making behaviours. Photo by Vadim Sadovski on UnsplashSlow-burn crazy-making behaviours: recognising and responding
    Do you know someone who seems to have drama and problems constantly appear around them? Whenever you relate to this person, perhaps you find yourself feeling vaguely guilty, or uncomfortable, or put down, or obligated to affirm them? Do you often feel like you’re questioning yourself and your actions because of what they say and do? You don’t feel the same way around other people; it’s just this individual who seems to attract these dramas and give rise to these feelings in you. If that’s the case, the chances are it’s not you who is the problem. It’s quite possible that the person you’re thinking of is exhibiting a pattern of behaviours that can be significantly detrimental to you and to others. This pattern of behaviours is hard to pin down; it doesn’t seem too serious in the short term, and indeed it might appear quite normal to a casual acquaintance. However, over the long term, it can cause serious problems for you and others. That’s especially true in close-knit communities, like families, churches and other Christian ministries.
  • Romans Crash CourseRomans Crash Course (video)
    A 75 minute video course in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans designed for church members and leaders.
  • The Mistranslation "Call Yourself a Jew" in Romans 2:17: A Mythbusting StoryThe mistranslation “call yourself a Jew”: A myth-busting story (Romans 2:17)
    This is a story about a scholarly myth and how I had the chance to bust it. I’m talking here about a small but significant 20th century biblical translation: “call yourself” instead of “are called” in Romans 2:17.
  • Breaking news: Religious Scandal in RomeThe named Jew and the name of God: A new reading of Romans 2:17–29
    I've just had an article published in the journal Novum Testamentum. In it, I provide a detailed defense of my new reading of Romans 2:17–29. This passage is not primarily about Jewish salvation - rather it's primarily about Jewish teaching and God's glory.
  • Photo by Joseph d'Mello on UnsplashPreaching the Pastoral Epistles
    A one-hour audio seminar with principles and ideas for preaching the biblical books 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus ("Pastoral Epistles")
  • A Crash Course in Romans: Livestream
    Here's a <90 minute "Crash Course in Romans" I'm running on Monday evening 1 Feb 2021. It's aimed at leaders and any interested members of my church St Augustine's Neutral Bay and Church by the Bridge Kirribilli. Anyone is welcome to watch the livestream.
  • Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on UnsplashWhat’s wrong with the world? Is there hope? (Ephesians)
    Guilt, weakness, spiritual slavery, prejudice, arrogance, tribalism, conflict, war, victimhood, persecution, pain, suffering, futility, ignorance, lying, deceit, anger, theft, greed, pornography, sexual sin, darkness, fear, drunkenness, substance abuse, domestic abuse, workplace abuse, spiritual powers... In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he says many things about the problems we face in this world. He also gives us wonderful reasons to find life, hope and healing in Jesus Christ. Along the way, he provides practical teachings about how to respond and live together.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor