Voluntary and Temporary Community

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I recently read “Caminemos Con Jesús” by the Latino theologian, Roberto S. Goizueta.  A paraphrase of the title might be something like, “Come on, let’s walk with Jesus.” Goizueta emigrated from Cuba as a young man. His theological source is the experience of the Latinos in the US Church. His description of western society and church cut me to the heart because I see it in myself and our churches.

Here are just some of his points:

  1. Individualism is a concept that is a building block of Western society. In American politics, individualism is illustrated by one person: one vote. (54)
  2. Belief precedes belonging which leads to a market place type of Christianity. The western church emphasizes personal, individual decisions over belonging to the community. A believer chooses his or her church community. (56)
  3. The US deeply values money. Therefore, the one person with more money is more valuable than the person with less money. (57)
  4. We do not value corporate or institutional authority; rather we value the individual’s own authority. Ironically, that leads to people conforming to each other’s opinions and ideas. Those who agree belong, others experience isolation. (58)
  5. Western community is voluntary and temporary. (59)

Questions to consider:

  • How do you think Latin Americans emigrants, who come from a culture of deep and wide community, experience the US Individualistic culture?  
  • How can a church community identify its cultural norms?
  • How do these factors impact a church community and/or small group ministry?

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19-21

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My son was baptized on Sunday. It reminded me again that we belong before we believe! I agree that we get that backwards too often. While preaching on the great commission (which he called the ordinary commission, because it applies to all of us) a pastor recently asked, "who do you know that needs community?" What if the church really was a place where people found a sense of belonging? Would there be more belief? 

Participant

I understand that there are many things we can learn from other Christians in other cultures, but part of that learning has to be done with an understanding of who Jesus is. Unfortunately, Dr. Goizueta’s Liberation Theology criticisms of the Western church fall a bit short because we do not share the same view of Jesus, his salvation or his kingdom.

The answer to our over-commercialized, consumerist western ecclesiology is not to find Christ in poor people, but to be found by Christ and witness his love to all people.

Guide

Thanks Michael. I agree with your view point on his theology. I was waiting for someone to bring that up!

I did think his description and perception of North American culture was insightful. So, in what ways is the western church bringing Christ's love to all people? I wonder if the missional community movement is one example. What other examples do we have? 

This is a valuable perspective on US church culture as a whole (though dangerous to generalize). The prevailing US cultural environment of individualism, is counter-Biblical. While the solution may not be classic liberation theology, it does require for some of us a radial re-reading of Scripture, not through the lens of our own dominant culture, but through a 1st century Jewish cultural lens. That's why I've appreciated Tom Wright's work so much (even if he isn't right about everything!)

How about if we read scripture not through the lens of our culture, or the lens of the Jewish culture, nor through the lens of the Greek culture, but through the lens of the gospel?  Then we will not get lost in an either-or proposition for community vs individualism, but rather embrace both.  Jesus emphasized believing on him, and loving God and your neighbor with the clear direction that we must be born again.  These things are not something the community can do for you, no matter how deeply you are imbedded in the community.  On the other hand, Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches, part of the body of Christ the community of the body which is celebrated in communion.  And then, the flip side, if the branch does not bear fruit, it will be pruned, and separated from community, separated from Christ...   This is the community we ought to be concerned about.   The rest is not about community vs individualism, but about obedience to what Christ would have us do in our relationships with others, as well as in our private closets.  

For the last hundred years, "believing on" has been a dispensational insider word for, "It ain't enough to believe IN Jesus. You gots to believe ON Jesus."

At the risk of being ex-communicated, scriptural covenants are accumulative, not substitutionary. The Noahic Covenant is applicable to all humans. The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants only apply to Jews - the people who came out of Egypt with Moses.

In Acts, the Jerusalem Synod observed the 613 commandments and didn't know what to make of Paul. They told him to teach gentiles to observe the Noahic Covenant and hoped he would stay far from Jerusalem. There is sarcasm and irony in Acts.

Neo-Christianity is the religion of Paul and Constantine. We have to work with what we have. Rev. Punt is correct in his interpretation (as far as he went), was cleared and then totally ignored. 

To paraphrase a 1st century Saint, "I've been "believing in Jesus for 70 years, Jesus has always taken good care of me, and I will not now turn on him now". As for the theological details, 80% is circular, assumes hard facts not in evidence, simply logical opinion.  I have no dog in that fight. Another 25 years or less I will know which theology is correct or I will know nothing.

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