Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
How necessary or essential is the community of the redeemed to the gospel? How significant is it that the gospel that is foundational to the new birth results in a new community?
None of us would conclude the gospel is nice but not essential. All would conclude it is absolutely essential. What about the new community, the redeemed people of God who become part of the church? Is that necessary, or is it optional? Is it connected to the gospel, and if so, in what way?
Trevin Wax argues, and I believe rightly, that if you excise the redeemed community from the gospel, you then gut the gospel of its very purpose. He gives a rationale of “Why the Gospel Community is Essential to Understanding the Gospel.” Although the new community of God’s people is not the gospel, it is connected to the gospel.
“If you excise the gospel community from your thinking about the gospel announcement, you gut the gospel of its purpose. Though the church is not the subject of the gospel announcement (Christ alone is the subject, of course), the church is a necessary object. Christ’s death has a purpose: to save sinners and incorporate them into a community that reflects His glory.”
“the gospel has a telos – the purpose of calling out a people, which is why I want to keep “gospel community” close to the announcement. I fear that most evangelicals see the church as ‘just an implication of the gospel’ instead of thinking, This is the whole point of the good news – God forming a people for His glory and the good of the world.”
“The gospel announcement of Jesus Christ must be understood within the context of the story that gives it meaning. This announcement then births the gospel community. Saying the good news is limited to the gospel announcement is like saying, “The good news is that the adoption papers are signed” without a view to the purpose of the papers – to incorporate an orphan into a family! We can say all day long that becoming part of the family is the implication of the adoption process, not the process itself. But to make that point too forcefully risks losing the point of it all.
“Christ’s death and resurrection completes the transaction of the gospel, yes. But the purpose of Christ’s work is that, in union with Him, we would be reconciled to the Father and adopted into His family.”
“Good news all around! So, let’s make sure that in our thinking and speaking about the centrality of the gospel announcement we not leave out the gospel-formed family. Otherwise, we gut the gospel of its purpose.”
The doctrine of salvation has been central to the free church movement, not just the EFCA, but the doctrine of the church less so. Although these two doctrines are not one and the same, they are organically connected. Because we are a gospel-centered people in the Free Church, we need to understand the gospel’s implication as it relates to the church, and the church as she relates to the gospel. Now is the time for Free Church people to focus on ecclesiology.
There is much more learning and discussing we need to do in the Free Church regarding these important matters. Please plan to join us for our upcoming Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Church. Please register here.