In the following I want to explore the biblical view of the Christian life and the church. I am still working through the issues, and here is my first attempt to present my thoughts.
My experience in Australia is that believers often think of the Christian life in a way that is similar to the diagram below.
The above diagram says that the Christian life starts with a decision to become a Christian. The Christian then does a list of things that Christians would normally do, until the day he/she goes to heaven. This probably doesn’t represent everyone’s view. But in some ways it does describe the thinking of many people.
Of course, in reality we know that the Christian life cannot be described in such a simplistic manner. Many would say, for example, that they can’t identify a particular point in time when they made a decision to believe in Jesus. Therefore, some Christians suggest that we should see salvation in terms of a “process.” My purpose here, however, is not to talk about a “theology of conversion or salvation.” Instead, I would like to take a fresh look at what the Bible says about the Christian life.
In addition, my purpose here is not to say that the above view of the Christian life is incorrect. There are aspects of it that can find support in the Bible.
Having said that, I would like to suggest that the New Testament points to a more dynamic and organic view of the Christian life. It can be represented in the diagram below.
Of course, this second diagram above does not represent everything that the New Testament portrays. One missing element is the fulfilment of God’s covenantal faithfulness to Abraham and his descendants, which is absolutely important in the New Testament. But I hope that the diagram goes some way towards cover the Bible’s vision of what we call “the church.”
While the first diagram above shows a rather individualistic view of salvation and the Christian life, the second diagram emphasises the communal aspects.
In the first diagram, the church provides vision and services for the individuals. But in the second diagram, the church is the community. People join the community through different avenues and events. The mission of the community is God’s restorative and transforming purposes for the world.
What I try to convey in the second diagram is that the New Testament speaks of God’s purpose of creating a new humanity—that is, a Christ-community—through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Through Christ’s teaching of God’s kingdom and his way of life, we are called to participate in the life of the crucified Christ and risen Lord. The New Testament, I think, is about God’s purpose to transform humanity and his creation through Christ and his empowering Spirit. I hope the diagram somehow represents that purpose.