Our vision didn’t come from some kind of sociological analysis, or a rejection of more traditional ways of doing church. Our vision is an attempt to take seriously what we’ve been seeing in the Bible story. It’s this big picture of the Bible story that drives our understanding of community.
Creation: When God first creates humanity, we read: ‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness …” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1:26-27). The one God is plural and communal (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). To be made in his image is to be made for community, community with God and community with one another. To be truly human is to live in community.
Fall: But when we reject God, community fractures. We used to walk with God in the garden, but now we hide from him. The first ever humans, Adam and Eve now blame each other, and live in conflict and mistrust. The first child to be born into the world murders the second child (Genesis 4) . We’re still made in God’s image. But now God’s image in us is twisted by our sin. Our selfishness corrodes families and communities.
Promise: But then God comes to Abraham and promises him a people, a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3). God repeatedly tells Abraham that his offspring will be as numerous as the sand on the seashore and as numerous as the stars in the night sky. His name is changed from Abram to Abraham which means ‘father of many’. Throughout the life of Israel God promises I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.’ (Exodus 6:2-7) .
Jesus: Jesus is ‘Immanuel’ which means ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23). ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,’ says John 1:14. It’s literally ‘tabernacled among us’. The tabernacle was the symbol of God’s presence with his people. Now God himself is with his people. But Jesus is not only God. He is also the representative of God’s people. He alone is truly faithful to God. We’ve all abandoned God. Jesus dies separated from God and cut off from community so that we can be united to God, so that we can be family.
Church: Now the people of God are all those in Christ, people from every nation united by grace. We’re reconciled to God and we’re reconciled to one another. The cross breaks down the dividing walls of hostility between us (Ephesians 2:11-22). The cross makes us family. ‘Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.’ (1 Corinthians 10:17) .
New Creation: The climax of the story is a new humanity, people from every nation gathered together around the throne of the Lamb, reconciled to God and reconciled to one another. ‘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 21:3).
What does that look like in practice? Jesus builds community not us. Our communities are not perfect, they are broken people, hurting people, busy people and struggling people. But they are our brothers and sisters. But each one is a miracle. Each one is the cross is action. Each one is a direct work of God’s Spirit. So we take the initiative to love, to celebrate, to care, teach and share life together.