ABOUT JESUS  -  Steve Sweetman

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Baptized Into Christian Community


You might think this is heretical, but I believe that if we substitute the term "community of Christ" for the word "church" in the New Testament, we'll understand church better.  I say this because I believe our present western world concept of church does not reflect the Bible's concept of church.  I hope you know that the Apostle Paul, Peter, and even Jesus, never spoke our English word "church".  Church is not a sacred word.


In 1974 I listened to a four cassette tape teaching series on Christian community entitled "Gathered For Power" by Graham Pulkingham, an Anglican minister from Texas.  His teaching introduced me to the word "community" as it relates to church.  Pulkingham taught that Christian community, as seen in the New Testament, is associated with the Greek word "koinonia".  Some of you may remember that word.  It was a popular word in some circles in the 1970's.  Koinonia means "to hold in common".  Christians hold many things in common, not the least of which is Jesus and His Spirit that unites us into the Body of Christ that we call church. 


If I understood Pulkingham correctly, he said that church has traditionally fallen into two categories.  Some churches are task orientated; others are community orientated.  Most western world churches are task orientated.  Their focus is on church activities.  Few western world churches are community orientated.  Their focus is on personal relationships. 


I view church as being relational.  When we receive the Holy Spirit into our lives, He not only joins us to Jesus, He joins us to others in the community of Christ.  In 1 Corinthians 12:13 the Apostle Paul says the process by which we are joined in Christian community is via a baptism.  He says that we have been baptized into the Body of Christ.  Paul isn't talking about water baptism.  Neither is he talking about joining a church, going to church, or church being a casual concern.  Being baptized into the community of Christ means to be submerged, immersed, saturated in fellowship with those to whom we are joined.  That's what the word "baptize" means.  From the relationships in which we are baptized, ministries, or tasks, are born. 


I agree with Pulkingham.  In our western world task orientated church, ministry stems from ecclesiastical structure and not from personal relationships.  It's the church that provides the tasks or the ministries.  Whether it's a volunteer Sunday school teacher or a paid pastor, we apply for the job and the organization of church accepts or denies our application.


Our present day westernized church doesn't link baptism with church.  To our detriment, many think of water baptism, not church baptism, when they read 1 Corinthians 12:13.  In water baptism we're totally immersed into water.  In church baptism we're totally immersed into the lives of those to whom Jesus has joined us in the community of Christ.


Christian community is more than warm feelings we get from fellowshipping with others in a Sunday service.  Christian community is being immersed into the lives of those to whom Jesus has joined us, not just for the fun of fellowship, but for the work of the Lord.  In New Testament terms ministry stems from personal relationships in Christian community.  This is why Pulkingham's teaching series was entitled "Gathered For Power".  The power of God is best demonstrated in community, as seen in the book of Acts.  For this reason, if we replace the word "church" in the New Testament with the words "the community of Christ", we'll understand church from a Biblical perspective.


The teaching of koinonia, or community, isn't new.  Over the centuries believers have attempted to live in community, but as it always seems to be, community eventually evolves into an ecclesiastical maze of doctrinal, cultural, and economic, distinctives.  From my understanding of church history, what pushes Christians away from the maze and into community are the pressures experienced from an anti-Christ culture.  Persecution drives us into finding support and ministry in personal relationships.  This is certainly the case in countries like Iran today.  Iranian Christians have no other choice.  State sponsored persecution drives them into Christian community.  For them, finding support in personal relationships is a matter of spiritual survival.  Within the context of Christian community God's power is demonstrated in the Iranian believers as it was in the book of Acts.   


Our western world is plunging head long into an anti-Christian cultural abyss.  Christians are now being pressured to cave into the demands of an anti-Christ culture.  As in Iran, we'll be forced to choose between Christ or culture.  If we choose Christ, the ecclesiastical maze will be of little use to us.  We'll understand what it means to be baptized into Christian community where we'll find support for our spiritual survival and ministry that demonstrates the power of God.    


Christian singer/songwriter, Larry Norman, put it this way in his song entitled "Right Here In America" (Street Level album 1971).  "There are Christians in Russia; they meet under ground, in China they're killed when they're found, in Cuba the Christians live up in the hills because it's not safe in the towns.  To think it might happen right here in America, maybe you think it's not true, if you think it's not happening right here in America, wait till it happens to you."  His lyrics are more relevant today than they were in 1971.  You can listen to his song by clicking this link.




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