A reader wrote recently to say that my previous post (No ‘I’ in ‘CHURCH’–How American Evangelicalism Gets Its Pronouns Wrong) mirrored the collectivist thinking found in error-ridden cults and the teachings of New Age gurus. While I would argue that the actual teachings of such people are, in fact, largely about self-actualization rather than group actualization, if there is any guilt here, it is by association alone (ha, ha).
Here is truth: The entire narrative of Scripture is geared to a group. The story of God working is a story of Him working among a people. If anything, the words of Scripture should disabuse us of any notion that at the heart of it is the individual. What God is doing in the world has always been a “group project,” and if anything, the individual finds his or her truest expression of fullness only within a group.
Rather than give a million verses to back up this reality of the group, I will sketch out the ideas. Anyone who wants to fill in the blanks is setting himself or herself up for a tremendous journey into the mind and heart of God, and I would fully encourage anyone reading this to use it as a basis of further study.
The greatest lie afflicting the Church today is that you or I can do life alone. As we will see, in the eyes of God alone is never a good state of being.
The positive illustrations (the group):
God is a trinity. The Trinity exists in perfect commune within itself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
God has made Man in that same image.
God creates the male and says of him, “It is not good that man should be alone.” God creates a female partner for the male. God’s first charge to them is to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.
When mankind sinned, God saved from destruction an extended family. Prior to that destruction, He told that family to gather together groups of fertile creatures capable of recreating their own animal families that would continue the original fruitfulness command of God in the Garden.
When God chose to express His purpose for mankind, He chose a group model. He chose Abraham, to whom His promise would be that Abraham’s descendants would be like the stars in heaven. God’s promise is that Abraham will not be just Abraham but a great nation. Abraham finds comfort in knowing that he will not be alone.
God is referred to as “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
The exodus from Egypt left no Hebrew behind but removed an entire nation from the land.
The nation of Israel is established as a collective whole among which God dwells.
The joy of the barren Hannah is that God granted her a son, completing her family, and Samuel became a great leader of the nation.
Blessed is the man who has a “quiver full” of children.
Elijah’s mistaken belief that he is the last prophet of God left, but God said He has preserved a remnant.
Imagery of streams that bring life to an entire region, of the fruitfulness of the land that is overflowing, of the the abundance of God’s provision.
The threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Iron sharpens iron.
The Christ is revealed to a group that consists of the lowliest and the highest within society, abolishing class distinctions. Christ says He comes to establish a Kingdom and says that all are equal within the Kingdom of God.
Christ taking on a group of disciples.
Christ noting anyone who does His will is His brother, sister, or mother. His noting that there will be no hierarchies among those who believe in Him.
Followers of Christ depicted as a flock. The Good Shepherd understanding that the flock is not complete if even one sheep is missing from it.
“Where two or three are gathered, there am I in the midst of them.”
The promise that even eunuchs will be made fruitful. The holy as the wheat.
Christ speaks of the vine with many branches.
Christ establishes the Church. The Church is grafted into the vine.
The first act of the Spirit-filled Church was to gather and make sure that no disparity of needs in the group existed, but that all had needs met. The early Church met together daily. “God added to their number daily”
The Body of Christ is composed of many parts, but the Body cannot function unless the parts are in sync, and no part is worthless.
The Holy Spirit gives gifts intended for the edification of the collective Body. Some gifts do not function correctly unless others contribute to them.
The New Testament Scriptures are addressed to the collective you. “Brothers.”
The Church, collective, is a royal priesthood and the Bride. The Church is made of living stones, built together into a collective edifice in which God dwells, the New Jerusalem.
The uncountable entirety of believers.
The marriage supper of the Lamb.
The negative illustrations (the individual, alone and disconnected):
Satan coming to tempt Eve, the lone individual, apart from her plurality with Adam and God.
“Adam, where are you?”
The barren woman. The desolate land. The alien. The eunuch. The wanderer. The leper. The blind man. The cripple.
“Everyone did what he thought was right in his own eyes.”
The splitting of Israel and Judah.
The prodigal son. The lost sheep. The fig tree devoid of figs.
The agony of Christ in His taking on the collected sins of the world alone, and His “Why have you forsaken me? ” cry of disconnection from the Trinity.
Being left out of the Book of Life.
Hell as separation from God.
If we do not understand that Christianity is the individual finding fulfillment in the collected Body of Christ and being made part of that vine, then we do not understand the Faith.
We must not care what the world or New Age gurus say. God establishes a group and He dwells in that group. There is no other reality. Everything in Scripture points to this.
31 thoughts on “God of the Group”
Good insight, thank you.
I go to group, every Wed night for 2 whole hours! 😉
I’m going to say that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had the promise from God. The nation of Israel (the group) had the Law given to them by Moses. God was with Moses, not the group of people coming out of Egypt. God destroyed this group and only their decendants less than 20 years old? went into the promised land with Joshua.
I’m not discounting the importance of the gathering of believers. But how does God indwell the group? God indwells hearts. The group has individual hearts. The group does not have a place for God to dwell.
We understand that there is the Church, the gathering of believers, the people of God, the city of God, etc. The Kingdom the bible says is heavenly, not earthly.
I think what may be happening is we are confusing two things and trying to make them one. The believer and the church. We are one with Christ the bible says. We are not one with the church. The church is not Christ. We have a high priest who intercedes for us in heaven, the Bible says. He is a person, living in heaven. The Bible uses the plural with kings and priests. Not a group singular. A group the way you seem to be describing it here in this post is singular. It’s one entity.
I heard a good explanation of collectivism recently. It goes something like this. “The individual decides what he needs and wants” In collectivism others decide what that individual needs and wants”. As we understand God, he does not dictate. He provides freedom. There is no freedom in someone else deciding what I want and what I need.
We have a system that has worked well until the last number of decades. This system protects the individual. Freedom of religion etc. Freedom of life and happiness. Collectivism will discontinue this freedom, because it is administered and judged by fallen human beings. It will corrupt. It will oppress. Etc. There’s no way around it.
We see the courts today, with the many freedoms to bypass laws if Judges so choose. I’ve seen it firsthand in family law here in Canada. The Judges decide what rules will apply and which ones will be set aside in a case before them. It’s corrupt. In collectivism the few will decide for the many what they need. This will not work. People will be trampled on, freedoms will be trampled on. We already have a decent system if our countries would apply it properly. We don’t need collectivism.
The church is being used. Scripture is used out of context to try and make a point.
Abraham received the promise by faith. Israel the nation receivied the Law. Outward external controls and regulations to govern a people. This is fleshly, even though the Law was righteous, it could not make the doers sin cleansed. Sacrifices had to be continually made for sin.
Noah’s children and their wives went into the ark. The NT says, that the children of a believer are sanctified by the parent who believes. This is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. This is not a group of unrelated people joined together.
The Holy Spirit inhabits a temple or a tabernacle. If a group is going to do this, they will have to build a temple and worship there only. This is OT and has been done away with by Christ. We will be going backwards into the nation of Israel and how they worshiped God in their day in their flesh. This is not Christ and not what God has called his people to.
We understand the group. But God does not inhabit the group after Christ died on the cross. He never has. In the OT the Holy Spirit came on individuals. Sampson did not contain the Holy Sprit. His strength was in his hair. (an external place)
Moses held up his hands in battle and two helped him when Joshua fought a battle. When Moses’ hand fell down Joshua was losing the battle, when Moses hands were kept up by the two, Joshua was winning the battle.
The nation of Israel had God present with them in the Ark. That’s where God was. Between the Cherubims upon the mercy seat in the Holy Of Holies. He did not dwell in the people or the (group). God did not dwell in the high priest either in OT worship within the tabernacle.
Today if we use the same analogy. God is in the church building if he inhabits groups. We don’t have an ark in the churches. We know that God does not inhabit a house built with hands after Christ died and rose again.
I’m not diminishing the importance of believers and the support we can provide one another. And the growth that can occur when we gather together and are ministered to or are taught. It’s just that the promise was to an individual. And that part of God’s word we cannot and should not change.
I will offer this: Consider what I wrote. Think about it. See if there’s anything true in it. If not, feel free to reject it.
This thinking that if there is some truth to be found in an ideology we should accept it is not correct. In false teaching ‘truth’ is used and then twisted to accommodate the ‘teaching’.
An example of this in scripture is the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness when Satan takes Jesus up onto the pinnacle of the temple and says “JUMP, the scriptures say that his angels will keep you so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” Psalm 91:11,12
If you want to endorse collectivism in the church because you believe that this is a better way for Believers to interact, that’s one thing, but to connect it to God and state that believers are disobedient if they do not accept collectivism is heresy. There is a HUGE penalty for error in leading people away from God.
The ideology of collectivism is humanism. We can’t save ourselves individually, so let’s do it as a group. Christ is left out. Daniel didn’t need a group in the lion’s den. Samson didn’t need a group when he slayed up to 1,000 enemy warriors at one time single handedly, Paul didn’t need a group when he had no reaction to a poisonous snake bite after being shipwrecked in the sea, Peter didn’t need a group when his shadow passing over people healed them, Paul didn’t need a group when handkerchiefs off of his body were used to heal people, Jesus didn’t need a group when he healed the leper,
however, the Pharisees did need a group to condemn Jesus to death, (they had to stir up the common people to make trouble for Jesus and Pilot).
We come to Christ as individuals. Christ saves us as individuals. He saves us into a group, the Church.
It’s obvious you don’t like anything that smacks of Soviet-era collectivism. I’m not talking communism.
That said, it’s impossible to read the NT and view it any other way except that God wants a group. His mindset is on the group. The group is the higher form than the individual. One accord, and all that.
If there is one sin prevalent among American Churches, it’s that EVERYTHING is cast onto the individual. But the NT simply does NOT read that way. Casting everything back to the indiviudual is a rejection of God’s intended purpose for the Church.
I am NOT saying to do away with all language that deals with individuals. Yes, individuals do have responsibility as individuals within a whole.
But we almost NEVER talk about the Church as a group. Never. And we NEVER talk about the responsibility of that group entity we call the Church. We break everything down to the most granular, point the finger at the individual, and absolve the group of any and all responsibility. But it simply is NOT that way. The Church in America is largely ineffective because we have no group mentality at all.
If you want a contrast, look t those places where the Church is growing fastest. Those are the same places that have made less of an idol of the individual that we have, and they better understand how groups work.
If there is any failure in the group model it’s because the Enemy wants it to fail. Divide and conquer. Could not be clearer. And that’s pretty much what we have. It’s every man for himself. From what I can see, that divide and conquer seems to be working.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
—John 17:20-23 ESV
It’s not untrue that God indwells individuals, but you shouldn’t make this an either/or issue. In the OT, the Divine presence was in the Temple, or the tabernacle. In the NT, It’s Christ among his people. “The dwelling place of God is with man, He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and he will be their God.” This is a summary statement of God’s purpose for all of salvation history. God does indeed dwell in human hearts, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that means he doesn’t dwell among the people. This is an undeniable theme of Scripture.
I’ve said my piece plenty already, but I just ran across this text: Ezekiel 36:24-28.
24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
Scripture says that the promise was given to Abraham and his ‘seed’ (as in one seed) which is Christ. Scripture says that we also have this promise as we dwell in Christ. If we are not in Christ we do not have this promise.
The word seed is not always used as a singular. In fact, the idea is often plural, as in the generations that follow.
Here’s a scripture to interpret ‘seed’ as to the promises of God.
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
Galatians 3:15-17 (in Context)
You have an ideology in your last two posts of collectivism . This is something you endorse and that’s ok. What’s not ok is trying to support this ideology with scripture and God and his purpose for Believers. You don’t have to connect it this way. If collectivism is your ideal, go for it. It’s been tried before and it hasn’t worked any better than democracy. In fact it was oppressive to people in countries who adopted this ideology in the past.
The promises of God, eternal life, salvation, goodness, mercy, grace, love, joy, etc. etc. etc…. are all dependant and found in Christ. Without Jesus Christ as the ‘whole’, so to speak, we have nothing.
It doesn’t matter what ideology is best for life here on earth, other than making our lives more pleasant or more oppressed while we sojourn here for a time.
As far as a group is concerned, the Bible states that where two or three are gathered together God is there in the midst. It doesn’t take a commune or a city or a church gathering.
This is what I am referring to:
The promise is not only to Abraham but to his descendants, the group. All the language here is group (nations, generations, offspring). Even the Abram to Abraham name change reflects this.
“If collectivism is your ideal, go for it. It’s been tried before and it hasn’t worked any better than democracy.”
Democracy is actually a type of collectivism. The will of the many governs. I think part of the problem in this whole conversation is that your definition of collectivism is slightly off. It’s not a “communism vs. Western free market ideology” argument that leads to supporting a more leftist politics. It’s a matter of how one considers the sweep of God’s purpose in history.
We are saved individually: the Prodigal Son and the lost sheep being two such illustrations. We are saved into the whole: the Prodigal Son rejoining his father and the family; the lost sheep rejoining the flock. There is no way around individual salvation, though. You cannot be saved simply by glomming onto a group.
You get no disputes from me. Still, we are moving from broken condition into a whole one. And the whole one is found in the group. That so much of the way we think about Church/church today is focused on the individual is a genuine problem.
But what does one do when one’s church or group does not obey Him corporately? or, in my case, disbands or stops meeting…not once, but thrice?
But really, there’s no such thing as an individual decision that isn’t formed and given impetus by the culture they’re exposed to. It’s one of the biggest narcissisms of our age that people think they’re basically running around making decisions for themselves, entirely under their own control.
It’s funny that people’s immediate criticism is the “anti-Catholic” one: Are you saying you can be saved just by joining a church?? That’s Catholic!
Salvation is overwhelmingly spoken of as a corporate reality, when it comes to the Bible as a whole. That doesn’t mean individuals don’t get saved, it means the salvation they are drawn into isn’t an individual one, but one that God designed for a “royal priesthood, a holy nation.”
Da, comrade. But you still must be saved individually.
Sort of agree. I just question the usefulness of such language.
Rather than keep overwhelming Dan’s posts with affirming comments, I’ve distilled my thoughts some more here: http://intothedesertblog.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-art-of-not-making-everything-in.html
Have you done a post(s) in the past about what your doctrine is regarding the group? So I can read it. For example, how do you see the group coming into the fullness of Christ. How is the group ressurrected at the Last Day. How does the group deal with sin. How does the group deal with differences. Can the group pray individually (each person) outside of the group, or must all worship be only within the group? How does the group live in society. What if someone in the group has to move for work, health, etc. What if someone wants to leave the group, where does that place them with Christ.
Are we talking about numerous groups in society? The strongest and meanest group wins in our world? The biggest group dominates and dictates in the world? Our source is only our group? All wisdom, teaching, and thinking must come out of the group and be approved by the group? Who within the group? The stongest personality, the most charismatic, the most manipulative, the smartest, the stongest physically, the one with the most support from others within the group? etc. etc.
Do groups then join together with other like minded groups and make bigger groups and more powerful groups? Expounding their ideas and philosophy? Who decides what truth is? Is truth then only what the group decides it is? What about censorship? How does the group control all of its members? Isolation? Unspoken rules, threats, consequences? Does the group compel members to be saved?
How does the group know who is saved within the group and who isn’t? How can the group come to full realization in Christ by external means. If internal means, how does this happen as a group of people. Won’t each individual have to be growing in Christ? What if they aren’t. Do they get expelled for not complying with what the group expects from them? If they have wealth, does this wealth now become the groups’ wealth? If so, who handles the purse strings.
What are the living conditions like? Who can they marry? Only within the group or must their spouse become a part of the group? Where do they live? A commune? The same city?
Are you thinking that all the groups will stay with Christ? What if they start moving away and lead all the group members into error? When you’re in a situation like that it’s difficult to be objective. People will just accept it, until it cannot accepted any longer and someone breaks through the deception. Then they leave. They often then become ‘anathema’ to the other group members. Leaders protect their ‘flock of sheep’ from leaving.
What about in Heaven? Do they still remain a group? As one entity in Christ? The twelve elders around the throne, are they a group? The cherubim are they a group? The angels. Are they a group? Does God throw groups into the lake of fire or individuals? Who protects the Bible? What if groups want to change a few words here and there to better express what they believe God meant in his Word? As they get larger and larger, do they begin printing their own materials and spiritual thoughts for the group to follow? Is there a heirarchy? If not, where is the leadership? In a vote among the group members?
Do people just decide to become a group member without knowing what the end of this group will likely be? Not knowing what the doctrine is? Do groups start to hide who they really are in order to find more members and become more ‘effective’ and ‘powerful’ in this world?
Eventally is a person’s whole identity going to be attached to the group? They are nothing and nobody without their group approval and acceptance? Outcasts if they don’t conform. Troublemakers in the group if they stay and can’t shut up about what they are feeling and thinking about the group?
What are biblical scholars saying about this idea of ‘group christianity’. Are they opposing some of your ideas. What are they opposing and what scriptures are they using to oppose it. Is your group the authority on scriptue and what the scriptures are saying? Who in the group interprets scripture and decides what it is saying?
These are just some questions that I can think of about ‘group chrisitanity’. I think it’s complicated. What starts out as a good thing often ends up corrupt in our world. We’ve seen this over and over with various movements. There is no way to ensure that ‘truth’ prevails in a group setting. The other members are at risk.
Here’s what I advise: Over the next month, read through the entirety of the New Testament. Note whether Jesus or the Scripture writers are speaking to individuals or to a group. When it is clear it is a group, ask yourself what that means to the group, NOT to the individual. Note how the group reacts too.
Contemporary Evangelicalism has done a massive disservice to its cause by individualizing the entirety of Scripture. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been told to take the “you” statements of the Bible and turn them into “I” statements. No one stands up and says that the “you” is NOT (in most cases) the singular “you,” which could warrant a 1:1 substitution. Instead, those “you” statements are most often group, not individual, and cannot be replaced the way we have done. We have, in essence, broken the meaning of Scripture when we wholesale replace group language with individual. That is as much abuse of Scripture as anything.
I would also note that any reading you do should pay attention to how Jesus and the Bible writers deal with the crucifixion/death of self. This is key to understanding how God is moving us from a broken, individualistic emphasis to a whole, group emphasis.
In the end, what I think doesn’t matter as much as what you do. All I can do is to ask you to consider something you’ve not considered. What you do with that is up to you.
Want to add this:
One of the main reasons we have so little humility in the Western Church and among Christians is that we reference everything through our individual selves. We become the locus. There is no way that a person can remain humble with that perspective driving everything.
With a group focus, though, the individual is no longer the focus. Humility comes naturally and operates normally, as it should.
Just something to consider.
I don’t think I really agree mainly because The Psalms. How many of them are ‘me’ or ‘I’ even in the first line? I guess the Psalm writers often reference God through the individual self, and then Jesus would have prayed the Psalms.
I’ve know a few ministers who didn’t like modern worship songs as they seemed to be too individualistic and not geared for communal praise. But it’s as if they had never read/sang the Psalms before.
The Lord is my Shepherd not the Lord is our Shepherd.
Or I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart not we will give thanks to you, Lord with all our heart.
I think that some Christian leaders get a bit confused that people who enjoy being alone or having their own space (introverts?) are just individualistic and selfish. I’m not sure that is always the case.
The Psalms don’t negate the rest of Scripture, Dave. The person is not obliterated by the Church, nor do the Psalms wipe out everything else in the Bible.
I will say this, though: The NT mentality and the OT mentality ARE different. We must keep this in mind when we attempt to understand them.
I know you’ve probably moved on but there are plenty of people who think that the person they are has been obliterated and homogenized by the church. Lots of ministers I’ve known have been frustrated that church members don’t seem to want to get involved in activities or become more active in church.
I realise that the Psalms don’t negate the rest of the Bible. But they are a powerful witness that the person you are (as an individual) matters before God. Jesus was praying Psalm 22 on the cross.
We are going to suffer if we’re going to follow the way of the cross and one of the ways we going to suffer is to face loneliness, just like Jesus. There was fellowship in the Last Supper and during communion,but the effects of sin mean that we’re going to be lonely.
Yet rarely can the individual express his individuality before God in a church setting.Or at least that’s how I see things!
Late to the post and the comments, but I think this is a great point that is too often overlooked. A doctine of individual salvation (“I” accept Jesus as “my personal” savior) has created a church culture where what “I” want is most important. Worship music “I” like, children’s ministry for “my” kids, etc. And this individualism leads to schism- “I” don’t like your interpretation of such-and-so scripture. And on and on it goes.
If the homework of reading the entire NT is too overwhelming, just read Acts (our only example of the Church in practice) followed by 1 Corinthians (written because of divisions in the church) and Revelation 1-3 (the letters to the seven churches) and ask if salvation is an individual “fire insurance” or if it is an invitation into God’s Kingdom and an adoption into His Family.
I just read the comment posted by Frank.
We’re still looking at how does the ‘group’ come into the kingdom of God and the family of God. It’s the individual that comes in through belief in his heart and confession of his mouth and loving not his life unto death, the Bible says. The group doesn’t give up its life, the individual lays down or gives up his life.
What’s the advantage or purpose of the group right now? Support, and fellowship with like minded people. The ‘group’ only has to be one other person and Jesus says that he is there in the midst. So there is an aspect where Christ is present in the group, and an aspect where the individual has a relationship with God on a personal level. An indwelling of God in his spirit and heart.
You’re saying that the individual has been emphasized in the church teaching to the exclusion of the ‘group’. The answer seems to be to not discount the individual relationship and accountablility to God tht we have, but to have more teaching in the church about the ‘group’ of believers, and their responsibility corporately, to one another and to God, to balance things out.
God made one man, he called one man in Abraham, he provided one Saviour in Jesus Christ, God says he is One, their is one Holy Spirit, One God and Father of all etc. etc. We see the group corporately in the Bible at the end of time, but I think we would be running ahead of God to try and make the group function like the end times believers as it is in its present state. We would be forcing God and he is not ‘forced’ by man. It’s in His time and place, not ours. We don’t decide when this is going to happen, God decides. In fact this ‘group’ that is envisioned in the Bible may not come out of the organization called the ‘church’ in North America. We just don’t know at this time. God will reveal it soon enough for those who are watching and waiting for Him.