If you’re a part of a church, you’ve probably at some point been asked to be a part of a small group of some sort. No doubt you’ve heard some reasons given as to why this is a good idea: it will make a big church feel smaller, it will keep people from leaving through the “back door,” it’s where people can develop genuine friendships, it’s where pastoral care can take place. While these are all good and legitimate reasons, I think it completely misses the boat when it comes to the reason why Christian community exists in the first place.
Foundation #1: Trinity
The theological foundation for Christian community is rooted and grounded in the understanding of God as Trinity. The historical, orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is that there is one God who exists eternally in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three persons of the Godhead have always existed in perfect relationship and community. The Bible also teaches that human beings are unique in all of God’s creation in that we were made in the image and likeness of God. There are different aspects as to what “created in the image of God” means, but it certainly includes the idea that God intended for human beings to exist in relational community as he does. Because we bear God’s image, human beings desire - at the deepest level - relationship and community.
Foundation #2: Christ’s Reconciling Work
Because of sin, relationship is breached. In the garden, after Adam and Eve had eaten from the fruit, God asked a very insightful question: “where are you?” God did not ask this question because he was genuinely unaware of their location; he asked it to illustrate the point that sin fractures relationship. Relationship with God is broken and relationship between people is broken. However, the cross of Jesus Christ changes everything. God the Father sent God the Son on a rescue mission to the earth to reconcile guilty sinners to himself. However, the implications of the cross don’t just end at a restored relationship with God – as incredible as that is by itself! God included in his plan of redemption the possibility for sinners to be reconciled with one another. Here are two passages of scripture that illustrate this point:
- But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. - 1 Peter 2:9-10
- But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. - 1 John 1:7
Only after we understand community as being rooted in God’s Trinitarian nature and the cross of Jesus Christ can we begin to understand what God’s purposes for community are.
Purposes For Community
There are three main functions and purposes of gospel community:
1. Discipleship. In Matthew 28:19, we see that Jesus gave his church the responsibility of making disciples. A mature disciple of Jesus is someone whose identity is rooted in God, who reflects God’s glory back to him in worship, who shows God’s love to other Christians in community, and who lives on mission to show God’s glory to a lost and unbelieving world.
2. Care. Throughout the New Testament, we see a picture of God’s people caring with one another, carrying each other’s burdens and sharing in each other’s joy. In Ephesians 4:2-3, Paul says that we are to bear “with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The church is intended by God to be a place where we receive his comfort and care.
3. Mission. God is still on mission in the earth, saving rebellious sinners and reconciling them to himself. For whatever mysterious reason, God has graciously chosen to use his people, the church, in this work of reconciliation. In 1 Peter 2:12, we see what the fruit of gospel-saturated community is: outsiders seeing our lives and being drawn to our Heavenly Father. We must never forget that mission is absolutely vital to a Christ-centered understanding of community.
I hope that you can experience the joy that comes from gospel community. It truly is a gift from a gracious God who delights in relationship.