In the church and through the church, God is saving the world. The process of salvation is basically one of creating and nourishing communal life, first that of God with humanity and then, humans with each other. This drive for a communal life and the establishment of a community provides the framework for interaction and integration required to further the mission to save.
The Fundamental Task of the Church
The fundamental task of the church is to create and form the community of disciples to be sent forth in mission to do the work of God. They too are meant to form a community of believers who also will be commissioned to go out and evangelize in order to form a believing community.
Establishing and building communal life in both its divine and human dimensions occurs simultaneously. As the believers build a communal life, integrates and form a bond to become a community; they as a community creates and nourishes a communion with God.
Just like the first basic communion of humans with God, that is, the communion of the two creatures Adam and Eve with God; Christianity wants and also desires that present day communion starts with the union of man and woman in marriage.
Within Christian marriage in its most basic form, there is joined in faithful love a man and a woman, two individuals who represent that which is most different and distinct within human creation, the difference between the sexes. This faithful union is the basic unit of Christian life and communion; it is enhanced with the fruitful procreation of children who will build on this communion.
A Community of People
A community is a body of people having common interests or living in the same place under the same laws. A community shares something in common. One can define a community by the shared attributes of the people in it, also by the strength of the connections among them.
A community is like a family in that relationships between members of the community are basically personal in character rather than impersonal; it is unlike a family in that the association between members of the community is based on free choice rather than common ancestry.
Josiah Royce says that a community is a social process, a time-process which has a corporate identity in some sense distinct from the life histories of its members, taken singly. The essentials here are people, time, identity and history. The coming together of people requires time for proper integration and communal spirit. This time-process is a communal process of interpretation which arises naturally out of the ongoing exchange of “signs” by the members of the community with one another.
Once a community, the identities of the individuals give way to the community identity and the history of the community become theirs. That is, each community members is continually engaged in the effort to establish their identity within the group. As such they are obliged to interpret whatever happens to themselves and formulate a response in terms of some appropriate word or deed.
Others perceive these “signs” and, in turn, must respond with signs representing their interpretations of what is transpiring between them. Thus their effort to communicate with one another through the exchange of signs or individual interpretations of various events spontaneously brings about the reality of the community as a communal process of interpretation.
Communion as One Body
Christianity is the world religion per excellence because of its doctrine of the mystical body of Christ: the communion of all who believe in Christ made one with Christ as the head; a holy and innocent community intimately associated with Jesus Christ, the lamb of salvation.
With this, Christians are thereby encouraged to believe that the forgiveness of sins and salvation is to be achieved not simply through a person’s individual relationship with God but also more significantly through an intensified life in community with other believers as members of Christ body: in the first place, the Church as the beloved community of Interpretation; but, in the end, all of humanity as the universal community of interpretation.
In the scriptures, Paul presents the relationship of believers to one another as a shared experience of salvation. This relationship talks about communion and participation. Participation in human realities, and much more, participation in spiritual realities. This was a sort of fellowship, firstly, a fellowship of persons as a community, and secondly the fellowship of the community with the divine.
The Church is a living community made up of true believers who offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. As one body, held fast in love, members of the Church relates to one another with a deep caring concern resulting in interconnectedness and deep relations. As members of Christ’s body, they remain in one communion.
The communion comes to become one body through the centrality of Christ, for it is in Christ that the community of faith has its foundation. The communion of faith achieves this oneness since faith is not an individual human accomplishment but a shared commitment to one another and to Jesus the author and centre of our faith.
Communion as one body is achieved not only in the physical but also in the spirit. By the work of the Holy Spirit the believers are constituted into the Church. It is not that one person fashions himself or herself into a member of the Church, but rather through their various confession in the one Lord and God, the Holy Spirit makes them into one body.
Christian Community and Social Community
The desire to achieve communion and to create a community is basically to bring about salvation of which the Church community readily represents and fosters, however, this salvation is destined to permeate through the Church to the society which is an organized community in itself. The progression thus: first, the Church as the beloved community of Interpretation; but, in the end, all of humanity as the universal community of interpretation.
The familiar Christian precept to love one’s neighbour as oneself should then be understood as the mandate to remain in communication with others through the exchange of signs and thus to perpetuate the reality of church and civil society as interrelated communities of interpretation.
Only thus will the kingdom of God be revealed in its intended fullness, namely, as a universal community of interpretation or, perhaps more precisely, as an overarching community of sub-communities, each of which is involved through its person-members in the task of articulating its corporate self-identity while remaining aware of its interdependent relationship with other communities at work on the same task.