The Corporate Life

Regular readers here are aware of my deep conviction that salvation is a corporate event. No one is saved alone, no one is a Christian by herself, no one worships or serves in isolation. God draws us to him in community, we are baptized into a community, we are transformed by the Spirit in the context of community. But in an increasingly individualistic society such as ours in the U. S., those ideas are more and more marginalized and rendered almost antiquated. In our culture, an individual’s rights and freedoms now trump those of the community. Almost any community.

Nobody watches broadcast TV anymore; we watch Netflix and DVDs and DVR’ed programs by ourselves where and when we please. Nobody listens to the radio anymore; we program our own playlists and listen with our own ear buds any where and any time we like. And if the civic club or the social group I belong to acts in any way that infringes on my own personal choices, I leave and join a new club. Or I start my own club, even if that club is just a chat-site or a Facebook group. And if any organization is seen by the society as encroaching on anyone’s individual desires, that group faces pressure from the society to relax its standards. Community must bow to the individual.

That means the members of our churches today are more prone to bristle when congregational leadership wants to hold them to high standards of discipleship. They are more likely to take offense and leave when they’re expected to behave in certain orthodox ways. At the very least, they’re bent towards ignoring it when the church calls for disciplined living in a particular community of faith.

That’s not the only reason that church numbers are going down across this country. But it’s a factor.

In an essay for Christianity Today, Andy Crouch calls this the “erosion of corporate identity.” He observes that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent in the recent Hobby Lobby case, wrote that “religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith.” Now, you and I both know that’s wrong. We know that Israel was saved and called by God to exist for the sake of the nations. We know that the Church is saved and called to sacrifice and live for the sake of others. But our culture doesn’t behave this way. So communities that try to behave this way are attacked or, at the very least undermined and marginalized by society:

“An individualistic world is scandalized by any community whose boundaries threaten the freedom of the individuals within it. Such a world promotes transactional relationships, overseen by the only form of community that remains: a centralized and powerful nation-state. Rather than existing to protect small- and medium-sized communities, the state views them with suspicion. Or that state redefines them, as did Justice Ginsburg, by reducing them to the most venal of motives.”

Corporate life in the U. S. is withering. Corporate life is what gave our forefathers their sense of belonging and identity and their platform through which to work for the greater good. But it’s fading fast. Small- and medium-sized businesses, civic organizations, and churches are on a rapid decline. Fewer and fewer of us have deep connections to the small communities that used to mediate life. Forty-one percent of children in the United States are born out of wedlock, so even the most fundamental and committed of  communities — the family — is  in trouble.

So, how are we to respond?

I believe we commit ourselves even more to the countercultural, subversive, corporate reality known as the local church. In all of its imperfections and sins, its many problems and issues — we throw ourselves into it with everything we’ve got. God’s Church should make a stronger claim on us than the state. According to our Lord, it makes a deeper claim on us even than our families. And by being stronger and deeper than the family and the state, your church provides a loving and loyal family for those who don’t have one and an eternal identity and community for us all. Yes, the church is going to demand a great deal from you. The church will ask that you humbly sacrifice and serve, that you eagerly give and work, that you commit and defer for the sake of others. But it also gives us the corporate life that we were created to enjoy, the only life that resembles the mutual love and relationship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have enjoyed forever and brought us into existence to share.

Peace,

Allan

5 Comments

  1. Rob's Dad

    Dude,
    It looks like you are suffering from Good Old Days Syndrome. Leaving established groups is nothing new – look at the Essenes (sic?), Pilgrims or the general western expansion of the US. The “rugged individual” has been celebrated in America for over a century.

    Take a slightly different view on leaving – it isn’t always a case of “taking my toys and going somewhere else”. It can also be a case of someone feeling the institution (church, government, business or community)has gone of the rails, truly gone down the wrong path and they have to leave.

    Protect of the individual is probably a more American view although heavily influenced by our Scottish and Irish heritage (see James Webb’s book – can’t remember the title). I would venture it is rooted in our Revolutionary past and might be taken to extremes in any period of time. It’s easy for a group in power to only see things from their point of view and design everything to support that view. If you aren’t with us you are against us – and if you are against us…We have seen too many times what that can look like.

    Thought provoking post Leonard – thanks for posting it.

    48

  2. Watchman73

    Could you please provide scriptural support for corporate salvation? “No one is saved alone” contradicts working out your own salvation with fear and trembling. It’s funny how more and more Protestant denominations are starting to sound more like the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope is warning that any personal relationship with Jesus is dangerous. http://www.wucnews.com/2014/07/pope-francis-warns-any-personal.html?m=1
    So, can I be saved on my knees, in my room crying out to God in REPENTANCE, or do I have to yoke up with a “church” to be saved?

  3. Allan

    Sonny,

    Thank you for your observations and questions. First, allow me to point out that the passage you referenced, Philippians 2:12, is in all plurals. It’s not individual. It’s “My dear friends (plural), as you all (plural) have always obeyed… continue to work out y’all’s (plural) salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you all (plural) to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Without getting too wordy here, that would be the thrust of my response. All of Scripture is written in the context of community. The Bible assumes community. Most every “you” in the New Testament is plural. Notice that transformation and salvation and good works are explained and commanded in terms of “one another.” Nobody in the New Testament does discipleship alone.

    Secondly, I’ll freely admit I don’t know a whole lot about Roman Catholic doctrine or practice. But, not having any context whatsoever to the article you link to in your comment, and judging strictly by what Pope Francis is quoted as saying, I completely agree with his words. I can’t judge any particular Catholic agenda he may be pushing or know about any hidden motives he may have, but he speaks the truth when he says it’s dangerous to believe you can have any kind of relationship with Jesus minus “communion with and the mediation of the church.” To be the right kind of disciples, we need each other. You need me to push you and motivate you; I need you to correct me and keep me straight. You need me to love you; I need you to encourage me. We need each other to interpret the Scriptures, together, to guard against our own biases and blind spots. I honestly don’t see it any other way. The Pope observes in this article that we can all point to people in our lives who helped bring us to salvation in Christ. His point, it seems to me, is that we still need those people in our lives as we faithfully live out our baptisms.

    I don’t know about other speeches or writings by Pope Francis. Based only on the article you provided here, he does not warn that any personal relationship with Jesus is dangerous. He warns that it’s dangerous to be a disciple all by yourself.

    As to your last question, brother, I would make a slight distinction between “justification” and “salvation.” I do believe that for the long lifetime process of salvation, one does need to be tied to a strong community of faith.

  4. Watchman73

    Allan,
    I didn’t drop by to get into a debate so don’t think I’m here to stir the pot. I fully understand what the Bible has to say about fellowship and discipleship. My question was about salvation. It seems that we are going to have to agree to disagree on scripture interpretation. One example: 2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every ONE may receive the things done in HIS body, according to that HE hath done, whether it be good or bad.
    I know I’ll never persuade you, but I feel compelled to interject regardless. I must urge all to seek a personal relationship with Jesus. He wants each of us to love each other and love Him above all. He wants our individual hearts. That’s my point.
    MARANATHA!

  5. Allan

    Sonny, come on, brother. You know how much you and I both love a debate!
    Of course, each of us will be judged individually. I wouldn’t be punished for your sins and you will not be held accountable for mine. And, yes, I also urge all men and women everywhere to seek a personal and saving relationship with our Lord Jesus.
    See? We agree!
    Lord come quickly, indeed!
    Peace.

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