As we discussed last week, salvation isn’t just about what we’re saved from, but who we’re saved with. An individualistic Western society like the United States interprets salvation through its individualistic lens, lending it to be a glorious event that saves the individual and redeems the individual. This is absolutely true, and is one of the miraculous realities of the Gospel. But if salvation is only about benefiting the individual, then Christianity is reduced to a means of intellectual enlightenment and personal betterment, sanctification to self-actualization, a relationship with the Lord to a shallow, comforting friendship, Scripture to an archaic self-help book, and the Church to a consumerist institution. As long as Christianity is abou bettering the individual and saving her from Hell, then of course she can be a Christian and not be a part of a local church. Such an assertion is all the rage in an individualist America.
Yet a solely individualized Christianity is not what the original Gospel writers, New Testament Church, and Christ himself had in mind. In fact, individualism wasn’t even a viable worldview during their time.
As I mentioned before in a previous blog, America is considered a radically individualist culture. This contrasts to the majority of the rest of the world—and its entire history, for that matter—as they are collectivist cultures. In collectivist cultures, one’s life is not about progressing her personal betterment, achieving her goals, and getting what she desires. Rather, all her greatest dreams, goals, aspirations, and desires are for the betterment of the group to which she belongs. And it just so happens that Jesus’ Church was founded within the context of a collectivist culture grounded with a collectivist worldview. It’s no surprise, then, that a collectivist salvation bears deeper implications that a mere individualist salvation misses entirely.
Joseph H. Hellerman writes extensively on this in his book, When the Church Was a Family. Salvation for the sole purpose of personal fulfillment and receiving a “personal relationship with God” is found nowhere in the Bible, because that’s not how the early church understood salvation. It was so much more than that. In a collectivist culture, salvation is a community-creating event. When someone came to faith in Jesus, that person became a part of his group. She was adopted into God’s holy family, receiving God as her Father and the Church as her brothers and sisters.
Salvation is not just about establishing a relationship with God and then utilizing the Church to grow in that personal relationship. Such a utilitarian view makes the Church out to be no different than a binge-able Netflix subscription or guided workouts from Beach Body On Demand: an endless stream of consumerism for personal fulfillment. God’s ekklessia, his “called out ones,” those daring to pursue faith in Jesus together, are not your personal maid or butler to help you achieve your goals. They are a crucial part of what you receive in salvation, not just what you use to get to salvation.
In salvation, establishing a relationship with God and his Church is a package deal. Not only are you made into a new person. You join a new family. You can’t have one without the other.
Joseph Hellerman explains this aspect of salvation by coining the term “familification”:
“Something else happens when we are saved, which is just as real in God’s eyes… as our justification, something I like to call our ‘familification.’ Just as we are justified with respect to God the Father upon salvation, so also we are familified with respect to our brothers and sisters in Christ. And this familification is no less a positional reality than our justification.”
Being justified as righteous before God and being adopted into his family are of equal importance. They go hand-in-hand. It’s not just about what you’re saved from. It’s who you’re saved with.
So much of Western Christianity focuses on justification for our sins, knowing sound doctrine, and incorporating disciplines into our personal lives like prayer, worship, and Scripture to look like Christ. Yet church involvement is viewed merely as a means to an end in achieving those things. But what if we fully act upon our famlification? What if we recognize that salvation in Christ invites us into the greatest friend group that ever existed, and tap into the power that exudes from it? In fact, pressing into our newfound family of Christ and his Church is the surest way we can grow in God’s image to begin with—not by our individualistic attempts of pulling up our bootstraps and getting to work on our own, but by our collectivist attempts of reaching down and helping our spiritual friends become like the very God we’re in community with.
That’s the entire essence of discipleship.
Yes, personal fulfillment and a relationship with God are by-products of salvation, but these emphases are more indicative of our society’s individualism projected onto Scripture and Christian doctrine. Salvation is a community-creating event. With that, attending church is no longer an “option” to Christianity—it’s a necessity. Church no longer becomes a consumerist institution, but a family reunion, a gathering of friends.
So if salvation is a community-creating event…. then “befriending” a non-believer with spiritual friendship in mind is an evangelistic deed.
More next week.