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Finding "Myself" in the midst of Community

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Autonomous Journey:[1]

It is a common assumption amid the climate of today's society that in order to truly find oneself the journey must be taken outside the scope of communal influence.  Modern generations' exit from the covenantal community of saints—among other variables—is a direct response to this particular notion. The gross assumption of autonomy arises from western individualism, and its influence garners traction amid the wider Evangelical sphere. In the wake of finding the authentic-self, the secular culture—let alone believers within her wake—have forsaken one of God's means of grace in fulfilling its reality.


To combat this faulty premise, the Gospel brings humanity directly into contact with the trinitarian God of the universe. The biblical Gospel is trinitarian by nature and gloriously God-centered in scope. This, in essence, is Good News!  As Fred Sanders rightly conveys the "Trinity and the Gospel have the same shape! This is because the good news of salvation is ultimately that God opens His Trinitarian life to us. Every other blessing is either a preparation for that or a result of it, but the thing itself is God's graciously taking us into the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be our salvation."[2] Thus, the Gospel speaks of the Father sending the Son to accomplish the work of redemption, and the Spirit applying that work unto believers.


Distinction without Separation: 


This formula is foundational, then, in informing the local church of her role in identifying and nurturing the unique gifts of each covenant member within her care (cf. Eph. 4:12-14). An unwillingness or inability to steward this God-given mandate will result in an anemic community and, potentially, a deprivation for generations to come.  David Kinnaman conveys this notion well in saying,

As much as anything, this cultural change bares the gap between church and the lives of today's next generation. Most churches and parishes are simply not prepared to minister or disciple those taking a nontraditional path to adulthood. They are most capable of guiding and helping the traditional marriage-and-career-stabilized young adult.[3]

In understanding God's trinitarian make-up as well as humanity's creative aim as image bearers, this theological framework can assist in bringing a comprehensive perspective to the nature and goal of ecclesial life.  Thus, the doctrine of the trinity illuminates, in three central ways, the contours of community affairs: (1) individual distinction, (2) communal harmony, and (3) missional engagement.


Distinction. Historically, the church has communicated the mystery of the trinity as three distinct Persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—sharing in the one divine nature.  Hence, the trinitarian formula is known as three-in-one.  Yet within this unity the triune God displays a distinction (without separation) in the personhood that can be appropriated to the life of the ecclesial community.  Simply put, the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father.  There is a clear distinction between the two Persons yet the personhood of the Godhead are not autonomous from one another.  The Father is Father because He is Father to the Son; the Son is Son because He is the Son of the Father. Furthermore, the Spirit is the love relationship proceeding from the filial union between the Father and the Son. Therefore, it is within this eternal community (cf. eternal generation and eternal procession) that the distinction of Father, Son, and Spirit reside. This nuance functions as a tremendous insight into the life of the church.  In order to know the self one does not hide herself from the covenant community, but must in fact be intimately woven into the distinct community of the other.


The notion, then, of finding oneself outside the covenantal community of Christ is contrary to the trinitarian model of God's creative intent for the imago Dei.  The ideology of individualism works intrinsically against the individuality that is built into the fabric of God's purposes.  Individualism speaks to the interest of self-gain, while individuality poses the knowledge of self in conjunction to the engagement with the whole. Julie A. Gorman is extremely insightful on this point:

The person's individuality is not only preserved but enhanced in the midst of the group. It is the group that brings self-awareness and a sense of identity to the individual. . . What we have together is greater than the sum of the individual parts. No one loses individuality in this coming together, but rather one discovers and esteems individual unique qualities as they are revealed in the web of relationships.[4]

Gorman's communal findings are fundamentally theological.  This imperative is essential in informing the church to embrace the God-given mandate of intimate unity while simultaneously encouraging the saints broadly to not hinder the value of community for individual comfort.


Communal Harmony. While the distinctiveness of the trinitarian formula has been emphasized, there is, also, another component paramount to the nature of God—His divine essence.  This theological concept is captured in the term perichoresis. This approach conveys the inter-relatedness of the Persons of the Godhead in which each Person—Father, Son, and Spirit—inter-mingle without loosing their distinctiveness.  Basil, an early church father, goes on to say,

For all things that are the Father's are beheld in the Son, and all things that are the Sons are the Father's; because the whole Son is in the Father and has all the Father in Himself. Thus the hypostasis of the Son becomes as it were form and face of the knowledge of the Father, and the hypostasis of the Father is known in the form of the Son, while the proper quality which is contemplated therein remains for the plain distinction of the hypostases.[5]

The applicational component, which derives from this thought, is that our communal engagement should not be forfeited in fear of loosing the individual. Rather the individual must be seen as an essential linked to the corporate livelihood of the whole. Similar to a choir, each vocal piece functions with distinction of voice whose sound creates harmonic fusion to serve a greater end. Thus, to withhold oneself from the organic life of the church not only harms the self, but deprives the growth of the ecclesial entity.[6]


Missional Purpose. The missional aim of the church, then, is intrinsically linked to the trinitarian essence of God.  The sending of the Son by the Father and the sending of the Spirit by the Father and Son convey the notion that God is love (1 Jn 4:8). It is the outflow of that love to which God creates. Gregg R. Allison affirms by saying, "God created everything out of the superabundance of His love to display His glory—that is, to manifest His goodness and greatness."[7] Yet Tim Chester gives a sobering reflection by saying, "[God's] love does not depend on the loveliness of the one He loves. It is an act of pure grace. He loves because He is love, not because we are lovely. And He is love because He is an eternal Trinity of Persons in loving relationship."[8] With that being said, the church's unity and the individuality of the persons are not an end in of themselves, but rather are to point toward the glory and fame of God.  The church, consequently, exists to assist the saint(s) toward conformity to Christ-likeness in order that missional engagement would occur for the sake of the Gospel (I have written extensively on this here).


The Trinity Points to Community:


The Gospel creates community (another topic I have written on) because undergirding such a power is the triune God of the universe.  In a time in which societal pressures are calling for saints to rid themselves of communal engagement and to identify themselves as autonomous entities, the body of believers must come together and saturate their minds with the biblical narrative and see, doctrinally and historically, how the thought patterns of the Scriptures shape the ecclesial heart for engagement in daily living.  The institutional church and her leaders must work diligently to equip and empower the saints to engage with all generations in order to build up the body of Christ.  The organic church must pray fervently that her leaders serve faithfully and that the Holy Spirit move mightily.


It is imperative to see, therefore, that the church serves the trinitarian God who has given her a trinitarian Gospel in order to engage in ecclesial life. When the church understands her identity she will move to become, by the power of the Spirit, who she was created to be. When the saint(s) understand the sanctifying agency of the community, she will embrace her uniqueness informed by the whole established for the good of the individual. Chester is helpful by saying,

"Our participation in Christ means participation in the Trinity. We share the trinitarian life. The Father loves us with the same love with which He loves the Son (v. 24). We are part of the family. The Father is our Father. The Son is our Brother. The Spirit indwells us. . . We participate in the trinitarian community through the Holy Spirit. . .  We participate in the trinitarian community because we are united to Jesus by the Spirit. Through the Spirit we are in Christ and Christ is in us. . . The church is the new humanity being remade in the image of God."[9]

The finding of the self, then, is not achieved by conflating all means toward the "me," but rather is acquired by loosing the self for the good of the others.  And in doing so, the self is actualized.

 

***footnotes***


[1] This article has been adopted and modified with approval from https://mcyoungyang.blogspot.com/2018/04/finding-myself.html.


[2] Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 98.


[3] David Kinnaman, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 45. 


[4] Julie A. Gorman, Community that is Christian: A Handbook on Small Groups (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 48. 


[5] Basil, Letters, 38.8.


[6] See Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 132-134.


[7] Gregg R. Allison, 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith: A Guide to Understanding and Teaching Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018), 97. 


[8] Tim Chester, Delighting in the Trinity: Why Father, Son and Spirit Are Good News (The Good Book Company, 2010), 149.


[9] Ibid., 162-163. 

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (10), McColsen (8), and DeYoung (5).  He is a Teaching Pastors at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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