E. Stanley Jones, a 20th century Methodist missionary and theologian, impacts us with the strong message that we enter the Kingdom personally, but we live in it corporately. Salvation is individual. Christ calls each of us to a personal decision to make Him Lord of our lives. But from there, we enter the family of God, a lifelong journey with our fellow brothers and sisters within the Body of Christ.
The individualistic emphasis of the culture influences us to think of our relationship with Christ as exclusively personal—an ethos of "Jesus and me" in a journey for two. This philosophy tempts us to see the "narrow road" as a private lane, to make our own decisions in a vacuum, and to look first to our personal interests. However, the Bible is clear: our journey is both personal and corporate.
Scripture uses several terms to show us the corporate character of the Christian life. We are the church. We are the community of believers. We are the Body of Christ. As 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 says, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. . . . Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."
Christ himself is the Head: "And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. . . . Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church" (Colossians 1:18, 24).
Within the Body and with Him as our Head, our faith adventure with Christ has a corporate character. It is no longer about just "Jesus and me." Inherent in the corporate faith is the reality of togetherness. According to an African proverb, "If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go together."
The word "saint" in its singular format appears only three times in the Bible. By contrast, the word in its plural form, "saints," appears at least 95 times. Where "saints" is written in the New Testament, it refers to the Church—the collective family of God. When we join this community by grace through faith, we are adopted not as "only children" but as part of a growing, loving family with many siblings. We are children of God, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).
Acts 2:44 relates that the New Testament church was formed of believers who "were together and had everything in common." Being together means far more than gathering in the same room or even eating together—even though we love to do that! This godly togetherness means that together we worship, pray, give, and make disciples.
Kingdom living embraces God in worship and mission in transnational, multilingual, cross-generational, and multicultural settings. How is this possible?
The Spirit of God transforms our individual-oriented inwardness to a corporate oneness in Christ.
This unity produces a community of shared lives and purposes. Somehow when we put our strengths and abilities together with God, the mission is accomplished, the gospel is proclaimed, and the kingdom is extended. This is not a solo path but a togetherness journey!
Thank God for the church. Augustine said, "I had not known Christ, except that the church had taught me." The church taught me personally to know God's transforming power. I will be forever grateful.
Oh Nazarenes, let's renew our covenant with God, that by his grace we will be the church—the God-created Body of Christ on earth. Only then will we become a God-sent, missional people who covenant together to belong to God, to be holy, to be the image of God following Christ into the world.
Don't be fooled by our narcissistic culture. It's not just about "Jesus and me." This journey of faith expressed in holy love and obedience is about "Jesus and us." Go together.
Nina G. Gunter is a general superintendent emeritus in the Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, Jan/Feb 2009