A Personal, Corporate Faith

Ephesians 4:4-6
There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

WCF XXV: Of the Church
The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

It seems to me the church as the kingdom of God, as part of Christendom, is attacked from almost every conceivable angle in the modern American evangelical religion. We have rugged American individualism, individual rights that trump the rights of groups, eschatology that undermines the kingdom of God as a present reality, salvation by individual prayer, relationship not religion, and on an on. I feel like I should break into a rendition of “Another Brick in the Wall.” Each of these bricks contribute to a whole which undermines the value of the church, her worship, her sacraments, her preached word, her very identity as the body of Christ and the bride of Christ.

But why should there be any tension between a personal faith and a corporate identity? Why are “personal” and “individual” treated as synonyms? As adults, the profession of our personal faith credentials us, in a sense, to be brought into the covenant community by way of baptism. As infants, our parents’ standing in regards to the covenant credential us to be brought into the covenant through baptism. In both cases, it is within the corporate body of Christ that our personal salvation is worked out from faith to faith through the grace of God.

It would appear from the sweep of history that allowing the notion of individuality to permeate such topics in place of the personal leads to all sorts of trouble.

1 Comment

  1. garver
    Feb 5, 2002

    Perhaps part of the difficulty is that we tend to conceive of “salvation” as an abstract set of divine acts on behalf of the individual that are identical for everyone.

    While not giving up this perspective, we might also be able to recognize that “salvation” is thoroughly social in two ways.

    First, the goal is not merely “saving individual souls”, but the creation of a new humanity in Christ, a corporate people of God. The church is not merely a collection of saved people nor it is merely a holding tank as we each await our final destiny. Rather, as a people sharing a common life together in God, the creation, history, and perfecting of the church is the very goal of salvation.

    Second, the salvation of each is utterly dependent upon and intertwined with the salvation of all who are being saved. How each of us enter into the covenant community, receive the faith of the church, live out our lives there, and so on, is unique and individual. But it is unique precisely because of all the varied relationships we have with other Christians, our particular place within the story of the church, how our lives affect others, and so on. Thus the social far from undermining the individual, is absolutely necessary for the individual and vice versa.

    More is to be said, I’m sure, but this is what immediately sprang to my mind.